It’s been way too long, but it’s now time for Under Your Radar! This time, we’ll be discussing Rune Factory 4, the final title by the developer Neverland, published by Marvelous worldwide (XSEED is just the name for their Western arm).
Rune Factory 4 is a 3DS game, and the sixth title in its series. It released in 2012 in Japan, 2013 in North America, and 2014 in Europe. Like the rest of the games in the series, it plays like a Story of Seasons/Harvest Moon type of game, with additional combat elements.
Its premise follows a player character avatar, default-name Lest (male) or Frey (female), who loses their memory upon falling from an airship. The people of the town you fall into mistake you for a prince who was supposed to be on their way. The prince shows up later, but doesn’t care about the mix-up. As a result, you are effectively the honorary ruler of this town. You are also a special type of being called an Earthmate, which mostly just has an effect on the plot.
As far as non-combat goes, farming and crafting are key. You are given a plot of land and must maintain it effectively on your own, although you can domesticate monsters to act as basic assistants who perform automated tasks for you, at the cost of their HP. What you need to do with the land is simple – plant seeds, water them to get sufficient crops, and then either sell them off or use them for other purposes such as crafting. You can also obtain items from domesticated monsters. You can generally sell items once per day, by leaving them in a box to be picked up at a specific in-game time.
You also need to chop wood and gather stones to gather as materials, which are necessary for the Order system. You can obtain points by fighting monsters (more on that later), completing various requests, selling items, and talking to people in town. You can use these to do things such as delaying storms, holding festivals, adding rooms to your home, and various other things to expand what you can do in town. While you can grind enough points to do anything you want in time, you are likely to have long-since completed the plot of the game before then, so the way the town expands over the course of the story is largely up to you.
There is an in-game clock that updates in real time, meaning you need to keep a steady pace as you perform your tasks for a day (albeit at a quick pace, not at fully-real-time speeds like Animal Crossing). Not resting at a proper time is bad for your stamina, named Rune Points (RP) in this game, as is not eating. Your RP starts out really low, and is drained by doing anything at all, but performing actions such as walking will slowly increase your RP, allowing you to perform more actions over the course of the game. Food can restore RP, and even temporarily raise its cap, but letting your RP run out will cause you to faint.
As with all other games of this type, the townsfolk have their own set schedule every day, and you can romance some of them (even having as many girlfriends/boyfriends as you want simultaneously, though marrying one will set the others back to just friends without penalty). In my opinion, the cast is memorable, with several good romance options, and some interesting interactions outside of that. It is, however, slightly annoying when Arthur doesn’t have his Play Coin store available at seemingly random early in the game, as he sells some items that can give you a quick start. Special little subplot events can start up at random, adding more fun to interacting with the townsfolk. You can also add them to your party to assist you in battle.
The combat system is very simple, with multiple weapon types to choose from, and some basic magic you can use. You can also bring up to two party members, be they townsfolk or monsters, to aid you. Swinging your weapon will drain your RP, so you want your teammates to help you as much as possible, and keep RP-restoring items on hand. The intuitive L-button menu to access equipment and items keeps the game at a steady flow. Combat is pretty basic, albeit enjoyable, and entering various dungeons is the only way to progress the plot. My only real complaint is that most bosses feel like damage sponges, although that could just be my lack of good equipment. Amusingly, some of the bosses turn out to be the game’s romance options.
Aside from the final dungeon in the game’s first act, you do not get a game over for dying in battle – you are instead taken to the town’s clinic and charged some money for medical fees.
The world outside the starting town is laid out very intuitively, with the game funneling you toward the next dungeon, but there being a good, open space to explore after you progress enough for the game to remove some of the barriers. A fast travel option is also available, allowing for instantaneous movement to dungeons and a few other key locations, in case your character needs to sleep or you need better equipment or a different party for what you’re up against.
The game’s plot is split into three acts, each of which trick you into thinking the game is over after you’ve completed them. While I would prefer not to summarize the plot to avoid spoiling it, it revolves around saving one character who’s dying/dead throughout, and it’s great how the writers were able to make me feel so attached to that character despite their brief role in the story. I’m told that many of the side-characters and subplots are from other games in the series, but even having not played them, the game was just as enjoyable, and not understanding or noticing the references in no way hindered my experience.
Rune Factory 4’s mixture of calm farming, socializing with townsfolk, and some combat to spice things up, is a great combination that allows you to take the game at whatever pace you want. If you want to rush through the story, go on ahead. If you don’t care about the plot for now and just want to farm, go on ahead.
While there’s less customization than a game like Animal Crossing, it provides a similar enough feeling while you play it, without the pressure of having to play every day due to the lack of adherence real-world calendar.
I am of the opinion that Rune Factory 4 is one of the best games available on the 3DS.