This review was written by Vince Borkowski, Guest Author at TVGB. Vince never seems to have an opportunity to talk about one of his favorite RPG/simulation series because very few people he meets have ever even heard of it! With that in mind, this is the first in a continuing series of “Retro Reviews” – reviews of older games that missed their potential spot in the limelight.
Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, or simply Rune Factory, is a continuation of the vastly popular Harvest Moon series of games by the same creator, Natsume. With the name in the title, it’s expected to be of the same theme. And it is. But with much more!
In the same vein of its spiritual predecessor, Rune Factory puts your character on a farm where you can grow crops, a town where you can interact with townspeople and woo the local ladies, and a surrounding countryside filled with places to fish and mine. Veterans of the Harvest Moon games will remember their daily routines on the farm. Water your crops, feed your cows, talk to your love interest. But new to Rune Factory are the dungeons, which offer a new place to spend your time. These dungeons are placed outside the town, where you can attack or even befriend the monsters living therein. This added element of exploration and combat adds an incredible amount of depth to the game. The dungeons also factor into the story of the game. This is also an added element to the series. A story exists which you can ignore or work towards, but completing the tasks in the story allows for more dungeons to be opened.
Speaking of working the farm, every action you perform (watering your turnips, swinging a sword) costs energy (measured in the form of ‘rune points’) which means you have to conserve your energy points, especially during boss battles. The cost of each action can be lowered by leveling up that skill, giving the game a fun RPG element to it, and encouraging you to level up your skills. This adds some depth to the game as well, and ties in nicely with the dungeons. Each one requires a higher set of skills to complete and features tougher monsters. But with tougher monsters comes greater rewards: notably materials to craft better weapons.
One of the staples of the Harvest Moon series is the ability to interact with numerous townspeople and win the heart of eligible bachelorettes. RF continues this tradition and brings plenty to the table. The members of the town have specific schedules and will move from place to place. The woo-able women each have their own distinct personalities (farm girl, bookish type, rich girl, sinister-seeming lady who hangs out at the ruins, etc.) so everyone is sure to be pleased. Which isn’t to say you can’t play the celibate hero, either.
With the game’s many positives, there are some flaws. The controls of the game are a bit finicky and take some getting used to. The game is also quite unforgiving in terms of dying. Should you die outside inside a dungeon the game ends and reverts you to your last save point. This can be avoided by saving early and often but pairing this with a challenging difficulty curve between dungeons makes for a challenge many Harvest Moon players may be unused to. The inventory system is also clunky but is streamlined in later sequels. A positive thing about these flaws, however, is that none of them are deal-breakers for the gameplay. The controls are certainly playable and the difficulty may be welcome for many players.
In conclusion, the first of the Rune Factory series is a fantastic start to a Harvest Moon game with added RPG and combat portions that makes an entertaining play through. The game has the possibility of replayability with the added enticement of marrying a new bachelorette or trying new items, although I put at least 70 hours into the game before finishing it.