GBAtemp Recommends: Rune Factory 4: Special

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Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon, Story of Seasons; farming sim games have found incredible popularity in recent years, reigniting the genre. Where Rune Factory 4, originally released for the Nintendo 3DS in 2012 struggled to find its footing, both in Japan and the west--especially Europe--publisher Marvelous AQL decided to give the game a second chance, nearly a decade later. Now, on a platform where games like Stardew Valley have thrived, it’s time for Rune Factory 4: Special to get the recognition it deserves.

Normally, these types of games give you a short introduction--usually that your grandfather has passed away, leaving you his land to take care of, resulting in you starting your farming life. Whatever the reason may be, you jump into the basics of gameplay rather quickly. In Rune Factory 4, however, there’s a story to be told, with the game beginning more like a typical, lengthy JRPG. You play as, depending on your gender, Lest or Frey, an amnesiac, presumed by the townspeople to be the prince, who was also supposed to arrive on the same day. It’s now your job to take care of the land, while living in the palace, alongside the Elder Dragon Ventuswill, the protector of the world of Selphia.

After you get past the text-heavy prologue, the game opens up to what feels like a more anime Harvest Moon; that makes sense, given that back in the day, Rune Factory was a spinoff of what has now become the Story of Seasons series. Rune Factory 4 has a bright, cartoon-y artstyle, and regardless of if you play it on the Nintendo 3DS or upscaled on the Switch, the game still looks great nine years later. Characters stand out and thanks to the vibrant designs, so do the items and creatures of the land.

In games such as Stardew Valley or Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, I’ve sunken dozens (if I dare look at my Steam account, it’s probably more like hundreds) of hours into them, trying to optimize my farm, grow the best crops, and of course, net my character the best waifu or husbando from the list of bachelor(ettes). But one of the most disappointing aspects of those games tends to be its characters. One-note and bland, they tend to rely on a single character trait, with little time available for further development. If you pursue one long enough, you’ll be rewarded with a short scene every so often, giving you a brief glimpse at the barest of personalities.
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Rune Factory 4, by contrast, spends a lot of time on its characters. Not only do many of them have character arcs that unfold throughout the entire story, but there’s also a lot of dialogue--so much so that it can almost feel intimidating, at least during the start. It makes RF4 less replayable than others, but it also bolsters the overall experience, giving you a reason to keep going to see what the narrative has in store with each in-game day, and to find the latest companion that’ll be joining your town. With a story that takes upwards of 50 hours to reach the end of, there’s a lot of room for development and for focusing on each of the cast, from the gruff Dylas who eventually warms up to everyone else, to the duty-bound Dragon Knight Forte, who protects Selphia, and is constantly training her sword skills. You’ll have plenty of time to decide which character you like best, both in terms of design and personality, and it'll be a tough choice, whoever it is, because the game goes all-out with quirky and amusing dialogue. Rune Factory 4: Special takes this even a step further, with its Newlywed and Another Episode inclusions.

Farming is a major focus of the game, and it’s going to not only be your major money-maker early on, but also a part of the other many skills available to you. Farming, logging, mining, and fishing are all skills that you’ll be able to raise by doing your daily chores on your farm, but there’s much more than that; cooking, tool forging, chemistry, and crafting are all also things you’ll be doing and leveling up during your adventure. In fact, just about everything you do is a skill that will help you, with something as basic as a walking skill helping to boost your HP.

You’re given an insane amount of things to do each day, and each upon improving each of these skills, you’ll gain access to better equipment and items. To give an idea as to how expansive some of the systems are, cooking covers over seven different types of tools, such as pan, mixer, oven, etc, with over 100 different types of dishes able to be made. You’re going to want to focus on cooking, too, as it’ll be one of your best assets in refilling your Rune Points/stamina. In total, across all the different skills, there are 631 different recipes to learn for food, medicine, tools, weapons, armor, and accessories. It’s a staggering rabbit hole to venture into, and yet the systems are so fun and addictive that you want to keep coming back to learn more so that you can finally craft that elusive item you’ve been wanting, to sell, gift, or use yourself!

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What really makes Rune Factory 4 stand out amongst its contemporaries are two features: action combat and monster taming. Yes, you read right: this farming game has a combat system that consists of more than just waving a sword back and forth in a mine at slimes. There are seven different weapons to wield: short and long swords, spears, axes, dual blades, fists, and staves. You’ve also got another seven types of magic on top of that, which is just ridiculous. It’s undeniably fun, though, and it lets you go all out when it comes to how you want to approach combat in this game.

Speaking of combat, you’re going to be trekking throughout the world, and when you journey out, you’ll run into monsters...a lot of monsters. Taking down these creatures will usually give you item drops, of which are a necessity for crafting. But, you don’t always have to kill them; there’s the option to tame those monsters so that you can raise them yourself. Certain monsters like various crops, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll be able to capture them, to which they’ll act like cows or chickens, giving you their specific item drop each day. Caring for them will provide higher quality and larger item drops, so you’ll want to make sure you pet and feed them each day. After enough time has passed, your monsters will even be able to help you out on your farm, taking care of watering or harvesting your plants. It ties the crafting and combat mechanics together perfectly.

Where so many gamers talk endlessly about their love for Stardew Valley, it feels like such a shame that Rune Factory 4 has never gotten that same spotlight, despite its variety of better story-telling, deeper characters, and interesting systems. That’s why whenever someone enjoys Story or Seasons or Stardew Valley, I highly recommend that they check out Rune Factory 4, which for me, is so good and fun that it’s set the standard of what I expect out of all good farming sim games, going forward.

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I hope you enjoyed this edition of GBAtemp Recommends. If you'd like to see more, leave your feedback in the thread below or check out our previous articles.

 

Hells Malice

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I didn't expect to like this game much and then it turned into one of my favourites of all time.

The amount of content is genuinely absurd. You'll be 80 hours in and learn something new. Wild.
Dunno how anyone plays trash like Story of Seasons or Stardump when this game is everything and better x10
 

lokomelo

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I sunk many hours on this one (3DS version). The mechanic is addictive in a good way, and I like the fact that you don't need to master every single aspect to have fun, but once you get some interest to go deeper, the complexity is there waiting for you.

But when stardew valley came everything changed. I never touched it again until last year, when tried the switch version on the free weekend we had last year, and it really felt dated, I felt that I was dragging along the whole time, overall it was not nearly as fun as the old days. (I had this similar feeling when I got back to harvest moon on SNES).

Just like harvest moon on SNES, Rune Factory 4 is a huge mountain that I'll never climb again.
 

Rioluwott

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I played the 3ds version of this to death, i finished 5 different saves and unlocked new game+ the best part of this game in my opinion is the deep crafting system making a lot of builds possible as long as you take your time gathering everything and some hidden things here and there like crafting a tool using a sacred pole and light orb(i think) as materials to make it not consume any RP when charging or making a build strong enough to get only 25% of damage from normal attacks and convert the magic attacks from enemies to HP or even the sword that cuts half of the screen inflicting a lot of bad status to all the enemies like paralysis sealing sleeping or even instant death and lets not forget the Hellocancelling being useful in a lot of fights, i hope Rune Factory 5 for switch gets the same amount of content and maybe even surpasses its predecessor
 

SammyP6

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I didn't expect to like this game much and then it turned into one of my favourites of all time.

The amount of content is genuinely absurd. You'll be 80 hours in and learn something new. Wild.
Dunno how anyone plays trash like Story of Seasons or Stardump when this game is everything and better x10

assuming by stardump you mean stardew valley, people play it because its available on basically every platform and its much cheaper
 

anhminh

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All I hope for RF5 is it keep everything from RF4 with better graphic. Okay, maybe bring back the quest board too, I kinda like it more than just random town event. Or do both like Ocean, I wouldn't mind.
 

bluedart

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This is honestly my favorite game of all time. I've already put thousands of hours into the switch versions. I've really been missing how alive the village is in the new Farm Story game, and I still can't believe how extensible and exploitable this game's crafting system is - I guess nothing really beats RF for me.

(Parenthetically, I didn't realize it at the time, but back when GBATemp reviewed this the biggest negative posited was that combat was too clunky because enemies couldn't be interrupted. They were playing on "Hell" difficulty, which mostly prevents interrupting enemies. Oops! :O)

I've played this game about 8 times from the beginning now and it's probably the most "comfort food" a game has ever been for me. Here's hoping RF5 keeps the magic alive.
 
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My only regret with the HD Remakes is that, apparently, the Artwork always looks meh when all the lines have been restored to their crisp original; older and smaller resolutions gave them a softer look which made them look a certain type of sharp that is visually more pleasing.

This is a personal preference, obviously.

I've always assumed that there was more magic behind the Artwork of games of that era than the Macromedia Flash games that came out around the same time, albeit the latter were based on crisp Vectors; now that everything is brought back to original resolution, I am disappointed they don't actually look much different except in shadow details.
 
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Valwinz

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Here hoping that Unlike Story of seasons that went full stardew valley garbage pandershit this one keeps its roots and what made it great intact

I didn't expect to like this game much and then it turned into one of my favourites of all time.

The amount of content is genuinely absurd. You'll be 80 hours in and learn something new. Wild.
Dunno how anyone plays trash like Story of Seasons or Stardump when this game is everything and better x10
the worst thing Story of seasons did was go full stardump

Im legit afraid they may turn RF5 into stardump but the fact the HD remake of 4 they did not mess it up unlike SOF friends of mineral town
 
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