It’s been almost seven years since Rune Factory 4 released in the US on the Nintendo 3DS, but that hasn’t stopped fans of the series from waiting patiently. In a Nintendo Direct last year, XSEED Games finally announced that not only is a Rune Factory 5 in development, but that Rune Factory 4 would be re-released on the Nintendo Switch with updated graphics.
Rune Factory 4 Special isn’t the Rune Factory 5 that fans have been waiting for, but those that loved the original will appreciate the updated graphics, new content, and just the convenience of playing on the Nintendo Switch.
Rune Factory 4 Special
Developers: Neverland Company Inc.
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: February 25th, 2020
Price: $39.99 ($59.99 Archival Edition)
Rural life simulators are hardly a new genre, with the Harvest Moon series- or as it’s known now Story of Seasons- being well known in the west. Even indie developers have taken note with Stardew Valley becoming as popular as it has.
Rune Factory took the genre of rural life simulators and gave it an RPG spin. The series introduced blacksmithing, dungeon crawling, spellcasting, and skill levels in addition to the usual farming, gift giving, and romancing most games of the genre feature.
Rune Factory 4 drops you- literally- into the middle of the story. The main character gets thrown off an airship and loses their memories after landing headfirst in the village of Selphia.
Selphia, is protected by the dragon goddess of wind Ventuswill. Ventuswill is affable and charismatic as far as deities go, as opposed to the other more regal divine dragons, and after you surprise her with your sudden entrance you become her friend and confidant.
After landing in Selphia, you’re mistaken for a visiting monarch, and are given a place to stay in the dwelling of Ventuswill. Incidentally, there’s farmland in the courtyard and Ventuswill explains he senses the power of an “Earthmate” within you.
Earthmates are individuals with strong connections to nature and the runes that give it life. As such, despite your presumed loyalty, you’re expected to tend this farm as an Earthmate.
It’s easy to fall into the misconception that farming isn’t necessary. After all, can’t you just go into dungeons and sell the spoils off monsters? You absolutely can, but farming is exceedingly profitable, and deceptively relevant to your combat ability.
When harvesting on your farm, there’s a chance of “Runeys” appearing. Runeys come in two forms, motes of light that increase a random skill when picked up, or more rare ones with smiling faces and potato-shaped bodies which permanently increase one of your base stats.
As such, someone who neglects their farming can find themselves seriously underpowered even when they’re at the appropriate level for certain enemies and dungeons.
Rune Factory 4 has a wide variety of skills, and some of them just feel pointless. There’s a skill for bathing, eating, and sleeping which are meant to encourage an immersive experience. The main character ranks up these skills by eating at least once a day, taking baths at the bathhouse, and going to bed on time.
Farming is a chore, which makes sense it’s farming. All the basics need to be done, soil needs tilled, plants need watered every day when it’s not raining. But the profit and chance of Runeys spawning makes it worth it. The most difficult task however, is upgrading the quality of crops.
All items have a quality in Rune Factory 4, and unless you’re lucky to find high quality seeds as a random drop, you’ll have to make them. When a crop is fully grown, rather than harvest, you cut it down with a sickle and it drops seeds of a higher quality. This needs to be done repeatedly until the seeds are level 10. Higher level crops give higher profit and make higher quality products.
The problem with raising crop quality is that it requires a ton of management that doesn’t fit in with the pace of the game. Soil needs to be inspected and kept healthy with fertilizer, and tilling withered grass or corn into it. Soil even has its own “HP” to reflect the importance of crop rotation and not over-stressing your fields.
Similar to farming, those that neglect basic hygiene and habits will end up weaker in the long run; the sleeping, eating, and bathing skill are easy to rank up and contribute heavily to max HP.
But despite the reliance on leveling skills to increase stats, combat is a blast. It’s a top down beat-em-up style game with unique combos for each weapon type including a charge attack. Magic staffs also exist in the game and while they lack the ability to combo hits, they reduce the “Rune Point” cost of spells, and can be charged to cast different spells depending on the element of the staff.
The remake of Rune Factory 4 doesn’t introduce any new gameplay elements in the base game except for a new “HELL” difficulty. Which drastically ups the difficulty at the cost of in-game context clues meaning less. A sign outside of the Delirium Lava ruins tells me I should be level 30 before attempting it. Thankfully, I’m level 50 and am at just the right level to get two shot by catgirls.
Nothing is stopping players from playing on easier modes, and as far as I’m aware there’s no reward or incentive for clearing the game on “HELL” difficulty. So if you want less difficult beat-em-up combat; and more exploring, farming, and just the power fantasy
What is new however, is the “Newlywed Mode” which needs to be unlocked individually for each bachelor and bachelorette. After getting married in the base game, you unlock a new playable scenario with additional story elements that feature the chosen marriage partner. I haven’t unlocked all of them, but they seem to take about half an hour to an hour to complete.
Rune Factory 4 Special also includes “Another Episode,” which doesn’t introduce new gameplay and is unlocked from the beginning. In Another Episode you can read a cute slice-of-life storybook scenario of the main character, with one of the romance partners and their child. The episodes are fully voiced and narrated by the featured bachelor or bachelorette.
Speaking of narration, something that’s incredibly important to me has been added in Rune Factory 4 Special, is the option to change in-game voices to Japanese. Now Kiel actually sounds like a teenager, and not some English VA trying their hardest to sound like they’re 17 even though they’re 37.
The protagonist has a personality, which is more than some games with romance allow. At times you can make various dialogue choices which ultimately serve no purpose other to enhance immersion, but to the game’s credit they don’t pretend the dialogue choices are impactful in the first place; there’s no illusion of choice.
Players can choose a male or female protagonist whose default names are Lest for the guy, and Frey for the girl. After playing Lest in the original 3DS version of Rune Factory 4 and marrying Amber, I played through Rune Factory 4 Special as Frey and went for Dylas.
Graphically, Rune Factory 4 Special looks better in some aspects. Some spritework has been replaced with more clean artwork, but only in the case of static background feature. The only difference that’s really stood out to me is that the scarecrow shaped request box actually looks like a scarecrow.
The models of some monsters feel woefully out of date, especially some boss monsters. The plant monster in the lava ruins’ model looks like it belongs on the original Playstation, and the boss of the water ruins has flat textures.
The CGs feel largely untouched as they were already high quality in the 3DS game. However the larger screen of the Switch in comparison to the 3DS makes them look much more appealing, and higher resolution even if nothing has changed otherwise.
Rune Factory 4 Special is also available in a special “Archive Edition” with extra products. The Archive Edition comes with a 160 page fully colored artbook, which fans of the series will appreciate.
The other bonuses aren’t as impressive, a CD with the game’s soundtrack and special in-game DLC that allows you to put the bachelors and bachelorettes in their swimsuits. Both are fun for collectors but the soundtrack isn’t important or noteworthy with mostly nondescript fantasy music.
Rune Factory 4 Special is a good introduction to those new to the franchise. This is especially true since as of now it’s the only title available on the Nintendo Switch. The characters are charismatic and enjoyable, the combat is fun albeit a bit shallow, but the crafting and farming are deep enough to compensate.
Those who already played Rune Factory 4 might not find much new to enjoy with Rune Factory 4 Special, however it’s fun to revisit if it’s been a while since you played it. Especially with the upgraded graphics and higher resolution of the Nintendo Switch compared to the 3DS.
Either way, Rune Factory 4 Special sets the bar for farming simulators with RPG elements, an admittedly niche genre.
Featured Image: XSEED