Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Touting updates to the original Rune Factory 4 release that came out on the Nintendo 3DS back in 2013, Rune Factory 4 Special provides some new content and doesn’t feel like a game that released nearly a decade ago. The combination of farming simulation and action-RPG elements make for a charming experience that is an easy and enjoyable way for RPG fans to spend their time.
While I had played and enjoyed the Harvest Moon games in the past, this was actually my first time playing the Rune Factory series. I had no idea how accessible this adventure was going to be, but I found it to be exceedingly easy to get into. Putting it down proved a bit more challenging. I did not really know what to expect going into it, half-expecting the breezy approach of maybe an Animal Crossing title. While there’s certainly plenty of simulation aspects that lend themselves to that comparison, Rune Factory 4 Special danglers a much greater sense of progression in front of the player through numerous small objectives along the way.
The story starts off rather trope-heavy, as you pick the gender of your protagonist who is knocked out of a passing airship. From there you lose your memory and agree to serve as a sort of caretaker to a town in a fantasy setting. However, taking care of the town can range from small but still important activities such as tending to crops all of the way to requests that lead you into nearby dungeons. While there is plenty to do and tons of micromanagement baked into your daily activities, to its credit Rune Factory 4 Special is ready and willing to let you take your time and soak things in.
In fact sometimes you have to take your time. The narrative moves along at a somewhat casual pace that might not suit everyone, but I appreciated it. That being said, sometimes to advance the narrative, you need certain seemingly random events to occur, or just the passage of a couple of days. Rune Factory 4 Special is more about the journey than the destination. That being said, waiting for these triggered events to move the narrative along can be somewhat frustrating at times.
While the story is pretty basic stuff, especially to start, I will say that I was happy to see that the plot did start to dangle and execute on different threads that weave into the narrative slowly over time. The writing is often relaxed, even outright funny in places. That being said, it often feels like the story is secondary to the myriad activities that the developers have put out there for our protagonist.
The daily activities early on focus very heavily on the farming simulations. Whether you’re chopping woods, growing crops, treating said food with specific fertilizers or something else, Rune Factory 4 Special provides a never-ending sense of progression with all of these small tasks. You build relationships with the townspeople as well, adding a bit of a lightweight dating simulation to the mix as well. With a dozen characters (split down the middle by eligible male or female pairings) in the town that you can have romances with. This leads to dating, profession of love, marriage and a child. Like everything else in the game though, the pace of this element is a slow burning one that takes time.
Outside of these two slice-of-life simulation aspects, the rest of the gameplay focuses on top-down action RPG gameplay. You learn new abilities along the way, earning experience and bettering your equipment in pretty typical fashion. The combat sort of reminds me of the Mana games. It’s not terribly deep (in fact, despite the many skills in the game, most buttons really just boil down to mashing some buttons), but the way the adventuring aspects compliment the simulation aspects is pretty slick. Sure, you can focus your time on one over the other, but if you completely neglect one in favor of the other gameplay modes, you’ll find your character to be out of balance as well. These different systems are rolled out gently over time, and each new layer seems to compliment the last.
For example, if you’re hoping to take on a more difficult dungeon, you need quality equipment in items. These come less from loot and more from what you can develop during the simulation portions of the game. However, the loot you do acquire while out and about adventuring can help level-up your harvests. It’s a really solid gameplay loop that I found addicting.
The presentation is charming, with cute music and appropriately bright visuals. That being said, this is a game that’s several years old, and it does look the part. The overall visual style works, it just looks dated at times. After all, this was originally a 3DS title). The controls are generally fine if a bit stiff in places (like placing furniture in your home, which is fun to arrange how you like). It looks fine going from the small screen to a big one, but it’s not exactly a technical achievement either.
Rune Factory 4 Special is fascinating in that it has numerous systems that on their own are pleasant if not terribly deep. Where the title shines however is in how these various systems interact with one another. They create a cumulative experience above and beyond its individual parts, and there is a ton of content to be enjoyed overall.Score: 8.75 out of 10