Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon

I would love to have been in the boardroom that gave birth to this strange little game. What thought process leads people to decide that the way forward for the Harvest Moon series was killing enemies and unravelling a proper Japanese role playing game plot line? Drugs maybe, or alcohol or even just a late night and a need for an idea. Either way we have Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon before us, a daring entry to the series but is it one that will truly advance Harvest Moon?

Rune Factory drops you into the shoes of generic mysterious Japanese lead called Raguna who is suffering from amnesia and is given a farm and a house by the mysterious but kind local girl “Mist”. From there it’s standard Harvest Moon, you start off in Spring with basic tools, beginner seeds and a wrecked farm. Over time you clear the farm to sow the seeds and sell the produce to buy better seeds. Farming is almost identical to previous Harvest Moon games and seasoned players will feel right at home. To the north of your farm you have the standard comprehensive village full of distinct characters, shops and potential wives along with a town square for all the usual Harvest Moon festivals. It’s standard Harvest Moon albeit with a new lick of paint, the aesthetic is closer to the likes of Golden Sun than the bright primary colours of previous Harvest Moon titles and the games just feels less cuddly. The key difference here compared to previous versions however doesn’t lie in style it lies in what replaces the stamina balancing act that was mining with dungeon crawling.

Farming in Harvest moon follows a pattern of working the field three months of the year and come winter hit the mines for the most clumsy aspect of the entire game. You wandered through hitting rocks with your hammer collecting ore to upgrade your tools whilst simultaneously making sure you got the balance between using your stamina to collect ore and using it to get you to the deeper caverns with the better ore. It was repetitive, tedious and didn’t fit with the enjoyment and depth offered by the farming. Rune Factory keeps the mining aspect but places them within much more intriguing dungeons, and fills those dungeons with farmland and monster machines. The idea is that there are machines that endlessly spawn various monsters and that if you destroy every machine then at the end you have a boss fight. Farmland is distributed randomly for you to plant and maintain so when you do runs you have veg to replenish your health and stamina. So a crawl through a dungeon will have you balancing mining for ore, farming and defeating monsters in battle. The actual battling is extremely simple with button mashing and occasional tactical retreating (running away) being all you can do really. This is mixed up later when you can (in a bit of a moral sticking point) enslave monsters to work the farm or provide produce in the form of wool, milk etc etc.

There is a modest assortment of weaponry and magic that whilst being easily identifiable as different fail to make that difference count in battle. Higher damage rates defeats all and you will each year settle on the weapon/magic combo that deals most damage but it won’t make the game play dramatically different. You also have a reasonably robust levelling system affecting your skills, however when you get a “skill up!” notification you will struggle to see any difference on how it affects how you play. The same goes for the layout differences in each cave. Yes they look different and each cave has different farming conditions however they all still play as very simple dungeon crawlers with little variation.

Reviewing games like this is always tough, mainly because analysing the minutia is invariably positive but the whole package fails to impress. Great farming, a myriad of control and menu system improvements along with the simple but fun dungeons should make this a must have for fans but together it simply does not make Rune Factory different enough from Harvest Moon to make it a must have. It’s an important step for the series, a move from mundane into change but change in the wrong areas. The farming has been static for several games and the relationship aspect dull but are left alone yet again, change in those aspects and the game will be a must have but as it stands it is very hard to recommend a game that even with a lick of paint we have seen many times before.







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