The story of Rune Factory 4 kicks off when you are well…kicked off an airship and find yourself in the friendly town of Selphia. Stricken with amnesia and mistaken for a visiting royal by the town’s matriarchal dragon, you soon find yourself tasked with serving the townspeople and helping Selphia prosper, which is mainly done by completing requests which can be anything from growing a certain number of flowers to defeating monsters. While taking on requests is a staple in a lot of role-playing games at this point, I felt that Rune Factory 4 used it rather brilliantly to help bridge the gap between the two genres at play here.
Like the farming series Rune Factory spun out of, maintaining a healthy social life with the citizens of Selphia is easily both the most significant and fun aspect of the game. Through daily interactions such as giving them gifts or taking them with you on monster-bashing journeys, you will find yourself becoming closer with the townsfolk and in the case of six bachelors/bachelorettes (depending on your character’s gender), you will even see the fires of romance ignite.
When I first started playing the game, I was initially disappointed at the relative lack of things to do between the day’s starting hour of 6am and the stores opening at 9am, but as I delved deeper into the business of farming potatoes to fund your armoury and the chocolate you throw at Forte despite her insistence that she doesn’t like them (she’s a total tsundere), I started to become aware of just how important it can be to manage your time with that morning slot being the perfect opportunity to tend to my field.One thing Rune Factory 4 does remarkably well is instilling a sense of individuality into every member of its adorable cast, which is done not only by giving each Selphia resident their own distinct personality, but also by having them freely move around the town instead of staying in fixed locations. On occasion, I would find myself spending a good ten minutes just trying to locate Xiao Pai just so that I could give her a flower. I loved being able to walk into Porcoline’s restaurant to see a group of characters sat together and eating, or hearing a cheery “Hello!” as I crossed someone’s path on the way to my next destination. This also crossed over quite nicely into the RPG segments, with me being able to ask one of Selphia’s residents to accompany me on my monster hunting quests, which was a great break from the mundane real world, because women in the real world just don’t seem to understand that I’d rather be walking around hitting cute animals with a sword than being dragged around clothing stores. This means that as well as having affection levels, the characters also have more traditional levels to raise, which adds even more layers to this game. When I decided to leave the safety of Selphia and traverse some dungeons, I noticed that the combat is admittedly more of a button mashing affair than other games in the genre but the fast-paced, real-time battles actually fit wonderfully well with the time-orientated pace of the game.
If you start to feel like you need to take a break from farming or dungeon-crawling, you’ll be happy to hear that Rune Factory 4 offers you a wider variety of activities as well, such as participating in various different types of festivals, which can range from running into the path of thrown beans or running after a “Wooly” and hitting it with a fish until all of its wool falls off. You can also test your angling skills by fishing in a way that is remarkably similar to Animal Crossing: New Leaf or set out to befriend various monsters you encounter in the field, with the benefits from doing so ranging from being able to ride one around, obtaining produce and even acquiring a helping hand to help tend your field!
If I could use one word to sum up Rune Factory 4, it would be “relaxing”. Although this game has more of a story than a Harvest Moon game, it never feels like it’s in the way and obstructing you from your ideal life in Selphia, which through its beautiful scenery and incredibly warm and welcoming residents, really does feel like the ideal location to live. Even the technical features of the game are clearly carefully put together to provide the most relaxing experience possible, with the inventory navigation perhaps being the most efficient method I have ever seen.
In conclusion, Rune Factory 4 is a perfect example of how two polar opposite genres can co-exist in perfect harmony. It’s laid-back yet engrossing, complex yet simplistic and one of the most pleasant experiences currently available on the Nintendo 3DS. If growing turnips to buy swords sounds like your kind of thing, then Rune Factory 4 is the game for you!
Disclosure: A copy of “Rune Factory 4” was supplied to us by Marvelous Europe for the purpose of this review.