Review: Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon

Most of us would likely never consider farming as a desirable career choice, considering the long, grueling hours one must put into fields, crops, and animals in order to see even the smallest results. Who would have ever imagined gamers would ever let themselves become so acquainted with farming sims? Surprisingly, the games are a substantial success – titles such as Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing really bring in the sales. Having grown up with both, I can attest to the hours of entertainment they can provide if you’re willing to put in the work.


However, after releasing what are essentially expansions to each game year after year, developers realized that a bit of a change may be in order. With that revelation, Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon was born. Combining the accessibility of typical Japanese RPGs with the sensibilities of modest Harvest Moon-styled games, it brought some advancements to the table that may be the final step in enticing newcomers to the genre to finally take the plunge. But does it make any notable changes or improvements that nonplayers should even pay attention to?

Enter Raguna (perhaps it was meant to be Laguna?), a young amnesiac who has been taken in by the waifish Mist, your average moé farm girl. After picking up lost little Raguna, she allows him his very own plot of land to shape into something any farmer could be proud of. Pretty generous of a random, shy girl with a choice encounter. Where are these girls and why am I not meeting them? After spending quite a bit of time farming the land Mist so generously offered him, Raguna stumbles onto a strange machine deep within a cave. Like a number of strange machines seen in video games before, there’s more here than meets the eye. Along with Mist and various friends met in the village, Raguna is on a mission to discover what the machines are there for, as well as more about himself.

While this seems like your typical RPG fare, it’s actually quite worse. It’s clear that the creators know you most likely won’t be playing for the story. It’s a good thing too, as Rune Factory’s story is atrocious. Every single cliched character archetype is in full force here. All the hackneyed female role aer fulfilled here, especially the stalwart “mother of your children” and obnoxiously shy nymphs who scatter like elusive fairies if you show even the slightest interest in them. Considering the fact that Raguna will eventually be granted the opportunity to marry one of the female NPCs, it’s inexcusable that all of them possess the personality of a cardboard box. Or maybe less. At least a cardboard box is useful for several things.

Sure, it’s easy to excuse those shortcomings and protest that a Harvest Moon-like adventure has little use for a multi-faceted plot, but when you consider the theme of the title, the  an entire premise revolves around successfully creating an engrossing fantasy narrative. This can’t be accomplished adequately with the dunces available to choose from. How can you possibly choose a suitable mate further on down the line when most of the characters available grate on the nerves so terribly that you never want to socialize with them again? That’s when you know the story has failed at what it set out to do.

Luckily, Rune Factory makes up for its terrible attempt at a story with its mixture of traditional farm-sim mechanics and slight RPG elements. If you’re familiar with Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing, then you shouldn’t find Rune Factory too difficult to understand. Your weapons of choice include your standard farming tools: watering cans, axes, hoes, and various other implements. Of course, at the beginning of Raguna’s new life on the farm with Mist, the variety of tools available is limited. As you progress through the game you’ll be awarded different, more useful gadgets.

The farming aspect of Rune Factory consists mainly of plowing, planting seeds, watering the seeds, and reaping the benefits of all that you’ve sown. With a healthy amount of repetition, you can turn Raguna’s plot of alnd into a respectable haven for crops in a short amount of time. However, you must be quite diligent with your farming. If you take proper care of your crops as well as keep saplings watered and healthy, you should yiel dplenty of crops ready to be delivered to the cardboard maidens in the village. In a welcome change from the daily transportation of the day’s crops to the appropriate mail bin, you can see instant cash by taking your goods to the corresponding maiden in town. This way, if you’re low on cash, you can restock rather quickly.

Money makes the world go ’round, and it’s not any different in Rune Factory. As you take more and more to the bank, you’ll open up different tools, crops, and other treasures. Though, it is best to be frugal with your money. Throughout the year certain big moneymakers you may have relied on in previous seasons will become unavailable. It’s best to rotate out so that you’ll always have income to play around with.

Over time, farming can and will get a little stale, so there are a few other options to tackle whn deciding how to spend time in-game. Some simple fishing and drinking mini-games aid in breaking the monotony. So there’s not, realistically, a shortage of things to do. But there are more flaws to be found while you’re actually attempting to get things done.

One of the factors that sets Rune Factory apart from Harvest Moon and other farm-sim clones is its addition of exploration beyond the modest village. After spending a sufficient amount of time learning the basics and getting acquainted with the cardboard beauties, the mayor of Kardia (the fictional world the game is set in) awards you a badge which you can use to explore past the confines of the farm. At that point the mysterious machines in the story come into play – monsters are wandering the area.

You can liken monster battles to what can be found in Children of Mana or similar clones. While this sounds like a recipe for a fantastic addition to a poloshed game, it’s actually one of the biggest reasons that Rune Factory is kept from being worth so much more. Using what’s known as Rune Points within battle can be downright frustrating. Displayed in a bar similar to a status gauge, the points translate to how many tasks Raguna can undertake until he collapses from exhaustion. This mechanic would be great and all if Rune Factory were, well, a strat-RPG or a turn-based endeavor. Since becoming “fatigued” or running out of Rune Points spells out a KO for Raguna, these little interstitials quickly become more trouble than they’re worth.

Progressing through the game nets you various skills and items as well as growth in your plot of land. It’s rewarding to see your meager farmland grow with time, but with the many bumps in the road regarding storyline and dungeon gameplay, Rune Factory ends up feeling more than a little bit unpolished and more like a half-baked love child of Harvest Moon and Children of Mana rather than a successful fusion of the two.

Rune Factory presents some impressively rendered backgrounds along with some gorgeous pastel color palettes. When the seasons change throughout, the backgrounds change accordingly and are truly a sight to be seen. Unfortunately, sprites are nowhere near as graceful. They’re quite clunky and awkward compared to the swanlike proportions of the environments and even the village. It’s as if you took some sprites in Microsoft Paint, supersized them and skewed them in various ways, then stuck them in a soft pastel painting with some cheap glue and little care for how well they would mesh. Aside from their design, animations are very disappointing. Every character moves in the exact same fashion, which can grate on the nerves. If only they had put the same amount of time into the sprites as the beautiful backdrops.

If there’s one thing Rune Factory did perfectly, it’s the music. Some gorgeous, atmospheric tracks are present here, with comforting melodies to match each individual season. When it rains, though, you’ll find the game curiously devoid of sound, as if it’s trying to create some sort of allegory between weather and the absence of music when the world isn’t so beautiful outside. Or, maybe the devs were just lazy. In any case, these are some fantastic tracks laid out on the Rune Factory soundtrack, and I would recommend picking it up even if you’re not interested in the game.

The voice acting, on the other hand, is terribad. It’s so bad that I just combined two negative adjectives to describe it. Not since my latest jaunt with Suikoden Tierkreis have I heard such abominable voice acting. Of course, it’s not always present, so you won’t always have to deal with it. A good deal of the time text is present without voices to accompany it. Occasionally Raguna will make a bit of vocal noise akin to Link, but that’s about it. I would have liked to have seen this area fleshed out a bit more. Overall, not a bad showing in the audio department. Jeez, though – some of the villagers sound like they may want to have their way with me.

Rune Factory will wear out its welcome long before you have completed what is there to actually “finish,” but you’ll be sticking with it for quite a while barring the issues you may have. Its longevity inevitably depends on how committed you are to creating a respectable patch of land. Do you want to let crops wither and die or are you going to take care of them on a daily basis? It’s all up to you. The game can last as long as you need for it to, really.

Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon attempts to be the best of both worlds. It chills it out and takes it slow, but doesn’t exactly rock out the show. It is a commendable attempt at weaving RPG traditions together with Harvest Moon sensibilities despite its shortcomings. Still a very enjoyable little farming-sim if you’re up for the challenge, though many gamers tend to shun this sort of thing. Enjoy the previous Harvest Moon titles? You’ll more than likely have fun with this one. If you have a bit of time and a DS, then sure, why not?

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