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By DKII 12th Apr 2008 | 2,806 views
Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon is a very apt title. The game takes the classic Harvest Moon gameplay and blends it with a generic fantasy action RPG, while encouraging you to grow full fields of crops which act as factories producing "rune spheres" of energy. But before we get too deep into the mechanics, let's go over the basics. All of the classic Harvest Moon gameplay is still in place. You'll still grow crops, talk to townspeople, cook, craft items, and woo yourself a wife, but now you'll also buy/forge weapons and adventure through a number of different caves in order to investigate the influx of monsters and eventually save the town.
You start off the game as Raguna, an amnesiac who's wandered into the town of Kardia. Fortunately the townsfolk are friendly, and the first person you meet gives you food and water and a plot of land, in exchange for farming and maintaining it. While you kind of get dropped off at that point without much further direction, by talking to the townsfolk and working on your field you'll get an idea of what's going on.
The game has a day-night cycle with each second of real time corresponding to a minute of game time. You wake up at 6AM each morning -- unless you stay up too late at night and oversleep -- and are given a certain amount of Hit Points (HP) and Rune Points (RP), which represent your health and energy, respectively. Every action you take, whether plowing your field or swinging your sword, will drain your RP and, once your RP reaches zero, will also drain your HP. If your HP runs out in a cave, it's game over, and you have to restart from your previous save file. Between the real-time progression and the RP limit, you only have a limited amount of time in which to accomplish your chores and go out adventuring, giving the game a unique time-management feel to it.
The farming mechanics are so fleshed out you can actually spend all of your time in town. The farming cycle is pretty basic, and requires you to clear your field of debris (some, like herbs and wood, can be saved for other uses), then plant seeds, water them each day, and finally harvest the crop after a set number of days. Farming actions can be done either with buttons or basic touch controls -- either one works fairly well -- and a new addition to the series over the previous DS title allows you to walk over your crops instead of having to plan out watering routes ahead of time. Once grown, crops can be sold at any of the in-town shops, dropped off at a shipping container next to your field to be automatially sold at 6PM that day, stored in your inventory, given to townsfolk as gifts, or converted back into seeds and leveled up, giving the crop a greater selling price once it's fully grown again.
As an added bonus, successfully growing a full 3x3 square of crops (or any combination that results in at least 9 fully-grown crops) will result in the generation of a rune sphere which will restore some of your RP. Better yet, if you leave the crops sitting in the ground instead of harvesting them immediately, the rune sphere will reappear each morning. But be careful to save your game every night because the weather might randomly through a cyclone at you, which not only forces you to stay inside all day -- a pointless effort if you haven't yet expanded your house -- but completely destroys your field.
There's more variety in the town life with fishing, livestock raising, cooking, and crafting all available as alternate ways of making money and/or just making your virtual life easier. There are a staggering number of recipes in the game, though you have to purchase an expensive upgrade to your house in order to see any of it. The one annoyance with the crafting is that when you open up the crafting window, you have to pick the ingredients from your inventory by memory as they're displayed as icons only with no text.
There are dozens of townsfolk in the game, each with a unique personality, though their dialogue can get repetitive sometimes as it only changes for holidays, festivals, and after each cave cleared. Usually if you find yourself stuck at some point, talking to someone in the town will help you out with advice on how to proceed next or a helpful tool or other item. There are a number of shops that can sell you food and other ingredients, and you will probably visit the hot spring every day to refill both your HP and RP for a small fee.
By talking to each townsperson regularly, you can build up friendship points with them, though there doesn't seem to be any point to doing so. There are several eligible bachelorettes in town, however, each with a separate love meter that can be built up mainly by speaking with them on holidays, though there are a few special events you can participate in and gifts you can give to speed up the process. With a full love meter, you can jump through the hoops required to get the girl to marry you, if you can manage to figure out what those requirements are without a guide.
The combat, in the end, seems like kind of an afterthought compared to all of the detail put into the home life. You have a few different types of weapons to select from, though the speed of the light sword seems to offset the extra damage of the other two-handed weapons. Monsters appear from a static generator, and will continuously respawn until the generators are destroyed. Clearing certain conditions -- usually at least destroying all of the generators -- will allow you to progress through the cave until you reach the boss. Frankly, unless you're under-leveled, the boss battles will provide the only real combat challenge, and if you're over-leveled at all then even these will be a breeze, as mindless button-mashing with your sword is a pretty effective strategy for almost anything you'll come across. You'll earn experience points as you defeat enemies, and gaining a level will increase your maximum HP and RP and other stats.
There are also a number of spells avaiable for purchase at the library as you progress through the game, though the combat-related ones are completely useless as they're too slow to hit a moving target and don't do nearly enough damage for their RP cost. Worse still, once you purchase one of these spells and decide that it's useless, there's no way to get rid of it so you're stuck with it taking up inventory space for the rest of the game. Only the non-damage spells (heals and teleports) are worth purchasing.
Still the dungeon-crawling is fun and it ties into the rest of the game really well. Each cave has a particular season associated with it and multiple fields inside, allowing you to grow crops from that season year-round -- a requirement if you want to grow one of the 100-plus-day crops you unlock after beating the game. Players can also use the fields grow some crops and generate rune spheres with which to refill your energy just before the boss fight. Each cave also has rocks which can be mined, giving out various minerals to be used in upgrading your tools and crafting new weapons and accessories. You can even capture monsters and either put them to work on your farm, harvest materials off of them (milk, wool, and honey) or take them back into a cave to fight alongside you.
One interaction which was not entirely positive was the fifth cave, which was only accessible during winter. If you don't happen to reach this cave at the right time, you'll either be waiting around for winter to come, or rushing through the cave to finish it before winter is over. It's a stupid limiting mechanic that doesn't really offer anything additional to the gameplay. There's also a game-breaking bug that will corrupt your save file if you use your sleeping bag inside this cave on the last day of winter, so don't do it.
The menu is total information overload when you first start the game, but as you progress you'll slowly figure out what everything is, and inventory management is greatly enhanced with touchscreen controls. You also have a number of skills related to each of your possible activities covering both farming and fighting, and as you use each ability you'll slowly gain skill points. Having a higher skill at an activity means that that action will consume less RP with each use, so as you proceed through the game you'll be able to do more each day.
The game is presented in the traditional top-down 2.5d view, and you're able to move freely on each screen (rather than being limited to tile movement as in the previous DS title). The art design is great and the animation is fluid, with varying environments in each of the caves and different visual effects outside for different seasons and times of day. The music is catchy if a bit repetitive but overall adds to the experience, and the sound effects are functional without being annoying.
Overall, the game is actually quite fun and would be recommended for both Harvest Moon series fans and newcomers alike. The dungeon-crawling aspect offers a fresh take on the traditional gameplay, and while the storyline is a bit bland it serves to give the game direction and keep prodding the player along. It gives both farming *and* combat, enough of each to satisfy both camps, and ties them together in an interesting fashion. It's a great concept and works pretty well. But a few design choices tend to interfere with the enjoyment, especially later in the game.
Crafting offers a number of great items, but most of these will require a rare drop off of a random monster in one of the caves, with no way to really figure out how to go about getting it short of looking at a game guide. And when I say a rare drop, I do mean rare. Worse yet, if you do spend time farming mobs for these items, you'll gain so many levels that the combat in the game will be trivialized the rest of the way, as the level progression is just out of balance.
There's really only one thing you can spend a significant amount of money on in this game, and that's the house expansion. The problem is, mining gets you so much easy money, and the house expansion gives you so many more gameplay features, that you'll probably reach that goal less than halfway through the game. Once you have the house expansion, there's really nothing left to do with your money, which kind of saps your motivation to level up your crops and craft luxury items.
I've already mentioned the problems with the fifth cave, but the ones after that one also prove annoying. The last few caves in the game will require you to grow crops in order to open doors, requiring you to sit around and water your crops for a few days -- multiple times -- instead of actually clearing the cave. I can understand how this fits in with the whole harvest-as-religion theme of the game, but as a gameplay mechanic it's just a cheap way to extend the length of the game, and isn't very fun.
Once you complete the main storyline, you can continue farming and all of your other activities indefinitely, but without an in-game checklist for completing recipes or growing high-level crops, the only real goals you can set for yourself are winning a wife and getting the house expansion -- both of which will likely be completed long before you beat the last cave. It just seems like with a few additional touches, the end-game could offer a lot more lasting appeal, but as it stands only series fans will want to stick around after the ending.
There are a couple of extra features I haven't mentioned yet. Using Wi-Fi (friends only) or wireless, you can trade items with your friends. As an added bonus, any traded item gains a level, providing you a way to level your crops from the level 9 maximum without trading, all the way up to level 100, if you and your friend are patient enough. Note however that no matter what level your seeds are when planted, the maximum level of the crops that you can harvest is still limited to level 10. You can also take screenshots at any time in the game by pressing L + Select. The cool part of this tool, is you can then go into your house and draw on your screenshots using the touchscreen and a number of stamps and colored markers. Of course, you can trade your new drawings with your friends via Wi-Fi/wireless.
Rune Factory offers a great Harvest Moon experience, and as an added bonus throws in combat and a storyline to try and hook in those who aren't interested in "just farming", and for the most part, it works. There's a huge amount of content between all aspects of the game, and it's actually enjoyable, so it should keep you busy for quite awhile. The game sold well enough to warrant a sequel, which is already out in Japan and hopefully addresses the small quirks that kept this game from being truly spectacular.
takkxyz posted 08/11/2007, 09:23
Fun game combining Harvest Moon with an Action RPG, you won't have too much problem if you played both. Though it is bogged down by one marriage candidate that require Wi-Fi trading to get, translation errors (typical of Natsume) and minor (I hope minor) freezing bugs.
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