By Jeff Neuenschwander / January 22nd, 2014
The townsfolk were a pleasure to be around. The quirks of the people were a sight to behold. And each character feels more loveable than the last.
Let’s be honest, these games all have characters with a singular clear-cut personality trait. For instance, Arthur is a workaholic, Clorica is sleepy, Xiao Pai is clumsy, Vishnal is overly determined, Amber is incredibly naïve, and so on. However, there are aspects that do get added that make them different from other tropes, like Dolce – your typical tsundere in this game – having a childlike friend that’s constantly around to break up any sort of hostile conversation you may have with her.
But they do miss out on a convention that has appeared in the Harvest Moon series: rival couples. In this game, only one couple can be married; that being you and the bachelor/bachelorette that you choose. There are some relationships that could’ve definitely blossomed during the game had that been in place. However, the closest we get to two bachelors/bachelorettes having a relationship (outside of Kiel and Forte, who are brother and sister) is the rivalry between Doug and Dylas.
There is a big issue that needs to be addressed. However, I can’t address it yet without first explaining a few other elements.
The Town Events were an excellent touch, giving the character a chance to observe the villagers through various cutscenes. These were a great way to break up the monotony.
They are good. One of my favorites is called Get It Together and features Clorica, Doug and Amber going around town training with various people. One of my favorite parts was when they were training with Dolce, roping in Vishnal as a training combatant.
However, unlike previous games where you just had to reach a certain point in a relationship or time of year, these events happen somewhat randomly. More importantly, they won’t happen if a festival happens around the same time. Speaking of which…
The festivals were a pleasure to be a part of. To be around the ones that love you is a special thing. And to compete with said loved ones is a grand spectacle.
As I said in my Impressions piece, you have to pay Points to get the festival. When the season changes, the list of festivals you can Order refreshes. So it makes it easy to earn your festivals… maybe a little too easy… But it leads to the point that keeps the game from a perfect score, despite being the game I had the most fun with this past year.
The relationship aspect of the game was a tremendous concept. Having a more personal relationship with your beloved before marriage warms even the coldest heart with pleasant and endearing dating scenes.
But it burdens the player with a choice – one that they don’t know they’re making until it’s too late. In order to marry a character, they have to go on three dates as well as have a special Town Event happen. In order to activate the special event, you need to have had certain Town Events completed that feature the bachelor/bachelorette. But if you order all the festivals, Town Events happen infrequently, and the one you want may not happen for a long time.
In other words, the developers of this game have made you choose between love and money (or maybe town development; you choose). This is different from pretty much any other Rune Factory and Harvest Moon game as you could have both in previous games.
It also doesn’t help that the events are generated the way they are. In older games, after reaching a certain point in time or in a relationship, you’d go from one screen to the next and see a scene randomly appear in front of you. If this were the case in Rune Factory 4, getting married in the game wouldn’t be so needlessly difficult.
But despite this issue, there is one major point that makes this game worth playing again and again. And that is…
The gameplay was fantastic. Some of the best this series has ever seen. It’s always enjoyable watching yourself improve every little skill to become a stronger, more rounded character. And it’s easy to control your character as the game explains everything when a new mechanic is introduced. Ultimately, nothing from the farming to the fighting feels forced or tacked on. It just comes naturally.
If you’ve never played a Rune Factory game, here’s how it works. You do various activities around town, such as walking, sleeping, bathing, farming, mining, etc. Whenever you do an activity enough times, your skill level for said activity increases. This has an effect of increased health, rune points, strength, intelligence, decreasing rune point use, etc.
However, you don’t just rely on the stat bonuses from farming and crafting. Combat plays a big role in increasing stats, allowing you to do more with your rune points (which are your energy source in the game). While you can improve through non-combative enterprises, never underestimate what you’ll be able to do after battle.
Overall, the epic that Neverland created at the end was its finest hour. It is a game that I will continue playing, both to complete my first time through as well as start the journey once again.
Seriously, I played 150 hours before defeating the final dungeon boss and seeing the true credits — and I still have plenty of game left. I wouldn’t be surprised if this first playthrough goes at least twice as long before I’ve completed the last post-game dungeon.
To a developer we will never forget: Thank you.
Now to prepare for the European release.
…Friends, countrymen, foreigners, lend me your eyes for a moment…
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
Rune Factory 4 is available for an MSRP of $39.99 USD.
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