Following the success of Rune Factory 4 Special in 2021, Marvelous Inc is back with Rune Factory 3 Special. Apparently we’re going in descending order for Rune Factory remasters. Rune Factory 3 was first released way back in 2009 for the Nintendo DS. Rune Factory 3 Special aims to freshen up this older title with a new coat of paint and a light sprinkle of new content. Is this remaster special enough to justify the price of admission? I suppose you’ll have to read on to find out.
This was my first time finishing a playthrough of Rune Factory 3, having only played a few hours of the DS release some time ago. That said, I am a fan of the series and the farming sim genre as a whole. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into Rune Factory 4, Rune Factory 5 and countless more into the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series. I’ll be doing my best to talk about the game as a unique experience, but it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re a newcomer to the series that my perspective might not be fully reflective of the experience you’ll have with the game.
Human In Sheep’s Clothing
Rune Factory 3 Special has you slip into the shoes of a half-human, half-monster protagonist. The story begins with you in your monster form, a golden wooly (sheep), falling from the sky into the town of Sharance. You’re rescued by Shara, one of the game’s eleven eligible bachelorettes, and after transforming back into a human you’re welcomed into the town. You’re given a home in the form of the Sharance Tree, a massive tree with a quaint little home hidden inside and ample farmland amongst its roots.
The way the story plays out from here is pretty simple. Your main goal is to reunite the human town of Sharance with the Univir monster settlement that you’ll discover a short while in. Along the way you’ll discover more about your own past, and the events that drove humans and monsters apart.
At its core Rune Factory 3 Special’s narrative is about connection. Reuniting the people of Sharance and Univir requires that you interact with the game’s social elements. You’ll grow closer to, and build bonds with, the people of both towns and through this the story will progress. The narrative is simple and straightforward, but it’s given weight by the strength of the characters you’ll be working so hard to bring together.
Humans, Monsters, And You
Rune Factory 3 Special’s greatest asset is the fantastic cast of characters you’ll be spending your time with. As far as I’m concerned this is easily the best cast of the Rune Factory series. Sharance is home to a lot of quirky and charming characters. Aided by some fantastically fun dialogue writing, I grew to appreciate almost everyone in town. The Univir settlement is a little sparse in comparison, being home to just three characters who you won’t often have much reason to visit. These three aren’t bad characters by any means, they just feel a little disconnected due to the narrative.
In Sharance you’ll meet the elder characters Wells and Marjorie who fill the role of gentle caretakers, which develops into some heartwarming moments later on in the narrative. You have the eccentric family running the local inn, Shino the strict taskmaster and mother, Sakuya the profit-obsessed daughter and occasional stand-up comic, and Pia the ditzy mermaid with a vendetta against squid. Sharance is full of oddball types, but there is consistent depth to everyone if you develop your relationships further. Rune Factory 3 Special does an excellent job balancing its comedic tone with genuine human storytelling. Even the father-daughter duo who speak in opposites are a delight to befriend, despite some communication issues.
The strong cast carries the narrative entirely. This story would be a total dud if you didn’t care about the characters you’re trying to unite. Rune Factory 3 Special integrates its social mechanics into the story perfectly. You’ll have to develop your relationships with the townspeople to advance the plot, but even if it weren’t a mechanical necessity I think you’d be compelled by the charm of the cast alone. Even after seeing the credits roll I’m still having a lot of fun advancing the character storylines I have left, and I’d be happy to return to Sharance anytime for another adventure.
Love And Marriage
The dating and marriage aspect of Rune Factory 3 Special is quite a bit more integral to the plot than in similar titles. To reach the game’s ending you’ll need to get married, bachelor life isn’t an option here. It’s worth noting by the way, that you are locked in as a bachelor seeking a bachelorette. You’re locked into playing as a man, and the eleven marriage candidates are all women. This is a bit more restrictive than many recent games in the farming/life sim scene, which may be a turn-off for some. Whilst I would have liked to marry myself off to the resident himbo fisherman Carlos, I wasn’t too disappointed thanks to the charm of the eligible candidates.
I decided to pursue Pia, the squid-slaying mermaid I mentioned earlier. This wasn’t an easy choice. You’ll be subjected to a real charm offensive over the course of Rune Factory 3 Special. Sofia, my second choice, can only say the opposite of what she means, and will therefore be a hit for those who enjoy verbal abuse delivered with a smile. Shara, the girl who rescues you at the beginning of the game almost feels like the canon choice with how obvious her romantic intentions are from the jump. I don’t think there’s a bad pick of the bunch here. Every girl has a boatload of charm, and they all have some niche appeal.
Following Pia’s marriage route was a joy. I got to grow closer with her family at the inn, taking on the role of the straight man in a three-way comedy act with her and her sister Sakuya. Her experience as a mermaid living amongst humans had some great parallels with the protagonist’s experience as a half-monster, and I felt that elevated the narrative. Rune Factory 3 Special’s romantic development is delightfully grounded and human. Even with a more goofy character like Pia they manage to construct some heartfelt moments and sell the relationship well.
As You Like It
It’s a little tricky to talk about Rune Factory 3 Special’s gameplay separately from my experience with Rune Factory as a whole. This is the reason I flagged my previous experience earlier in the review. Rune Factory has a kind of common game language across entries in the series. Much of my experience in Rune Factory 3 Special was reliant on knowledge I already had, particularly from Rune Factory 4. There is a lot going on in Rune Factory 3 Special, and if you don’t already have knowledge of the game’s various systems and the options available to you I can imagine the learning curve being quite steep. This is where the game’s greatest strength (or weakness depending on your preference) shows itself.
Rune Factory 3 Special has a refreshingly laid back approach when it comes to the player. There are many systems you can interact with and pathways for you to walk down, and the game is happy to leave you to go at your own pace. There are no hard deadlines in the game. Whilst there are many things you’ll need to do to progress, you’re free to take it slow. You can spend time fishing, forging, and farming as and when you’re up for it. You have a long list of skills to develop, but you’ll never be put under pressure to get these leveled quickly.
The downside here is the lack of direction. Rune Factory 3 Special won’t tell you what to do or where to go, it leaves it for you to discover on your own. Personally, I enjoy this element of freedom. I like that I can go as fast or as slow as I like. I took almost a full in-game week just developing my fishing skill and it was a ton of fun, even if it wasn’t the most efficient path. Though there were times where I found that I was lacking in some areas, for example I spent almost no time on my chemistry skill which I needed as I got into the late-game dungeons, I wasn’t put off by this. Whenever I found myself lacking, that just meant there was another fun path for me to explore.
Fun On The Farm
As you might expect, farming is a pretty important element of Rune Factory 3 Special. The system here isn’t terribly complex, but it does have a bit more going on than you see in titles like Stardew Valley. Soil quality is an important element across the Rune Factory series, and it’s important to pay attention to. You won’t be planting repeatedly in the same spot. To get the best quality crops you’ll have to set up a plot rotation and refresh the soil with fertilizers and formulas fairly often. This might sound daunting for newcomers, but it’s easy to get the hang of. The challenge of raising the best crops is really engaging. At the end of each season there is a festival where you bring your best crop and have it judged, and I had fun preparing to trounce the competition every time.
Farming feeds nicely into some of the game’s other systems too. Better quality crops and animal products means better ingredients for cooking, chemistry, and even crafting. Raise yourself a quality daikon crop and you can forge yourself a big daikon sword. How lovely is that? These systems loop back into farming as well. With chemistry you can create your own fertilizers and formulas, saving you a hefty chunk of change. And with forging you can make yourself better farm tools that will streamline your experience.
Where farming gets tough is typhoons. Those familiar with the Rune Factory series know how devastating inclement weather can be on your bottom line. I had a beautiful setup running in the summer, and I was enjoying pumping out a bumper crop of max quality corn every day. Then, the typhoon came. In the course of a single day, my farm was torn to bits. It’s devastating, and whilst I only had a major typhoon come along once, there were an unusually high amount of smaller storms across my playthrough. There’s sadly not much you can do to prepare for these storms, aside from save scumming which honestly I’d recommend even if it’s a little cheap.
Make Or Break
I’d like to talk a bit more about Rune Factory 3 Special’s various crafting systems now. There are a few elements here. First is cooking, this lets you prepare meals that you can use as buffs, healing, and also gifts for the townsfolk. Next is forging, this is how you’ll be developing weapons and farm tools, and also upgrading these items with new attributes. Crafting is how you create and upgrade armor and accessories, these are handy for combat but also make great gifts for select characters. Finally we have chemistry, which you to make potions and elixirs for combat, and fertilizers for your farm.
I enjoyed all of these systems, but I have to say cooking is the standout for me. There is so much joy to be found in putting together high quality meals, gifting them to people, and learning new exciting recipes as you level the skill. Eventually I was cooking just for the fun of it. I wanted to get to those high-level recipes, bake some awesome cakes and cook some unreasonably expensive curries. It feels rewarding to develop cooking, and the other skills, even without the benefit it provides you in other areas like combat.
My only complaint, and this applies to Rune Factory as a series to be frank, is that leveling forging is painfully slow after a certain point. As you progress into the game’s dungeons you’ll want better and more varied weapons to deal with increasingly tough enemies. Unfortunately, these weapons are locked behind high-level forging recipes that are a real slog to get to. To level at a rate I found comfortable I had to craft a whole load of unnecessary weapons that got tossed into the shipping bin immediately. This can apply to all the crafting systems to a certain extent, but it’s definitely the most frustrating with forging.
Rune Factory 3 Special’s combat is simple but fun. It plays like a basic ARPG, and all the depth is in your equipment and skill leveling. I played through the game’s dungeons switching between dual blades and magic staves, and it was a great time. I enjoyed tailoring my weapon’s elements to each dungeon and the bosses found within. The moment-to-moment action can feel somewhat clunky, especially the dodge mechanic, but you have enough freedom in approach to work around that.
The dungeons themselves are standard fare. The game’s four main dungeons (actually they’re more like zones, but ho-hum) are each themed around a season and you explore them in order, spring to winter. You can explore most of them from the start if you like, but they’re leveled to try and keep you on a certain track and story events will only trigger in sequence. Enemies will be familiar to Rune Factory veterans, but newcomers will appreciate their cute and quirky design elements. I’m a big fan of the turnip ghosts, they’re great.
Rune Factory 3 Special’s boss fights aren’t particularly challenging. They serve as level and gear checks more than skill checks. Each boss comes with a repertoire of attacks that you should be able to learn pretty easily, and as long as you come equipped you should leave alive. I didn’t find much challenge in the combat aside from the Wall of Death boss who, funnily enough, walled me to death two or three times before I broke it down. There are higher difficulty modes available to you if you’re so inclined, but I found they don’t amount to much, mostly you just need to grind more to overcome them.
I love Rune Factory 3 Special’s visual design. The game is full of beautifully painted environments, and the seasonal themes of the dungeons give plenty of space for variety and creativity in aesthetics. Interiors are gorgeous and packed with detail, the Sherman residence in particular always wowed me when I had occasion to visit. And as a lovely little bonus these charming locations are packed with equally charming characters.
I think Rune Factory 3 has the best character designs of the series by a good margin. Every character is visually distinct and designed perfectly to match their personalities. An example I’d like to highlight is Monica. She’s the town’s youngest resident. She’s skittish but aggressive like a small animal, and this is conveyed wonderfully in her design. Some of her pose art has her raising her hands and baring her teeth, threatening to bite you if you annoy her. When she gets anxious she retreats and pouts, expressing her distrust of a new face in town. It’s charming and I appreciate the effort put in. It would be easy to just have a few basic static expressions for each character, but Rune Factory 3 Special goes that extra mile to inject life into its cast.
Sounds Of Sharance
Whilst Rune Factory 3 Special is lacking somewhat in the VA department, having only a handful of voiced lines for each character, it makes up for it in the OST. The game has music for every occasion, and it’s consistently excellent. You have gentle, relaxing town and shops themes, sweet melodies for character cutscenes, and then some phenomenal tracks for the game’s dungeons.
The Sol Terrano desert theme is one track that blew me away. You have a pacey drum rhythm playing under jaunty strings, it creates a perfect atmosphere of adventure and intrigue as you wind your way from Sharance to the Univir settlement. The Vale River theme is also excellent. This is one of Rune Factory 3 Special’s higher level areas, and it can prove quite dangerous. That danger is conveyed by intense strings playing over a powerful organ, that is then built on by big pounding drum beats. I only wish I were more musically literate so I could gush more about the game’s wonderful soundtrack.
What Is Special
Those of you familiar with Rune Factory 3 may wonder what’s so special about this remaster. And to be honest, not a lot. This is a fairly straightforward remaster, albeit a well crafted one. In terms of new features, there are two. First up is Newlywed mode. This mode offers standalone adventures with each of the eleven marriage candidates, taking place after your marriage. These are a nice addition, and I enjoyed the new Pia content, but your mileage may vary depending on your enjoyment of the romance/dating elements of the game.
The second new feature is a “Hell” difficulty mode. I didn’t spend too much time with this, as I’m not a glutton for punishment, but I expect series veterans will find some fun in the additional challenge. I’d say the meat of Rune Factory 3 Special as a remaster is in the updated visuals. The game does look significantly better than it did on the DS, and a considerable amount of work has gone into improving illustrations and 3D models to look great in high resolution. There is also a new translation here. I can’t comment much on this having not played the original in full, and not speaking Japanese, but the script is excellent regardless.
I had a lovely time with Rune Factory 3 Special, and I think you would too. For those familiar with the series it’s another fantastic entry. For newcomers I think it serves as an excellent entry point, although with the caveat that there are some issues with direction and the learning curve.
The game is elevated by a cast of charming characters, and much of the fun is found in events and interactions with the people of Sharance. The farming element is fun to dive into, and that little bit of additional complexity that Rune Factory adds makes it more fun to engage with than similar titles in my experience. If you appreciate cheap and cheerful combat, expansive crafting options, and delightful characters, then you should pick Rune Factory 3 Special up.
RUNE FACTORY 3 SPECIAL IS RECOMMENDED
Thank you to Marvelous Inc for providing a Nintendo Switch review code for Rune Factory 3 Special.
Support High-Quality And Detailed Coverage
Want to support the cost of us bringing you these articles or just buy us a coffee for a job well done? Click the Ko-fi button below. You can even find some digital goodies in our shop~!
A man described by critics as “pretty normal” and “memorable in the abstract”. He has committed his life to the consumption of anime and games, against the advice and wishes of his family and friends. Now writing about his passions, hopefully for your enjoyment.