Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon DS
Published by: Rising Star Games
Developed by: Neverland
Sometimes it's not easy being a gamer here in Europe. The wait for games can be excruciatingly long with a year or more in between those in Japan or the US getting a game and the game arriving here in Europe. With a lot of games the situation has improved dramatically over the last few years but if you're a fan of the Harvest Moon series, the situation hasn't really improved at all. Rune Factory was released in Japan in August '06 with the game arriving in the US in around a year later. It's taken until February '09 for the game to arrive here in the UK. It's taken so long that the sequel, Rune Factory 2 has been on sale for a while in both Japan and the US which only adds insult to injury in my opinion. Anyway that's the moan over with so let's take a look at Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon.
In Rune Factory you'll play a young man called Raguna (you can rename him if you wish) who at the beginning of the game is seen arriving at the outskirts of a town known as Kardia. Raguna is apparently suffering from amnesia and is completely out of sorts. Just as he collapses to the ground a young woman, named Mist, comes to his aid. Raguna has apparently been walking for days without food or water. Eventually Mist gives him some water and some food (it takes a while for her to get the message however as she gives him a hoe and a watering can first?). Being the generous, if a little strange, soul that she is, Mist offers a house and a field to Raguna, which is rather neglected but with a bit of work could be used for farming, which he accepts and thus begins another tale of addictive farming.
Rune Factory isn't just another typical Harvest Moon experience. Yes you'll have to do some of the things you have had to do in previous Harvest Moon titles such as weed, crack rocks, chop wood, hoe the field, plant the crops (which vary according to season), water them and eventually harvest them. There's even a nearby town that you'll need to visit, in order to buy and sell your produce, and you'll need to build up your relationships with those who live in the town. There are ten possible brides in the game so you'll want to woo your desired bride and in order to do this you'll need to find out what they really like. These aspects of the game are enjoyable because there's a control system that works well and for once in a Harvest Moon title you aren't hindered by a tiny inventory at the start of the game which makes harvesting your crops much more pleasant. There are some key differences here however. The game requires you to fight against monsters and you can explore caves and ruins that have been overrun with the evil little critters so you'll need to purchase the best weapons you can afford and gain permits from the Mayor in order to go exploring in each of the caves. You can even befriend certain types of monsters once you've built a monster hut.
Raguna has a variety of skills that you'll level-up by using those skills. The skills he has are: swordsmanship, forging, mining, farming, communication, camping, pharmacy, decoration, logging, cooking and fishing. The latter of these you'll level-up really quickly as fishing is a great way of making large sums of money in the game, especially if you fish in the right spots, because it's very easy to catch fish after fish (more so than in any other Harvest Moon title I've played to date).
As much as I've enjoyed Rune Factory, there are some aspects of the game that could have been better. The dialogue in the game seems rather dull and the characters lack the personality that you would expect them to have in a Harvest Moon game. Whilst there are many ways to earn money in the game, by far the easiest way of raking in the dough is to fish, fish and fish again. As a result it can take the emphasis away from the farming side of the game when you're in urgent need of cash. Thankfully, the developers have made it so that you can't simply give up on the idea of farming. You'll need to complete some farming objectives if you're to gain some of the permits you require to enter certain caves, for instance. You're going to want to enter those caves too, as you'll need to go mining for ore that can be used to upgrade your tools. You can also farm in the caves and most caves have their own temperature and humidity allowing you to grow plants that would be out of season on your farmland.
The danger with the caves is that you're going to encounter monsters. Disappointingly, the combat in the game is poor despite the variety of weapons and the inclusion of spells. The combat feels very basic and those expecting it to be up to the standard of what you'd find in an action-RPG will be disappointed. It's even more disappointing then to find that you'll be dumped back to the main menu should you be defeated in battle. Surely, as this is a Harvest Moon title, it would have made more sense to have been taken to a hospital and have you lose a day rather than punishing you by making you lose all of your progress since your last save?
There's little to fault with the game's presentation. The graphics look absolutely fine for a DS game and the character portraits that accompany the dialogue, which is all in text, are excellent. The general interface is absolutely find and the control system is probably about as good as it could be. The game won't cause any problems for deaf gamers. There are no caption for the various sound effects but in every other respect the game is absolutely fine. Both the dialogue and tutorial messages are exclusively in text so you'll always be fully aware of what needs to be done and the game's storyline.
Well, the wait for Rune Factory is finally over and the wait has been worth it. On the whole it's arguably the best Harvest Moon game to appear on the DS so far. That said, the combat can be a real pain at times and there will be some Harvest Moon purists who will not be impressed by having combat in what is usually a combat free series. Those expecting Rune Factory to provide a decent action-RPG experience will also be disappointed as the combat simply isn't up to scratch. Shoddy combat aside however, the other elements of the game are spot on and in keeping with what Harvest Moon fans would want. If you're a Harvest Moon fan and can tolerate the combat in the game then Rune Factory should definitely be on your wishlist.