The Rune Factory series has finally managed to emerge from the shadow of other farming sims in recent years despite being the best in the business. Marvelous, the publisher behind Rune Factory is also responsible for the Story of Seasons franchise since 2003.
We’ve already had Rune Factory 4 special, and with the recent release of Rune Factory 5, an announcement for Rune Factory 6, and even a spin-off game set in the same universe, there probably won’t be a better time to acquaint new players with this highlight of the franchise.
But how well does a remaster of a 2009 Nintendo DS game hold up?
Rune Factory 3 Special
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: September 5, 2023
Price: $39.99 USD
I’ve had the privilege of reviewing Rune Factory 4 Special (in fact this was the first review I ever did for Niche Gamer) and Rune Factory 5, and I’ve played several other games from the franchise. I’d consider myself our resident expert on all things Rune Factory.
For those unfamiliar, Rune Factory games take the familiar farming mechanics from Story of Seasons and adds a thick layer of RPG on top of it. Farming is a means to an end and the real meat of the game is in the beat’em up combat, crafting, and skill leveling.
Everything is a skill, and I mean everything. Everything from basic activities like Running and Eating, to obvious RPG skills like Spears and Wind Magic. The reason is for immersion. It’d be way too boring to just power through the game with pure combat while ignoring what sets Rune Factory apart from other RPGs.
Farming also provides crucial benefits, not only are there farming related skills to level, but when harvesting you can randomly create Runeys. These spirits come in two flavors, small orbs that level up a random skill, and more distinguished ones that permanently level a base stat. A hero that farms is a strong hero.
In Rune Factory 3, our hero is Micah. Micah is a young man with the power to transform into a Wooly, a cute sheep monster. However he’s lost his memories and is thankfully put up by the people of the village and given land to manage (this always happens, just roll with it).
With Micah’s ability to transform, players will discover the history of the village and what happened between the humans and Univir people who now live with a mutual distrust of one another.
Rune Factory 3 holds up overall as a solid game, it basically cemented the core game mechanics fans of the franchise came to further appreciate in the fourth game and there’s a reason those two stand out as the best in the series.
But let’s look at new features in the Special remaster. There’s the “Hell” difficulty, which spices things up and makes the game last longer. There’s a lot to see and do in Rune Factory 3 and skilled players can oftentimes compensate for poor gear with skill, possibly to the detriment of story pacing. The new difficulty adds a challenge and artificially lengthens the game via difficulty, which I normally wouldn’t consider a positive but ironically I think it’s great here; it allows players familiar with the series to struggle a bit more than we otherwise would.
Graphics have been updated! We’re no longer bound to the technical limitations of the DS and both the in-game models, textures, and 2D artwork have been enhanced. The items on the ground look almost too good but overall it’s a direct improvement.
The Newlywed Mode is back as a feature and includes Live2D character artwork, letting you see physical reactions from your wife during conversations. It’s a great feature and glad it’s back.
Another great feature is that we actually get Japanese voices! This includes Chihara Minori as Sofia. Minori is mostly known for her role as Yuki Nagato in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu). This is something I constantly badgered XSEED on Twitter about but never got a response, so this was a pleasant surprise.
The game has some failings, though rather than failings it might be more accurate to call them relics. Rune Factory 3 Special has some stiff controls compared to Rune Factory 4. More than once I lost some seeds by trying plant the same square twice, and wasted energy every so often watering or tilling squares I didn’t mean to. Not to mention accidentally picking up the wrong thing. Rune Factory 4 made the game’s controls more accurate, and that difference in quality is felt keenly in this remaster of an older game.
Ultimately, Rune Factory 3 Special does what a remaster should; it’s a direct improvement of the original. It’s a great place for new fans to hop onto the series before moving on to Rune Factory 4 Special, and fans who jumped on at 4 will get a chance to appreciate a new game in a similar style, since Rune Factory 5 was so different.
Hopefully Rune Factory 6 will be a return to form for the franchise but in the meantime, Rune Factory 3 Special is a spectacular remake that will delight fans who have never gotten a chance to try it, and will tide over old fans of the series. The future looks bright for Rune Factory.