Rune Factory Review
The Harvest Moon series has always felt quite odd to me. It wants to be what feels like part dating simulator and part farming simulator, all while having a strange cuteness throughout the entire presentation. Needless to say, I've stayed away from many of the previous entries in the series (trying one of them on the GameCube) because of the perceived image of what the games were. However, after talking with a friend and finding out that the newest entry in the series, Rune Factory, would be adding some RPG elements into the formula, I figured it was time to give the game another shot.
Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon is, to say the least, the most intriguing of the Harvest Moon series so far. Instead of just farming and working on relationships with the girls around town, you'll now be heavily encouraged to go into deep caves. While the past games did have caves for you to mine in, you now have a true HP bar to work with, along with the stamina-type bar that has always been present in the Harvest Moon world. Why do you need HP, you may ask? Monsters! These monsters play a main role in this game's story – you can fight them in the dungeon and you can also befriend them by petting them (don't ask, really, just don't) which will, in turn, convince them to work on your farm. Don't worry, you can't kill these monsters – you're just releasing their souls. This is, obviously, a kid-friendly touch to the game.
Yes, the whole idea of petting monsters might seem a little strange to some and a whole heck of a lot of strange to others, but it works for the game. Outside of fighting monsters, there is a lot to do here. One of the first things you'll get a chance to mess with is the farming aspect of the game. You see, you are some guy who happened to wander near a farm owned by a girl named Mist. She sees you faint and, after a few tries, eventually brings you some water. I actually found the game's intro to be chuckle-worthy – you tell her that you want water and she brings you a watering can, for example. After you get your wits about you, she'll tell you she really thinks you could be a good farmer and lets you have free run of a farm she doesn't use any more. Sure, it is littered with rocks, bushes, herbs and sticks, but those are like pure gold to a beginning farmer. After you've gone through cleaning up the field (which is simple enough to do with a couple of button presses), you can go sell all those things you gathered up.
See, this is one of the game's big improvements over other Harvest Moon games – you don't have to wait until later in the day for a shipment to be picked up to make your money. That was one of the things that aggravated me the last time I tried to play the game on the 'Cube – I couldn't just straight up sell to a vendor. I had to wait for a shipment to be picked up, rest, then go to the vendor the next day to buy some more seeds, even if I had a full stamina bar for plowing parts of a field and planting/watering newly placed seeds. Since cleaning up the field doesn't use stamina, you'll have enough left to plow and plant quite a few sets of seeds before the day ends.
This plowing and planting concept is going to be where you'll decide if you love the game or hate the game, though. After this first day, you'll go through a daily routine – clean off the field, sell stuff, buy new seeds, do a bit of plowing, pick anything fully grown, then finally water everything. If you have stamina left, you can go explore the caves and possibly even do some plowing or mining in there. Eventually, you'll get to the point where you can get monsters to do some of the more menial tasks around your farm for you so you have more dungeon fun time, but getting to that point is going to steer some people away from this game.
Remember how I mentioned the taming of monsters earlier? Well, that replaces a staple of past Harvest Moon games – the raising of livestock. Where this design gets totally bizarre, though, is when you realize you can get the same resources from these monsters that you used to get from the livestock. Yeah, it might seem bizarre at first, just like petting these monsters to befriend them, but hey. This is a bizarre video game world after all, where some of the rules of our normal world don't apply. The best part is that some of these monsters will do farm work for you – you can task them with picking crops that are ready to harvest or watering crops that need to be watered. You can even force the little buggers to fight for you. The whole monster element adds a bit of a Pokemon style feel to the game – catch the monsters and make them do stuff for you. It is an oddly entertaining aspect of the game.
Overall, Rune Factory does a pretty good job of taking the Harvest Moon design of farming and adding a basic dungeon crawler aspect to the mix. The stuff you farm can be cooked in your house which will, in turn, allow you to eat the cooked product for boosts to your stamina and hit points. You can't get away with not farming and just sticking to dungeon runs, since the stuff you get from farming is so essential to getting through the dungeons. Also, the dungeons help you to keep your crops going during all seasons of the year – you can still plant seeds and such for crops that only grow in the spring in a cave that feels like Spring. To do this, you're going to have to clear that cave of monsters and such, though.
In the end, this meshing of two different styles of gameplay is what makes Rune Factory a worthy pickup for previous Harvest Moon-ers. While it isn't a total re-imagining of the series, it still feels like a solid evolution. Also, if you've never played one of the Harvest Moon games before, this is probably the best place to start. The only thing that is going to keep people from truly enjoying the game is the monotonous daily rituals that you'll have to go through until you have enough monsters to do your dirty work for you. If you can gets past that, there is a lot here to enjoy.