Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon DS
Published by Rising Star Games
Developed by Neverland
Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon for the Nintendo DS took the Harvest Moon series in a new and interesting direction. The addictive farming RPG took on a medieval-like fantasy setting and added some combat to the mix too. Surprisingly it worked really well, although the overall experience could have been a little better. A sequel followed on the DS and proved to be a better game whilst a third Rune Factory game, Rune Factory Frontier, arrived on the Wii and proved to be the best Rune Factory experience to date. Here we have Rune Factory 3 for the DS and I have to say I'm really impressed to see how the series has managed to continue improving.
In Rune Factory 3, as in the other games in the series, you'll play as a young male amnesiac who's just rolled into town and initially cared for by a young woman. This time around we are in the town of Sharance and the young woman in question is Shara. Shara decides that the amnesiac is in need of some attention and houses him in the Sharance tree which comes equipped with a spacious apartment, a trophy room and at its base, quite a large farm. Once again we have a situation where humans and monsters are struggling to get along and there are times when you'll have to fight a wide range of monsters as you explore the game's various dungeons. There are a couple of differences this time however in the basic storyline. Later in the game you'll have to try and unite a human and monsters from the Univir Settlement and the main character in the game, the young man you play as, will gain the ability to transform into a monster. This latter twist certainly adds a new dimension to the series. Whilst the quality of the storyline might not be the greatest you have to remember that, as with the other games in the series, the storyline is not of the greatest importance as the games are essentially open ended and you are free to proceed through the game in a fashion that suits you.
There are a variety of things to do in Rune Factory 3 ranging from combat, farming, crafting (forging weapons and mixing potions etc.), and befriending monsters. You'll have skill ratings for pretty much everything that you do. You'll have skill ratings for using weapons, farming, logging, mining, walking, sleeping, defence and even a love skill. It certainly pays to hone your skills. For instance, the more you use your long sword, the less RP (rune points) you will consume when using it and the more attack combos you'll acquire. Even walking around and developing your walking skill will improve your HP (hit points) and RP so it's worth talking the time to walk when you can, even though you do have access to a teleport spell that can effortlessly move you back to the beginning of a dungeon or to the entrance of your home in the Sharance Tree.
The farming elements in the game are solid and will be familiar to anyone who has played a previous Rune Factory or Harvest Moon title. You'll plough the field one square at a time, plant seeds, water the plants, chop logs, smash stones and collect wild crops from the land. There are a variety of fruit, vegetables and flowers to plant and you'll find different things available in each of the four seasons (all of which last one month). You'll need to ship your produce to make money from it of course and for the most part making money is fairly easy to do in the game. Monsters can be befriended and can be trained to help you do some of the farming chores in addition to helping you in battle. Some monsters will even create produce such as the Woolies, a sheep-like monster, who can produce wool.
When you're not farming, crafting, fishing, mining or fighting you'll want to visit the village noticeboard to see what quests are on offer and which festivals to take part in. There are many quests in the game and they are certainly worth your while. Initially it's important to do the quests as you'll acquire some of your basic tools such as the axe and the hammer without which you won't make much progress in the game. The quests are usually quite short and will earn you some very useful rewards. The festivals have always been present in previous games but here they actually feel more enjoyable. Festivals usually require you to take part in a mini-game and again there are rewards to be had so it's worth your time to keep your eye on the calendar and pay attention to make sure you're aware of when they occur.
Both the combat and the magic systems in the game have been improved making the battles feel more satisfying than ever. The enemies you'll face will be familiar to anyone who has played a Rune Factory game before. The combat feels quicker and much more fluid than in previous DS Rune Factory games. Of course the big change is the ability to transform into a monster, although you won't be able to do this initially. As a monster you won't get to use any weapons and this can make things a little more challenging. As you level up you'll gain access to extra abilities which helps to make the combat more varied. There's even the option to change the difficulty of the combat, although you'll have to access the Trophy Room in order to do so.
In earlier Rune Factory games on the DS you probably know that should you come a cropper in battle you'll see a game over screen. In many ways that could be irritating, particularly if you hadn't saved in a while. Rune Factory 3 takes a leaf out of Rune Factory Frontier's book and doesn't punish you with a game over screen. Instead you'll find yourself back at the apothecary with a small fee to pay (although you won't be charged for the first couple of times you wind up there). One of the big advantages with the way Rune Factory 3 handles defeat in combat is that you never feel like turning the game off in frustration and I felt more inclined to explore the dungeons during the early stages of the game, when my character was rather weak, than I ever did in the first two games.
There are numerous dungeons in Rune Factory 3 in which you can fight monsters, have access to extra farming regions and mine for resources. Next to the entrance of each of these regions there is a save point and a signpost that details what enemies you'll face and what resources can be mined and you're also made aware of what level you should be in order to not be completely overwhelmed by the enemies. The teleport spell enables you to return to the start of a dungeon at any time making quick exits when you're in trouble a cinch. Of course those expecting some hardcore dungeon crawling might be a little disappointed with these features that make the game more accessible and less frustrating but I suspect most will appreciate them.
As with other Rune Factory and Harvest Moon titles, part of the game's appeal is getting to know the various characters in your community. There are young women to woo and wed of course but it's always beneficial to get on good terms with all of the characters in the game. What makes Rune Factory 3 particularly satisfying is that there are some really good characters that don't just feel like the typical strange personalities that you often run into in games of this type. You have the obese, tank-like Sherman (couldn't resist that one) and his daughter Sofia who say the opposite of what they mean, Monica who likes to literally take a bite out of strangers and the ditzy Pia who will do anything to get you into the bath to name but a few. You'll interact a lot with these characters, particularly in the line of doing quests and so forth, so it's great to see some diverse personalities in the game.
One of my personal disappointments with Rune Factory 2 was the quality of the character portraits. They were smaller than those in the original Rune Factory game and the quality of them was also poorer. Thankfully this minor complaint has been rectified in Rune Factory 3 and the character portraits are the best yet in a Rune Factor title. On the whole though there's not a big leap in graphical quality from the visuals in Rune Factory 2 but it is noticeable. The character models could have been a little more detailed and they certainly aren't as sharp as they could have been. Performance is generally good although you will notice a tiny amount of slowdown in the frame rate when there are a lot of characters onscreen. As you'll spend a good deal of time in the various dungeons it's pleasing to find that there's a good amount of visual variety between them and this helps to keep the dungeon exploration from ever feeling too repetitive.
Rune Factory 3 won't cause deaf gamers any problems at all. Some of the dialogue is voiced but it's only a small portion and text is shown for virtually all of the dialogue in the game ranging from tutorial instructions to general conversation and quests. There is some speech that isn't subtitled however. The opening song isn't subtitled. On the main menu a voice will say "Rune Factory 3" and on loading a save game your main character will say "I'm ready to go!" or some other comment. When passing, citizens will often make comments and these aren't subtitled. None of these omissions are problematic and won't spoil your enjoyment of the game in any way shape or form. The game makes good use of icons to convey information with most of them being self-explanatory.
It says a lot for the game's developers that every Rune Factory sequel released has managed to improve on the previous games in the series. Rune Factory 3 handles both the combat and the farming elements of the game very impressively and I particularly enjoyed the combat in Rune Factory 3 much more than in the first two Rune Factory titles on the Nintendo DS. There are so many things to do in the game that it could easily keep you busy for hundreds of hours but the real beauty of the game is the flexibility to play the game as you wish. You can focus on elements of the game you really enjoy whether that's building up relationships with the various folk in the town, fighting in dungeons or simply establishing the most profitable farm you can. These are elements of other Rune Factory games of course but Rune Factory 3 is a must for all who have enjoyed previous games in the series and it's easily the most enjoyable of the series to date and that's quite an achievement.