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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Ashtot

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I've always heard great things about Rune Factory, and I'm a long time Harvest Moon player, though more recently have been playing Stardew Valley. I think it might be time to try out some Rune Factory games.
 
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paprika

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Near the end of the third arc I got mad and used a save editor to give myself the rune dual blades lol i also gave up on the whole story and just got married and left lol. couldn't decide who to marry so i spread my save into the other two slots and married dylas arthur and leon, no regrets
 
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