18 April 2018 | benjaminburt
Bigger is Not Always Better
Rune Factory 3 is one of my personal favorite games, so how did Rune Factory 4 turn out worse? In many ways, the game's better. It looks better, there's no slowdown, you can play as a guy or girl, they fixed the "you can't pick up same items of different quality levels" problem of the last one, you can make valuable building stone out of your rocks, and you can befriend boss monsters, so what gives?
First off, let me say that the appeal of the Harvest Moon / Rune Factory series is on full display with this game. The whole concept is that you come into possession of a run-down farm and it's your job to tend to it, meet the nearby villagers, mine, fish, fight monsters, etc. This is the kind of game you're signing up for. And in that light, the game's good. But, compare it to its predecessor, RF3, and you start to see cracks in the design.
Rune Factory and Harvest Moon are all about freedom and allowing you to do what you want. Unfortunately, Rune Factory 4 feels the need to hold your hand in guiding you from one dungeon to the next. I'm also disappointed that the dungeons are so far from the town. It's just a chore to get out to the dungeon you're trying to beat. I guess that's why they included the airship, but I preferred not to use it. It didn't feel like a cohesive part of a fantasy world, and part of the appeal of being in a fantasy world is to travel through the world. You're no longer free to go where you want. You're confined to where you've already been until you beat the boss.
One of the weirdest changes was the removal of the grid system on your farm. I guess that makes the randomly-appeared refuse appear more random, but it was seriously frustrating when you were plowing your field and it turned out all irregular.
I was also severely disappointed by the modification of the bulletin board/mailbox mechanic, which I felt caused a loss in characterization of the NPCs. It seems random NPCs assigned you tasks in the mailbox, and it didn't feel rewarding to complete them, because they felt like tasks, chores, or tutorials.
Instead, to learn more about the characters, we're given random events, which are waaay too sparse and sometimes relatively pointless. With all the random events in the game, there should have been one like every week, but no luck there. This random event is especially frustrating when you try to get married. You save the game the night before, find out that the day is a random event, so you restart the game, invite your partner into your party, and then save again. You go to bed, wake up, and hope that the person leaves. If they don't you gotta restart again. Do that over and over. If that is not the most frustrating, gameplay-interrupting thing, I don't know what is.
Along with love, they took away the dates of RF3 and replaced them with these very disappointing dates in bland, local locations and rudimentary, middle-school style romantic banter.
And, of course, the plot. I titled my review "Bigger is Not Always Better" because this game has gigantic plot that made me think I was playing a JRPG. When the villain of your game has an airship that is a floating landmass and plots to become a god to rule the world, you should maybe think to yourself, "Isn't this game based on Harvest Moon, a simple, farm-simulating game?" The plot is not bad per se, but it's so sprawling and epic that it really takes away from the down-to-earth-iness that has been part of the charm of these games up until now.
Maybe it seems like I'm bashing the game a lot, so why 8/10. i have to admit, I'm a sucker for these games. I love the gameplay and mechanics. It's fun to own your own farm, do what you what to make yourself rich and powerful, fight the bad guy, and get the girl. Rune Factory 4 is a thoroughly enjoyable Rune Factory experience, and its modern hardware really blows the original out of the water. I went from playing Rune Factory 4 to Rune Factory, and let me tell you, the 2006 game felt like a 1996 game by comparison. This game did bring a lot to Rune Factory. Befriending the boss monsters is one of the best features, and I liked the Prince(ss) Points and the various rewards and upgrades you could make to the town. I like how the Elder Dragon was not the final boss, unlike the other three games in the main series. The NPCs were thoroughly likable and had unique dialogue every day. This game is good, like I said. But, I have to recommend Rune Factory 3 over it.