Starting off our Rune Factory 5 review, it’s worth noting this is the long awaited continuation of the Rune Factory franchise. A series of six games was released in six years between 2006 when the franchise began, and in 2012 with Rune Factory 4. The first installations of the franchise weren’t going anywhere fast, but the fourth breathed life into the franchise, reportedly selling more in its first month than Rune Factory 2 did in its entire lifespan.
But despite such relative success, the series took a years long break when Neverland went bankrupt; until 2019 when Rune Factory 4 Special was released on Nintendo Switch and then PC with the announcement of a fifth on the way thanks to intervention by Marvelous. To say that fans of the series have been waiting for Rune Factory 5 understates the long wait and uncertain fate of the series until that point. Rune Factory 5 promises a new experience with 3D combat, cute characters, and in-depth crafting and farming. With how beloved Rune Factory 4 was, what could go wrong?
Rune Factory 5
Publishers: Marvelous, XSEED Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: March 22, 2022
Price: $59.99 USD ($69.99 USD for Digital Deluxe)
Rune Factory 4 was charming, inventive, and intricate. Rune Factory 5 keeps many of the things that makes a Rune Factory game a Rune Factory game. The glaring issue though, comes from the return to 3D for the franchise.
This isn’t the first time the franchise has gone 3D, Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny did it afterall. But Rune Factory 5 only proves that the series should have kept the isometric style of its predecessor, blending spritework and art for the backgrounds and objects, and simple 3D models for enemies. It wasn’t the prettiest, but if you’re not going to go all in on the graphics, that’s where it should have stayed.
And for that matter, Hakama didn’t go all in one graphics. Enemies are a mish-mash of quality, some of them are simply jagged edged slapped together and in a 3D field of combat they’re unpleasant to look at. Some however, were given an appropriate amount of attention and have smoothed edges, it’s a jarring clash of aesthetic.
Worst of all is how big and barren locations are, the town of Rigbarth itself feels too big with its wide roads spanning the entire village in a sterile grid. The wilderness is open plains of flat grass, sickly dirt, and bits of debris to give the illusion that it’s more than just a big empty space. This problem is less noticeable in later areas, but for the first couple hours of play you’re just looking at the nearby forest and not much else.
This could all be forgiven as the limits of the Nintendo Switch, if it wasn’t for the fact that I would drop frames whenever I did anything like leaving my house, or attacking enemies, which are pretty basic things to do.
Other problems include laggy player movements, the camera constantly shifting when working on the farm to a top down view (which helps, but debris spawns on the edge of your farm and clearing it makes the camera flip to normal view), and more.
What Rune Factory 5 does do well is be what the franchise has been tagged as from the start: “A Fantasy Harvest Moon” (hell, that’s the subtitle for the first game). Series veteran Minako Iwasaki returns as the artist and I couldn’t be happier, and ontop of it all the series kept its in-depth crafting and gathering system, allowing players to customize and create gear to help them through difficult sections (as an alternative to mindless grinding).
The characters in this new game also have their charm. Although like all the Rune Factory games, the best characters are unmarriable. But you’ve got all your bases covered, you’ve got your main heroine, her best friend, a succubus witch, an illiterate wolf(?) girl, and for those into men you’ve got a tsundere smith apprentice, a mysterious carpenter’s apprentice, at least one older man, among others.
Just to get a grasp on what you’re missing, unavailable marriage partners include: one of the bachelorette’s big tiddy older sister, a muscular dwarven smith, the town’s suave detective, no less than two single mothers, and of course as always you can’t marry the dragon.
The strange leveling system from previous games is intact, in Rune Factory just about everything is a skill. Even things like Walking, Sleeping, Eating, and Bathing are skills and there’s a good reason for this. It’s immersive; it encourages players to take care of themselves in a roleplay fashion. If you don’t eat or sleep every day, you’ll be missing out on added buffs because raising skills typically raises your max HP, max stamina, and often other stats as well.
Rune Factory 5 also introduces some new quality of life features like automatically picking up items when you’re near them, and being able to water your plants down lines by tapping B (a feature previously unique to the hoe)
So perhaps I’m too harsh, in the course of playing this game and writing this review my first instinct was revulsion. No, the scenery isn’t pretty to look at and yes, the frame rate issues are intolerable at times. But at the end of the day it’s a Rune Factory game and I found myself having fun.
If they did nothing but fix the mechanical issues and improved the graphics just a smidge, this could have been a classic in the making like Rune Factory 4. But unfortunately, unless you’re a fan of the franchise already, the most obvious issues will likely plague this game’s reputation.
Ultimately, Rune Factory 5 is a step down compared to the previous game in the franchise. I can’t speak for the entire fanbase, but Hakama could have kept the same engine, recycled assets from the fourth game, and just given us a new story and new characters (and maybe some new enemies) and I’d have been ecstatic.
The change to 3D and other changes introduced in Rune Factory 5 are well intentioned but poorly executed. Asides from some new quality of life features, I’d only recommend this game if you’re a fan who’s already exhausted all the content of Rune Factory 4 and just wants more Rune Factory, and if you haven’t played the fourth one already then you definitely should.
Rune Factory 5 was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by XSEED Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Rune Factory 5 is now available for Nintendo Switch.