Release Date: March 17, 2009
Rune Factory is what happens when Harvest Moon and a dungeon crawler have a child. Rune Factory: Frontier is what happens when that love child comes to the Wii. Frontier is best described as a more active, and involved, form of Harvest Moon that puts players in the role of a young hero who must build a farm, care for crops and livestock, all the while capturing and raising monsters and doing battle with blades through various dungeons. Unfortunately, Rune Factory has never been as recognizable as its iconic brethren, Harvest Moon, which essentially gave birth to the series. Even on the franchise’s console of origin, the NDS, it only ever managed to keep a very niche audience, despite being more approachable and enjoyable for most gamers. Making the move to home consoles was a big risk for Rune Factory, but it was an even bigger risk to make its debut on a system that wasn’t known for games of its kind.
Frontier hit North American gamers in 2009, three years after the Wii was released. By the time it arrived on store shelves, Nintendo’s waggle box had been hammered by critical eyes, and was often referred to as the system that lacked a library for the hardcore. Because of this, as well as being three years into the console’s lifespan, Rune Factory went unnoticed upon its release. My theory behind is that Frontier was released during a month in which it went toe-to-toe with some stiff competition. In March 2009, Frontier hit retail stores alongside Resident Evil 5, Halo Wars, Pokemon Platinum, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, and the Nintendo DSi itself. Needless to say, gamers’ wallets were light by the end of that March, and I’m certain that this intense level of competition had something to do with Rune Factory slipping under the radar.
But this wasn’t Frontier’s doing, really, nor did it reflect on the quality of the game. In truth, the title’s publisher, Xseed, did nothing to help this as their marketing for the game was nearly non-existent. In my mind, this was an immense missed opportunity. Rune Factory: Frontier was a beautiful piece of gaming architecture. The core gameplay was filled to the brim with diversity, as it was one part dating sim, one part farm simulator, one part RPG, and one part dungeon crawler. How this was all tied together is what was truly impressive, as the game always felt coherent. Given that there were so many moving parts, it’s impressive to see how the developers were able to sew a thread that linked everything together into a single, consistent piece of work.
What also made the game so special was its undeniable charm, which could be found in everything from the graphics and soundtrack, to the story and characters. Aside from possessing the likability factor, Rune Factory: Frontier was nigh impossible to put down as well. This ultimately became an issue for me, as I bought the game when I was in graduate school. I spent far too many evenings firing up the game around 7pm, and finally finding the willpower to turn it off around 2am. The title was simply addicting as all get out. When playing it, I was taken back to my days in junior high when I’d sneak out of bed just to play Harvest Moon 64 until the wee hours of the morning.
So perhaps I’m marked with nostalgia, but at the same time, I can also objectively recognize a solid game when I see one, and nostalgia aside, Rune Factory: Frontier is the real deal. It’s one of the most complete packages you can find on the Wii. And truth be told, Rune Factory belongs on a Nintendo system; they’re the only consoles that feel niche enough to satisfy the niche gamers who love this series. It may not have brought in the sales, but those that did pick it up, were treated to a wonderful and heart-warming title that was sure to paint a smile on their faces from the moment the disc started spinning.