|Rune Factory 4 Special
|XSEED Games, Marvelous
|February 25th, 2020
|T for Teen
After being in a lull with farming simulator games for a while, ever since Stardew Valley which I also reviewed, I’ve longed for a game like it. Something calm and relaxing, that can be played differently depending on the mood you’re in. I’ve sort of admired the Rune Factory series from afar, and I’ve even played its spinoff Story Of Seasons: Trio Of Towns. And while I love that game, there seemed to be something missing for me. Will I be able to find it here?
I was almost immediately drawn in by the game’s aesthetics and style. I’ve always been a fan of medieval flair, and this game blends that perfectly with the character design that I remember back from my previous experiences. One of the things I adore the most is the design of the characters. Each one looks unique and cute, especially when it gets to the guardians. I’m usually not a fan of the chibi art style, but in this game it adds so much to the atmosphere of the game. It’s clear that a lot of love was put into the design of the game. Each character and monster design is unique, and even the music paints this wonderful, mystical world full of color. The whole package is simply stunning, and oozes charm and character. Plus, the addition of new cutscenes in the Switch version is a very welcome addition.
As stated in the first table, the series is an RPG first and foremost, but there’s a whole lot more going on here. At the beginning of the game, you’re aboard an airship that becomes hijacked. You then lose your memory and fall into a town, and on top of a dragon. You gain amnesia, and are mistaken as a prince. Your job is then to tend to a farm, raise some animals, and go dungeon crawling to hunt for Guardians. I won’t spoil what they’re for, but they’re each a unique and powerful boss. From there, the story and world both open up to reveal new characters and areas with fresh items for upgrading.
Starting out, all you’ll be able to do is farm, so I’ll start by explaining that. You wake up at 6AM sharp, and head out into your field. The field can grow later on with upgrades, but you’ll start out with 72 squares in which to plant crops. As usual with these types of games, you’ll be able to buy seeds from the shop in order to plant. There are various fertilizers, and even items to make your plants grow into a giant plant. Most of this is the same as other farming games, you sell the crops to make a profit, or you use them to craft food or other items. Where this game differs, however, is in the barn aspect. You still have the animals that you care for, but they’re much more fantasy-esque. You have the normal cow, sheep, and chicken, but you also have giant beetles, apple-like creatures, and sentient mushrooms. You can tame just about any creature in the game to keep and farm materials from them. This is a really neat concept, and it also applies to bosses, albeit with special items being needed. These monsters can then be added to your party to help you fight, ridden to help you get around, or even used as farm hands. There’s a lot of variety to this, and they’re a big help as they make it much easier to farm common drops and they can do just about anything. Eventually making the whole process nearly autonomous.
But in order to get these monsters, you’ll have to go deep into the dungeons of the game. Various dungeons open up as you progress deeper in the story, and I think they’re all unique from each other, even if the layouts feel kind of just okay. They have little puzzles in them that make them much more interesting, but those were few and far between for me. To touch on the combat that you’ll use throughout these dungeons, it’s very simplistic. You pick from short swords, long swords, spears, dual blades, gloves, axes/hammers, and staves, each one with their own stat tied to it. I really recommend investing in multiple, and trying them all out. I ended up choosing the gloves after going through most of the game with short swords, and I had so much more fun with the combos. Some enemies and bosses still gave me trouble, so I had to switch to a longer weapon, but the gloves were always my “go to”. Just experiment and go with what you like. You’ll slowly unlock more attacks and combos over time, so it never hurts to try new things. Speaking of bosses, each has their own moveset, and it is imperative that you have at least some of its patterns memorized. Some of them are really challenging, but just memorize the pattern, keep your gear upgraded, and try different weapons and you should be able to make it through.
I’ve saved possibly the bulk of this game for last, but outside of the farming and dungeon crawling, you’ll mostly be crafting and making friends with the villagers. Seeing as how you’re thought of as the prince, you are in charge of befriending the public and making renovations to the town. You’ll complete tasks for the townsfolk, which will net you Prince Points. These are points that you use for things like holding festivals, upgrading your storage/farm, or even getting new licenses for crafting and upgrading shops. The more you grow and hold festivals, the more tourists you’ll drum up for the town. This will allow you to do more stuff with your Prince Points. Some of the requests may ask you for things to be crafted. If you have the proper license and either know the recipe or know the ingredients, then you can craft it on whatever workbench might be needed (i.e. Pot for cooking, Forge for armor, etc.). You can get new recipes by eating the recipe bread sold at the shop, or by spending more of your stamina to craft it. This stamina, which is also lost slowly by farming, can be regained by either resting until the next day, standing still for a long period of time, eating food, or taking a bath. You can also upgrade your current gear with miscellaneous items found around the world, each with their own unique effects. I’d be here all day if I was explaining all the effects, it’s a really intuitive system.
The characters, as well, are a big part of this game. I’ve already mentioned how they give Prince Points, but they also have their own relationship standing with you. The closer you are as people, the more you see the character blossom. You can even choose them as teammates, and eventually date them if you’d like. The characters are all lovingly crafted, and have their own unique quirks that come to light with the fantastic writing. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen for a cast as much as I have with this bunch. Apart from a few duds like Doug and Dylas, I genuinely like most of the cast. My favorite of them being either Vishnal or Volkanon. They’re all so colorful, that I’m sure just about anyone would love them. I chose to romance Dolce, as her and Pico’s dynamic was adorable to me. Plus, she had my favorite design out of the bunch.
All in all I really love Rune Factory 4 Special. I had a blast playing it, and would highly recommend it to just about anyone. I’ve been playing this game for about 70 hours now, and I don’t feel like a single minute of that was wasted. It’s only about $39.99 on the Nintendo Switch, and since this is the re-release, it’s got a ton of new content, including a post-marriage scenario and a new difficulty. Definitely pick this up, it’s a must have.
Review copy provided by the publisher.