Fall from the sky and land right in the role of a ruler, farmer, fighter and more in Rune Factory 4 Special for the Nintendo Switch.
Rune Factory 4 Special is a remaster of the original game released on the 3DS back in 2012 – 2014. Now it’s 2020 and it’s back with added features, new content and improved graphics.
For those new to the series, Rune Factory was originally a Harvest Moon (now known as Story of Seasons) spin-off with a combat focus. You still grow crops, raise animals and convince one of the lovely ladies or handsome men of the town to marry you, but you also explore dungeons, fight monsters and far more in this variation of the old formula.
Looking at Rune Factory 4 Special specifically, we start our story on an airship en route to deliver a mysterious item. A blow to the head and a swift kick later and both your character and the item end up falling through the sky, only to land in a peaceful little town below. Unfortunately, by the time you wake up, you have no memory of who you are or why you are there.
Through a case of mistaken identity, a far too easygoing dragon god and pure coincidence, you somehow manage to gain the title of Prince. This allows you to rule over the town. Don’t get too excited about making the townspeople bow down to you just yet though! While you do get to give orders, you can only do so after making the townspeople trust you. This is done by fulfilling requests. Despite being a prince, you’re more of a public servant. Give the people what they want to earn points and in exchange, they’ll follow orders like building you a new barn, letting you access better cooking equipment or holding a festival to attract more tourists to the town.
While you are a prince, you are also a farmer, a hunter, a monster tamer and so much more. In fact, these will take up far more of your time and energy than being a prince. You will till the soil, plant seeds and water them, then clear dungeons and tame monsters to produce goods and be trained to help out on the farm. On top of this, you will be given quests to complete, which provide a loose story to follow through the game. With the addictive gameplay, it’s very easy to keep saying one more day, because there’s always something else to do. I often found myself saying I’ll go do that quest tomorrow, so I could go collect lumber now.
At its heart, this game is all about managing your time and energy to make progression in different areas. How many crops should you plant? Is the extra money gained worth the energy spent cooking the crops and making them into meals? Can you afford to do that and then go hunting for monsters? Can you afford to neglect your relationship with the townspeople or do you need to cut back on producing food? There are so many things to do in this game and it’s all a fine balancing act to decide what you will do and where you will cut back.
This game could be played in so many different ways. You can try to focus on certain areas like farming and raising monsters or you can see just how well you can do everything. I feel like this game encourages repeat playthroughs, both to focus on relationships with different characters and to try out different playstyles.
While the decision on how you spend your time comes down to your priorities and experimentation, I found that the game does a brilliant job of gently teaching you about all these things that you can do. The onboarding process slowly brings in more and more features throughout the first few hours. I can’t say it was perfect, as there were little bits and pieces missed out, but considering the sheer amount of things to do in the game and how well it was done for the majority of the time, I’ll give the few things which didn’t make it in a pass.
I mentioned earlier how this series started with combat as a focus and I have to say that this title does it much better than any of the similar games I have played. I was quite impressed, as the combat in other farming games I have played has been adequate, but quite limited. Limited is certainly not a word I would use for this game.
In this game, you can use several different weapons which all feel significantly different, as well as learning a number of skills such as rolling into enemies, shooting fireballs and even throwing monsters into the air only to body slam them on the ground. You can even befriend companions, then take them along to help you out. Skills can be learned and equipment unlocked to make medicine to heal and craft new gear to help you survive. The range of different ways you can fight monsters is massive.
Even the movement is well done in Rune Factory 4 Special. The player is able to control the character quite smoothly for navigating dungeons, dodging around and positioning for attacks. I admit it did take some time getting used to though and I still occasionally hit the wrong button. I have eaten far too many random items I’ve picked up from the floor by mistake while fighting. I point out the movement specifically, as many similar games I’ve played are a case of only walking up to the monster and hitting an attack button – no dodging, no coming at it from certain angles and no real thought required!
If combat isn’t your thing, you can set the difficulty to easy to help you fly through it. If you do want to be grinding for the best weapons, armor, and accessories while leveling up skills and learning to dodge and attack like lightning, you have more difficult options to choose. These can even be changed mid-game if you change your mind or get stuck. Considering that you can invest more than a hundred hours into this game, being able to do something about that regret of putting yourself in the most difficult mode without losing all your progress is very much appreciated.
When you’re not farming or fighting, you can spend your time flirting. As with similar titles such as Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, you do this by buying the love of certain characters by giving them items that they like. Not the most romantic way to describe it perhaps, but that’s how works. This allows you to see events with the characters. One nice touch that personalized it a bit was an occasion when I gifted a character some food and she complimented the fact that it was homemade.
The town has many eligible young men and women to romance and they are all very likable. Unlike some more recent games, it is worth noting that you can only romance members of the opposite gender to your created character. As well as romance, you can use the same system to become more friendly with the townspeople.
One of the new pieces of content for this release is the Newlywed mode. This focuses on life after you have completed the game and married your chosen bride or groom. It’s great to be able to spend some more time with the character, as well as generally to see the company adding new content rather than just doing a graphical overhaul.
In addition to the Newlywed mode, there are some other extras this time. A more difficult mode to test your skill is the most notable, but it also includes some new cut-scenes and audio when compared to the original game.
Overall, I certainly enjoyed Rune Factory 4 Special. It is an incredibly addictive game that has eaten up hours of my time and will continue to do so in the future as I play through again and again. The only complaints I have are fairly minor, such as a lack of explanations of a few points or the occasional case of a follower character getting in the way. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys these types of games.
Rune Factory 4 Special can be bought digitally on the console store. You can also buy it physically from retailer such as Amazon (US) / Amazon (UK) in a variety of versions. Purchases made via Amazon links earn a small commission which goes to help supporting domain and server costs.
Many thanks to Marvellous Games for the review copy.
Nook has been gaming since the Amstrad and DOS. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.