Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Having once been a bit more niche before the surprise hit of Stardew Valley, we had small town farming simulators like Harvest Moon and Rune Factory to keep us happy on both Nintendo and Sony Platforms. Making its way back to us in both handheld and full console format, Rune Factory 4 Special is a redesign of the 2012 Nintendo 3DS release and in one word? It’s absolutely stellar. Alright so that was two.
The Rune Factory series while having been popular enough at the time was a victim of the dreaded sales and as well received that they were, it wasn’t enough to keep the original developer in the game and they closed their doors with the original release of Rune Factory 4. Being brought back by XSEED, Rune Factory 4 been re-designed instead of simply ported from the 3DS over to the Switch and while this still currently last entry into the series, it’s back and if it’s performance is anything to go off of? I hope that we soon see a Rune Factory 5.
Rune Factory 4 is the story of a “prince” or “princess” that falls off an airship and onto a dragon’s head in a remote, yet small and cozy, town. The quotations are because the prince or princess had been expected and when you dropped in, well, who else would make such an entrance but royalty? Lasting a whole five minutes, the actual Prince shows up and wanting to do their own thing? They grant you their royal powers to run this town and make decisions on their behalf. So what are you to do? Start learning to till the fields behind the Dragon’s Shrine for food and money, take care of villager requests for royalty points to make decisions on development, and head out into the wilds for new materials and some good old fashioned experience points as you level up your Action RPG self.
So what’s a newly found by proxy royal to do? All the above! Enjoy life, do a bit of farming, do a bit of smithing, do a bit of socializing and then head out to beat up some monsters to level up and get some new materials. As far as I’m concerned right now there are no real time limits, at least not that I’ve seen, so if you want to just hang back and get some farming done for a few days and build up your stamina for it instead of heading out of town you can. Likewise, you can also spend a few days outside of town beating the crap of out monsters and improve your combat prowess which will also come in handy as unlike something like StarDew Valley where combat is a literal choice and you never have to, in Rune Factory is a must and the only way to progress through the story.
That said, combat isn’t some Devil May Cry level button mashing extravaganza. Like everything else, from the town socialization and the farming, combat is relaxing enough where foes slowly get stronger and while bosses are a bit tanky with several phases, it’s never “hard”. It’s fun, but it’s not hard. If you do find yourself getting knocked out as it can happen… looking at your giant chickens that were overpowered for that point in the game, then you’ll find yourself in the Doctor’s office where you’ll be healed up to about half health. Being a doctor and having a practice to run however, it’s going to cost you and it’ll only cost you more and more each time you drop in combat so you’ll either way to slowly grind for experience, get better equipment, or bring someone along for the ride!
Starting off with very little people to bring along short of the Dragon Knight who’s a badass in her own right, you’ll need to befriend others to take along with you, or to romance in general, your choice. Sadly the Doctor’s wife told my female protagonist that she was already married otherwise she may have considered it once upon a time. Moving along though, people do have their own lives and even if they come with you, it’s possible that they need to leave you part ways through your dungeon crawl because “duty calls”. Allies that will never leave you, but possibly get grumpy about it, are monsters that you can befriend and house back at the farm in a monster house that you can have built up in the top corner of your farm. Everyone will level up, everyone has abilities, but you’ll want to keep an eye on hit point bars and possibly send an ally home early if they aren’t doing so great.
Once you’re back home for the afternoon, or head home to sleep and wake up in the morning, you get to do it all again. Taking care of requests that hit your inbox is a great way to get plenty of Royalty Points (RP) which can be used to kick off festivals, build new buildings, expand storage or expand on a shop’s inventory. You can slowly accumulate RP while gathering materials and hunting monsters, but you’ll really want to complete these requests that allows you to better understand the people that you are both living with, and now in charge of as Royalty. Even by proxy, it has its benefits!
Included in these benefits are the ability to get licenses which allow you to do more. Tests for licenses can be bought with RP and as long as you can properly answer all of the questions, the license is yours. Why go through the trouble you may be thinking? I sure as hell did until I found out that it gave me access to the airship that allows you to easily travel to the various save points across the lines. Only adding to this are licenses for cooking, smithing, crafting, so that you can do things yourself instead of having to buy it all. If you get good enough at it, you can even start mass producing them and selling them off for extra cash but you’ll have to buy the equipment for it first. What I really loved about this equipment is that you can actually put it anywhere so if you wanted to smith in your bedroom, you can, if you want to smith in the smithy? You can do that as well but then you’re stuck to the actual store’s opening and closing hours.
The one big thing that stood out to me over the hours that I’ve put in is that it never feels like any time has passed at all. Days go by, you till and work your field, you chat with others, you check your royal decrees, you manage your storage, you manage your monsters, and you head out of town to get new materials and you can fish wherever you choose. And it’s so relaxing unlike Harvest Moon where there was a definite stress in getting things done because you could barely get anything done in the beginning. While things may not take off so quick in Rune Factory 4, it smooths you into it as farming isn’t your be all end all, it’s a part of the overall and it’ll never drain your stamina leaving you with nothing for the rest of the day because you’ve done too much which in reality was barely anything with so much left to do. This? This you can have it all if you’re careful enough and if you’re not? There’s always tomorrow!
So overall? Rune Factory 4 Special is basically a must from me and already has a place on my 2020 Games of the Year list. Being made Royalty by proxy has never been this good and while you technically “have” to do the farming and “have” to do exploration, it never feels like you do and the ease of entry just creates a relaxing experience that is fun to play for hours on end as you choose to either befriend or romance the people of the town that you are now in charge of. Don’t want to do either? That’s why there’s exploration and combat for those moments that you just need to get away from it all!Score: 9 / 10