Huge variety of activities; amusing characters; newbie-friendly; ability to play at your own pace
Sometimes tutorials can be stifling; uninspired combat; not always clear how to progress the storyline
Like any other game with a looming sequel number, Rune Factory IV appears arcane at first. Three iterations have come and gone, and with a name like “Rune Factory,” the game doesn’t exactly scream “impulse buy.” But despite involving farming, dating, monster catching, dungeon diving, and (why not?) tourist trapping, Rune Factory IV is possibly one of the most user-friendly games in a long time.
Before your adventure begins, you choose whether you’d like to play as a boy or a girl, which generally doesn’t affect anything except for dating choices. (Unfortunately, Rune Factory IV is not so progressive that it allows same-sex marriage … from the get-go, that is.) Then you fall off an airship, as you do, and long story short, you learn you’re supposed to take on the role of the town’s monarch. This, of course, kicks off the first of three acts in Rune Factory IV‘s storyline, but more importantly, it opens up what’s most important about these games: player agency.
See, your town isn’t particularly interesting at first. It’s a sleepy little burg with your typical jolly restaurant, mom-and-pop grocery store, and nigh-abandoned armory, and while that’s all well and good to start off with, it could definitely use some work. And so, as prince (or princess) of the town, you’re charged with not only cheering up the villagers (whose impeccable, often laugh-out-loud quirks are well-documented in this series), but also increasing tourism, putting on festivals, and expanding the town.
Look, this farm ain’t gonna water itself.
You accomplish this by running errands for townsfolk, which coincidentally is how you learn to play Rune Factory IV. Townsfolk will ask you to do everything from buy tools to check the game difficulty, and so it’s almost impossible to miss anything. The only downside is that, at least at first, the game only allows you to accept one quest at a time, thus forcing you to wait a day between every quest. Worse, you can’t cancel quests once you’ve accepted them– although they’re usually easy enough to complete in a few in-game days.
Nevertheless, this hand-holding turns out useful, if only because of the sheer amount of things you’re able to do. As in Harvest Moon, Rune Factory IV brings back the farming system, where you can plant potatoes, turnips, and other vegetables. You can then use these crops to make friends with villagers, whose friendship levels are trackable in a menu, or to cook to impress people even more. Or maybe you’d like to forge weapons and tools– you can do that too, by getting materials from monsters that you capture. Much like cows and chickens in Harvest Moon, your monster buddies shed wool, spores, and other raw goods that you can use to upgrade your inventory.
And while it’s perfectly easy to to spend your days doing nothing but farming and animal husbandry, Rune Factory IV naturally follows its series roots into real-time combat. After equipping anything from leather gloves to a broadsword, you’ll slash through enemies by mashing buttons until they die. Unfortunately, if this sounds uninspired, that’s because it is– combat is a bit bland, and the dungeons don’t help. Simply put, each dungeon is a collection of rooms full of enemies, without the sort of puzzles that make dungeoneering in video games interesting. And at the end of each dungeon is a boss, which can range from relatively easy to extremely difficult depending on how good you are at a) circling around and b) mashing your buttons. On the other hand, mindless combat could be a bonus for some people, who just want to get materials for forging and building; your mileage may vary. (And it’s cute to ask your potential girlfriends or boyfriends out on a monster-hunting date. Though it’s not so cute when the boss destroys them.)
Combat usually consists of pressing B until something dies.
Of course, Rune Factory IV wouldn’t be a JRPG without a story, and the game delivers acceptably well on that point, as far as JRPG stories go. Essentially, other than being tasked to run the town, you’re also tasked with saving the entire land as what the locals call an Earthmate: someone who has an incredibly deep connection with, well, the earth. The story unveils at a leisurely pace, and although sometimes you don’t quite know what you’re supposed to do to unlock the next portion of the plot, chances are you’ll stumble upon it just by following your usual routine. In any case, it’s clearly not what the designers intended as the most important part of the game.
As far as what the fourth iteration of Rune Factory does that the first three didn’t– there isn’t a huge amount, when we get down to tacks. It’s little things, like slumber parties, or being able to wear pajamas, although admittedly these little things are the types of charming side events that make games like Rune Factory IV work. Some other improvements, such as monsters finally being able to help you out as farmhands, are welcome, though not necessary. Overall, if you’ve played the first three, you probably won’t find much to tide you over here– but you’ll probably still like it.
Unsurprisingly, Rune Factory IV doesn’t need its much-vaunted combat side to get by. In fact, it’s more than interesting enough without it. What with its impressive writing, ridiculous variety of activities, and leisurely pace, Rune Factory IV‘s a nice break from the more hardcore crowd. That said, you’ll want to invest quite a bit of time in it. After all, nobody else is gonna water your crops.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.