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JadeDragon's game reviews: Nintendo DS games

Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon

Reviewed October 2007 by Edmund Wong

Publisher: Nastume
Developer: Neverland
Release Date: August, 2007
ESRB Rating:  “E” for Everyone
Genre:  RPG, Simulation
Price: $29.99

For years, the Harvest Moon franchise has been fulfilling our farming desire by providing us with a repetitive, yet addictive game that see us tirelessly farm our way till kingdom comes, or until we find ourselves a wife and make baby with her.

For 20 years, that formula changed little... until Rune Factory.  Rune Factory injects RPG elements into the farming game that is already familiar to players.  You are not just a farmer anymore, you are a warrior.  Someone who wields a sword as well, if not better, as he wields a hoe.  So how much sword swinging is enough to distinguish Rune Factory from other Harvest Moon games?  And more importantly, is the sword swinging any good?

Plot

At the start of the game, you stumbled onto a town after days of no food, lots of walking, and suffered from amnesia (somehow, you still remember your name as Raguna).  Exhausted, you fainted in front of a house.  The occupant of the house, a young girl by the name of Mist found you.

She conveniently has an acre of waste land that was crying to be farmed.  One thing led to another, and you soon became her slave, I mean, farmer.  But before you could start your new life, you were attacked by a monster.  With a hoe in hand, you dispatched the monster.  But wait, you did not actually kill it, the plot device dictated that the creature was just being sent back to "The First Forest", where they all belonged.

With a free piece of land to farm and a cute but strange girl to save, you decided to stay, as if being a farmer-cum-warrior will somehow regain your lost memory.  News of your arrival travelled faster than the speed of light, and in a blink of an eye (literally), the whole town knew about you.

This is probably the first Harvest Moon game to have a plot, and it is not half bad.  The plot still feels secondary to your main goal of settling into your new life, but it gives you a purpose of sort to spend countless hours on the game.  As the game progresses, you forget about your past and concentrate more on which chick to marry.  Yes, you still cannot get away from the tried-and-true Harvest Moon formula.  What differs Rune Factory from the rest of the Harvest Moon franchise is the gameplay.

Gameplay

Each day starts at 6am and finishes whenever you go to bed.  Time magically stops when you are inside buildings or in the middle of a conversation.

There are mainly two parts to the gameplay.  One is farming, and the other is fighting.  Farming requires you to plough the land, plant the seeds, water them and when the time is right, harvest them.  You can eat them if you so desired, but for the most part, you will sell them for a profit, which will let you buy more seeds, forge better equipments, etc. to improve your quality of life.

You must clear the field before you can till the land.  You will not be able to clear large rocks and stumps until you have better equipments, so you will have to farm around these obstacles at the start.  Land should be ploughed as a 3 x 3 square, as that is how you plant your seeds.  One bag of seed covers 9 squares, with where you stand being the middle of the said square.

Different kind of crops takes different time to grow, and some can re-grow once they are harvested.  There are four seasons in all, each with 30 days.  So in total, there are four months to a year, if you like.  In essence, farming is all about growing the cheapest food that can be sold at the highest price.

When season changes, so do your crops.  This is where the caves come in.  There are caves all around Kardia, each with its own 'season'.  Inside caves, there are lands that can be used for farming.  How crops can grow without sunlight, I don't know, but they just do.  So even though it's cold and miserable outside, you can grow pumpkins inside 'summer' caves, or eggplants inside 'fall / autumn' caves.

There is just one tiny problem, monsters.  That is where the RPG comes in.  Each cave is infested with monsters.  If you don't want monsters to interrupt you while you work, you must destroy the machines that 'transport' the creatures from 'The First Forest' to where you are.

But before you jump into cave farming, you must get a certificate from the mayor, because you know, monsters lurk in caves.  The conditions usually involve plowing a certain amount of land in the previous cave and defeating the boss.

You can, in theory, fight your way through the cave with nothing but your farming equipments, but you will most certainly meet a quick death.  It is best if you find yourself a sword or something that will cause more damage than a little poke in the eye.

At times you feel that you are dungeon crawling.  As you gain experience and levels, you increase your HP and skills.  You can deal more damage, etc. Nothing out of the RPG ordinary.  What makes Rune Factory different is the ability to befriend creatures that can help out on the farm.  These creatures will act as your livestock and more.  They can provide milk or honey; some can help you harvest and water your crops; they can even accompany you on your latest cave adventure.

Whether or not you are farming or 'caving', your life is dependent on your HP and RP (Rune Point).  Each swing of the sword, or a hoe, or even using a water can consume RP.  If you run out of RP, it will eat into your HP.  If you use up your HP as well, you will either die in the cave or get sick if you are on a farm.

When the crops are fully grown, a shiny new 'rune' will appear that can restore a small amount of RP.  The 'rune' will appear each day for as long as the crops are not harvested.  This will probably be your only source of energy when you are dungeon crawling, because no matter what your level is, you will always only have 100 RP.  Congratulations, your farm has just become a 'factory' that produces 'rune'.

There are many other things to do in Rune Factory, such as fishing and mining.  The townspeople are more than happy to sell you expensive items.  The most you will buy is probably seeds, but you can also extend your house, build monster huts, buy equipments and even spells.  And on holidays, you can purchase household items from a wondering salesman.

But what would a Harvest Moon game be without the girls?  There are eleven girls in the game, and by extension, eleven potential brides (no, you can only marry one, and there is no such thing as divorce, either).  Each girl has her own likes and dislikes, and it's up to you to wow them with your charm and gifts.  You are not much of a looker, so give them gifts to win their hearts.  To ask her hand in marriage, though, might require a little more work.  You might be asked to fulfill a certain condition before she would consider becoming your wife.

If you managed to score yourself a wife, and have played the game long enough afterwards, you will eventually have a kid.  No getting naughty in bed, no pregnancy, the cute little baby just pop up one day, never to leave your wife's arm.  And that, my friend, is your ultimate goal of your life as a farmer-cum-warrior.  You can continue to play and play and play until Rune Factory 2 hit the stores.

 

Screen shots:

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Graphics

Rune Factory excels in the graphics department.  The characters are modeled in 3D.  They are crisp, distinguishable and integrate neatly with the background.  You can tell who's who without having to talk to them.  The 2D background is very nicely drawn.  It feels like a water-colored landscape with its soft tone.  The environment is rich with colors, and it changes depending on the time of the day.

A portrait of the character is displayed when you are engaged in a conversation.  The characters are drawn in anime style and each has subtle expression change, if you look closely enough.  They will appeal to those who like anime, or anime-style drawings.

Sound

The developers spare no expenses when it comes to sound.  They even change the Japanese opening song to English.  The music is repetitive, but they are easy on the ears and are actually quite pleasant.  You can hear snippet of speech, but are mostly limited to greetings or a small bits of the whole sentence.  Credits must be given to the developers, though.  At least they tried.

Replay value

Rune Factory is really built on the player's patience and endurance of doing the same thing day in day out.  Your day would likely to consist of farming in the morning, and exploring caves or shopping in the afternoon when the shops are opened.

You do not actually finish the game per se, but rather, you achieve 'goals'.  You can continue to play long after you have achieved all of the 'goals'.  The main incentive to play again would be courting / marrying different girls.  But if you ask me, I'd say "if you've done it once, you've done it all".

Overall

As a Harvest Moon game, the game is on par with the rest of them.  You are still a country boy, farming off the land for a living, and if you are lucky, score with the ladies.  The tried-and-true formula is the fundamental building block of Rune Factory.  Doesn't matter how many monsters you kill, how many caves you explore, you will still come back to your root, farm.  In place of livestock, you get monsters.

As an RPG game, Rune Factory touches the basics.  You have levels and experience and spells, but nothing as deep as say, Final Fantasy.  It involves nothing more than hacking your way through the dungeon.  At times, you might even ask yourself why you are fighting at all.

If you have played any of the Harvest Moon games before, you will feel right at home.  If you are looking for a deep RPG game, this is probably not the one you are looking for.  But don't get me wrong, Rune Factory builds on the Harvest Moon foundation to provide a refreshing new way to farm.  This is first and foremost a farming simulation.  And it does an excellent job of that.

Playing Hints and Tips

Fishing is your best income for the first week or so at least until you start selling your profit making crops.

To make some quick bucks, trade items with another player through multiplayer mode (activated by visiting the big shell on the beach).  The item gains one level each time it is traded.  Higher level item sell for more.

If you do not destroy the monster machine, the monsters will keep re-spawning.  Destroy the machine as quickly as possible unless you want to level up.

There seems to be a force field around the monster machine, as monsters will only go so far before retreating.  Just stand within reach of the monster to lure them and then wield your weapon of choice.

 

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

Beautifully rendered 2D background mixed with 3D characters models.

Sound

Music is pleasant.  The developers must be credited for their localization effort, even though we only get to hear a small amount of the dialogue being spoken.

Fun Meter

Tried-and-true formula of farming in previous Harvest Moon games mixed well with simple RPG elements to create something that is unique to the series.  When was the last time you can farm in a dungeon?

Addictivity

Farming. Check. Fishing. Check. Killing monsters. Check.  Scoring with the ladies. Double check.

Total Score= 4.25 Dragons, 85%



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