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Old 01-06-2009, 11:07 PM   #125
Seraph
>:3
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Troy, MI
Posts: 11,005

Nintendo DS
1 Players
Developer - Neverland Co. Ltd.
Publisher - Natsume

My Bias
-I enjoy the Harvest Moon series
-I love hack and slash RPGs
-I have not been happy with the most recent HM’s (AWL, MM, HMDS)

My Completion
-Completed the main storyline
-A year and a half into the game

Story
The Premise of Rune Factory is the Harvest Moon franchise combined with a normal RPG. This means that for once the story is not “dads coming home in 3 years, fix up grandpas farm”. The story begins when the main character, Raguna, limps into town exhausted and bumps into the main heroine Mist. Raguna doesn’t know how he ended up at this town and has amnesia. Mist feels bad for him so she lets him live on her deserted farm as long as he works to maintain it. As you continue through the game you find that monsters are mysteriously appearing in caves because someone is placing monster generators in them.

After completing the game I think the storyline is pretty bad as a whole. It was a good idea but was horrible in its execution. What ruins a lot of the immersion of it is that the story is not told very well. A lot of this is due to the story sections being broken up between dungeons, and since you do a lot of farm work in between these dungeons it’s often hours before you continue the storyline. I found myself not remembering what was going on every time the story pushed along. The other thing is that key story elements are never explained or developed. It’s sad that the first time I even saw the games villain is right at the end of the game. I’m left with a feeling of missed potential, because this game could have been an awesome story.

I like all the different characters. The game doesn’t have many unique personalities in the sense that if you have played a Harvest Moon game before then you know what to expect. Mist is half brain dead and does the stupidest stuff, but I married her anyways because she’s cute. It’s so nice having a new Harvest Moon experience that doesn’t involve the same old characters since HM64.


Remember: Games never lie

There is some minimal voice acting throughout the game. Just some Hi’s and Thank you’s when you talk to people. Some of the NPC’s blurt out quick sentences like the angst filled teen who likes to spout “I’M DIFFERENT THAN MY FATHER” every time you talk to him. I swear, half the guys sound flamboyantly gay especially the ones who run shops. Every time you leave their store you hear “Thanks for coming” *slight pause* “As always…” and I felt them wink at me as they said that last bit. Some of the voices fit such as a grizzly voice for the dwarven blacksmith and the soft voice for Mist, but other voices don’t match the character at all. The little mage girl who looks like she’s 10 years old has a deep woman’s voice.

Graphics
All the scenery and backgrounds in this game are gorgeous. They are done in a hand painted style that gives a lot of personality to each area and makes for some neat details. As standard with Harvest Moon games the color tones of each area (minus caves) will change to reflect the time of day. Each season the environment changes as well and they have done a good job at capturing the feel of each time of year.


Some of the environments are really great looking

In contrast to the beautiful environments, the 3D characters and monsters look crummy. I’m not sure if the actual 3D models are crummy or if the DS’s small resolution is making everything so pixilated and jaggy. The dual screen is not used very well either. Like most of the time it displays a map, and this is a game that could have really benefited from that, but the character cursor is only general location marker. So instead of showing you where you are in the fields/town it just shows that your character is indeed in town.

Like in many RPG’s when you talk to people an anime portrait comes up for that character. I liked the art style for this game and think the character designs were great. Laguna looks a bit silly with his dress/kilt, but the other characters especially the girls look good. The game opens with a long FMV clip which was cool to watch once, it’s a shame the game didn’t have more of them intermittent through the game.

Music
The Opening FMV has a really catchy J-Pop song in engrish. It might as well be Japanese though because it’s impossible to tell what the vocalist is saying. Regardless I still really like this song and it’s a shame it isn’t used throughout the game as its theme.

Most of the music is really good and has a mellow tone. I especially love the farm themes and my only complaint there is that much of the game is not actually spent on your farm so you don’t get to hear them.

I enjoyed this soundtrack because it’s full of a lot of strong melodies. No musical fluff or noise here, almost every single track is memorable. It definitely sounds like Harvest Moon music.

Gameplay

Controls
The controls in Rune Factory are exactly like the previous Harvest Moon games before it so fans of the series should feel right at home. If you haven’t played a HM game then the controls are pretty straight forward. Like the most recent HM’s, Rune Factory has a quick switch menu that allows you to cycle through tools and items without having to enter the menu screen. The only nitpick I have with the controls are that you need to hold the R button down to run and since Raguna walks like a snail, you will be holding R down the entire game.

Along with the traditional controls there are also some minimal touch controls. The only things you can do with the touch controls are farming activities, things like planting, watering and picking. Most of it is pretty simple, just select the tool you want to use and click on the floor tile. For tasks like picking crops this is faster and easier than doing it the standard way, but it’s also a shame how limited it is. You have to click on each tile individually and can only queue up to 9 tiles at a time, meaning if you have a big harvest you need to continually click tiles as the character works. The characters default running route is stupid as well, insisting on always picking a crop from the tile beneath it, and if there is an obstacle in the way he just continually runs into it. Overall it’s missed potential, but still a better and faster alternative than farming the standard way.
Being a Harvest Moon/RPG hybrid, your character now levels up and has equipment. The whole RPG aspect of this meshes great with the Harvest Moon style creating a brilliant cycle. You start the game and realize you need a weapon to beat the first cave. To afford a new sword you need to start farming. Finally save up for that sword, beat the first cave and it unlocks the next cave allowing you to get better tools which let you farm even more. This repeats over and over giving the game a nice pace and sense of things to do. The equipment aspect of this game really starts to get addictive as you get mid to late game and can start forging your own equips. I stayed up many long nights (in real life) just trying to make new armors and weapons.

Combat is a lot like the Secret of Mana series. You can freely run around in battle slashing at monsters, casting magic, and avoiding attacks. It feels pretty fluid, especially because its all done in 3D allowing a good range of movement. I found some of the early bosses to be very difficult but in a good challenging way instead of frustrating.


This monster has a maximum HP of like 5

Depending on your actions, your character will level up different skill levels. Fighting in caves a lot will raise your Combat skill while Fishing a lot will raise you. Raising a skill level decreases the amount of energy it takes to perform that action. You also have skills such as forging and cooking that allow you to make better things as they increase. Once these skill levels get towards the maximum amount, you are able to forge difficulty-breaking equipment and make stat increasing foods. You don’t have to level your character to these extremes but I personally love when games allow you take your characters above and beyond like this.


If you wan't you can max things out like I did

Your character has an HP and Rune Points bar, RP bar representing energy. Every action you perform in the game takes a bit of RP and once it’s depleted your actions start draining HP. If you drain all of your HP on your field or in town then you get sick from exhaustion for a few days, just like exhaustion would work in other Harvest Moon games. However if your HP gets depleted in a cave you are given a game over screen. To further drain your RP you can learn magic spells that take big chunks of RP to cast (although I only found the healing spell to be useful).

There are 8 caves total in this game and they all take some time to finish. Each cave has a different climate which allows you to grow seasonal crops all year round (although I’m not sure how plants grow without sunlight but whatever). Caves are full of monster generators, which like their name implies, generate monsters. You can choose to level up off the monsters these create, or destroy the generator itself to stop monsters from appearing. At the end of every cave the boss room is guarded by a door that only opens if all the monster generators in that cave have been destroyed. It takes a full RP bar to clear these caves out and generally a good half of your HP leaving you in bad shape for the boss fight. That’s where “rune factories” come in. When you grow crops, the day they are ready for harvest a little blue sphere appears above them that will refill some of your RP. So the idea is to plant crops throughout the caves so that on the day you decide to clear the cave out you won’t run out of RP.

One of the tools you can get is a glove that lets you pet monsters and befriends them. They then are sent back to your farm and act as this games livestock. As you would expect, there are some blatant rip off cow and chicken monsters that will give you milk & eggs, but you can catch whatever monster you want. What I absolutely loved about this is that certain monsters can be trained to take care of your farm duties. Meaning you can raise an entire pack of monsters to water and pick your crops for you every day, so you never have to worry about it again and it just rakes in money. This was available in previous Harvest Moons but it was often by doing some long tedious befriending gnome quest that was end-game anyways therefore not of any use. You can also take your monsters out to caves to fight for you, although the AI is pretty bad and they end up getting killed.


My crops, completley managed by my farm hand slaves monsters

Glitches & Design Flaws
While I love this game a lot, there is one part in the middle of the game that really turned me off. The flow of this game doesn’t allow you to enter the next cave until you complete the current one. This mechanic is fine until about halfway through the game when the next cave is surrounded by water and only accessible in the winter time when it’s frozen over (because swimming across or building a little bridge must be too difficult). Not being able to go into the next cave puts almost every aspect of this game on hold. I don’t think I play through games fast or anything (quite the contrary actually) but I got to this cave at the end of summer and had to spend all 30+ days of fall doing nothing. I went from micro-managing to get the most out of every single day to running around trying to find something to do. I ended up leveling up during my wait and by the time I was able finally enter this cave, I was grossly overpowered and killed the challenge for the rest of the game.

Along that line of thinking, this game is full of glitches and poor design choices. When I say glitches I mean everything from NPC sprites randomly disappearing to the game completely locking up. The game only locked up on me once but when it happened I lost an entire days worth of work (20+ minutes of my time). It is certainly not a big enough deterrent to keep anyone from enjoying this awesome game, but as a whole all the glitches make Rune Factory feel like an unfinished product. Like something they rushed out the door without play testing.

For bad design choices an example would be the mining element of this game really breaks the economy. Every item in the game can have a level, from equipment to crops and in mining’s example gemstones. When you sell items, the formula for how much they are worth is: SellingPrice x Level. This could have worked great but I think somebody screwed up with how these levels are attached to the gemstones you mine. By the second cave I was pulling out gemstones level 20 and higher. To put things in perspective a pack of strawberry seeds (one of the best crops) costs 400G and grows 9 squares of fruit that sell for 200G a piece after constant watering every day. Or you can walk into any cave and mine for a sapphire which sells for 700G and at level 20 that’s 14,000G! So would you rather spend every day watering strawberries to make a 1,400G profit or hit a rock with your hammer once and make 10 times that amount? Sure you could level those strawberry seeds up so they produce a bigger profit, but that takes a lot of time and compared to a full day of mining (brining home 25+ gemstones a run) it just didn’t seem worth my time.

Another bad design choice was to not offer any tool/item storage until much later into the game. Sure the game gives you the largest inventory space in Harvest Moon history and I never ran out of space, but this clutters up the quick tool/item switch, filling it with unneeded items. For example my second in game day I found a rare Wine in one of the villagers basements. That wine stayed in my inventory for a long time until I was able to get the storage shelf. I kept worrying that I would accidentally throw it into the shipping bin while I quickly dropped off my gemstones/crops.

And perhaps the biggest bad design of all was that this game isn’t explanatory at all. I can’t remember the last time I was on Gamefaqs.com so much for a game. Nothing is spelled out or even hinted at and the player is expected to figure it all out. In the games defense I have not read through its long instruction manual so a lot might be explained in there, but we live in an age where quick in-game tutorials are commonplace. I couldn’t even figure out where to get some of the basic tools to complete the game with, like the Hammer and Axe. Once you start crafting items and equipment this gets even worse. You can buy magic recipe books which tell you what required items you need to make things but the game gives no hints as to what monsters drop what items. Drop rates are so low that I’ve killed monsters for over 15-20 minutes straight and not found what they drop so the chances of figuring out who drops what are low. I think the game should have dropped more hints or dialog so the player wasn’t constantly wondering where to find what.
Of course being Harvest Moon based, you can woo women to be your wife. This is one of my favorite parts of HM games and was pretty satisfying in this game as well. I liked in this game how each woman had certain requirements for marriage instead of just a love meter. The selection of girls is pretty diverse and the game of course has secret girls to marry as well. The level of interaction with the girls isn’t as deep as HM64’s, which is still the best, but it’s a lot better than recent attempts. Heck, at least you get to sleep in the same bed as your wife now! (I’m looking at you FoMT).


I picked the obvious best choice for a wife

Lasting Appeal
I’ve dumped probably 60 hours into this game. The actual game time clicks minutes by like seconds, so each full day lasts about 20 minutes. There is so much to do in Rune Factory that if you are a completionist then you will get many more hours than I did.

Once you beat it the appeal drops down a lot. I finished up the little projects I had going but without an overlaying goal in mind I didn’t feel the desire to keep it up.

Final Thoughts
While a lot of changes have been made to the formula, don’t be fooled. At its heart Rune Factory is still very much a Harvest Moon game. If you can’t stand the day to day activities of the series then the RPG and combat elements probably won’t be enough to change your opinion.

To everyone else who either likes the HM series or is curious about it, pick up this game. To fellow Harvest Moon fans, this is the game we have been waiting for.

Last edited by Seraph; 08-04-2009 at 02:34 PM.
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