It really says something about a game when it can take the idea of grinding to ludicrous levels and still be insanely fun.
Producer: Marvelous USA, Marvelous
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release July 19 2012
Rune Factory 4 is a sandboxy RPG that throws a rather large farming simulator into the mix. It essentially takes some of the major aspects of the ever-popular Harvest Moon series (i.e. the farming and the relationship-building) and mixes it together with standard action RPG-style dungeons and narrative. The result is what amounts to a largely detailed character builder, at least as far as your character’s abilities go.
Since the game itself is broken into two different systems, I’ll explain each separately, starting with the RPG elements. Rune Factory 4 is a light dungeon-crawler style RPG with a top-down camera. The combat and exploration are somewhat akin to the Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past, albeit quite a bit smaller. The dungeons themselves are rather simple, but are littered with progressively difficult enemies. As is to be expected, each dungeon has a boss battle at the end, which can be repeated. The story elements task you with going to each dungeon as well as unlock access to them as you progress, but there is nothing stopping you from returning to each dungeon and farming them to your heart’s content. Each room of the dungeon even respawns its enemies as soon as you leave it.
Combat in Rune Factory 4 comes in an enormous variety. There are several weapon types to choose from, each with their own advantages, disadvantages, and style. As you use each weapon, your skill level for that particular weapon type increases, which boosts the damage you do with that weapon and gives you a small boost to your base stats, making each weapon type useful, even if you choose to switch at any time. There are a myriad of different magic spells each with their own element, and much like the weapons, each element has its own skill level. Again like the weapons, leveling any particular magic type will grant bonuses to your base stats, so nothing becomes a waste of time.
The second half of the game is in the town life. There are plenty of different crafts to experiment in, including such basics as forging, cooking, and chemistry. You also get your own farm to grow your own crops in. As with the combat, each of these crafting disciplines has its own skill levels. The extra neat thing about these skill levels is that they will also increase those base stats, depending on the craft. That means that crafting will help your combat in both the stuff you make as well as the stats you gain. As cool as that is by itself, the crafting feels much like a separate game in and of itself. I can sit down for hours and enjoy this game without even leaving the main town. The fact that the combat and the crafting synergize with each other so well just makes this game that much more impressive.
Of course, crafting is not all there is to do in town. As a rule, towns have people, and the people in this town are every bit as quirky as the people in your old college dorm. They each have their own likes, dislikes, strengths and faults. Most of them seem strange at first, but it’s just so easy to warm up to them before long. In the same spirit as the skill level system, each villager has a relationship level with your main character, which will influence how they each talk to you. Certain characters are even date-able and even marriageable, so as you form deeper bonds, you may find yourself with a new spouse. The town also throws a ton of festivals, which creates a lot of fun mini-games.
Most of the skills I’ve mentioned are pretty standard, but Rune Factory 4 does not stop there. There are skill levels for strange things like walking, sleeping, eating, and bathing. As strange as these are, they are each useful, since they each have some sort of influence on your base stats. All of these different skills combined with the surprisingly high difficulty of both the dungeon monsters and the crafting recipes make grinding a necessity. Luckily, grinding in this game is a whole lot of fun.
Storytelling in Rune Factory 4 is actually very strange. Since grinding is such a much and since there is so much freedom in any given point in the game, the pacing of the story can feel very off. Most of the time, the story revolves around saving a divine dragon from a slow and tragic death. Usually saving her involves delving into progressively harder dungeons, which means more grinding, so you could spend in-game weeks at a time improving your skills. Festivals don’t stop when the town’s deified dragon lies dying either, so you’ll have fishing contests or harvest festivals while the dragon slowly wilts away just behind you. It’s strange, but I’d have it no other way.
The graphical style in Rune Factory 4 takes a slightly unique spin on the classic anime art style. The general style is anime-esque but with a much more pastel or watercolor color scheme. The washed colors make the game as a whole feel somewhat like a children’s book. In general, the game has a major “cute” feel to it.
While the graphics are cute in general, they are also simplistic in a disappointing way. The character models, world design, and combat effects look like they were made for a Gameboy Advance rather than a 3DS. While there are some nicely animated cut scenes each time you first meet some of the characters, those only happen once and only for those few specific characters. The effects of the magic spells look like they came directly out of an old Golden Sun game, which, while nice at the time, are a little dated when we’re talking about a platform that handles Fire Emblem: Awakening’s special effects.
Rune Factory’s music is very nice, while not entirely too outstanding. The one song that you’ll hear most often, the town’s theme, is nice and soothing. Some of the dungeon and boss music is quite nice as well, but not in any way that particularly grabs your attention. I did enjoy the boss theme in the haunted mansion, but even that required me to actively listen for it.
Fortunately, much of the other sounds are much more attention-grabbing. The voice acting is phenomenal, even though they voiced part of the dialogues are rather short. There are some big-name voice actors in here, including Wendee Lee and Vic Mignogna. I also found the sound effects for the weather to be very high quality, but that might just be because I have a thing for rain falling on rooftops.
The original cost for Rune Factory 4 is $39.99 USD, and it has been out for a few years, so it may be easy enough to find a used one for less. Even with the original $40, howlongtobeat.com claims it takes about 65-85 hours to finish, and there is plenty of room for replayability or even continuous play. Value-wise, there really is no reason not to buy this game.
As an addictingly fun grindfest, Rune Factory 4 is simply a superb game. Both the dungeon-crawling and the crafting / relationshipbuilding aspects of the gameplay provide an insane amount of fun and enjoyment. The main story is a little repetitive and has strange pacing, and the graphics are a little outdated for a 3DS game, but the sheer scope and execution of the gameplay and the solid sound quality are enough to overshadow those faults.
+Tons to do
-No character customization
Score: 5 / 5