Rune Factory 4 Makes Up For All Its Shortcomings With Freedom

By Jack . October 13, 2013 . 5:00pm

I’ve come to a point where I’m fairly certain that video games can make any kind of boring task seem fun, and the Harvest Moon series has been keeping that idea strong for a long time. For the past few years, in an effort to spice things up even more, the games have spun off into a full-on fantasy setting with the Rune Factory series. Rune Factory 4 is the latest installment, as well as the series’ debut on the Nintendo 3DS.

 

The game opens with a character (you can choose to be either a boy or a girl) on an airship about to make an important delivery. The ship gets invaded by “gangster soldiers” and you take control to fight them off. The scuffle ends with your character getting amnesia, being thrown off the ship, and landing in a chamber housing a giant dragon. Rather than eating you, however, Ventuswill, the Native Dragon of a small town named Selphia, decides to make you a prince. The plot is pretty silly, but the writing is charming enough to sell it.

 

In broad terms, Rune Factory 4 is an action RPG in which you fight monsters, all the while practicing farming as a trade and maintaining a home life. While these activities are polar opposites in terms of pace and mechanics, they end up working together to form a cohesive experience.

 

At the start I was more excited to head into battle than tend to my farm. The basics of combat are easy enough to pick up; you move around in an isometric space and mash an attack button to defeat enemies.  Essentially the combat boils down to running around to avoid attacks while looking for an opening to retaliate. It’s a simple formula, but I found it to be effective.

 

Rune Factory 4 doesn’t always play fair, though. Common enemy tactics are to either swarm you or trap you in a corner. When stuck, enemies are free to wail on you and there’s no way to escape. This drains the health bar quickly and I found myself avoiding sections of the wall rather than the enemies. Additionally, it’s tough to bounce back during these encounters. There’s a slight delay while healing yourself with either an item or a healing spell, which can’t be afforded when there are enemies ready to take advantage of the delay. I don’t mind a challenge, but it felt very unbalanced at times.

 

Part of that frustration arises because the game’s expectations for progressing can be unclear. Most of dungeons have signs that give you a level recommendation, but it can be misleading. It might be a decent level to fight the initial enemies, but not for the ones that show up later in the dungeon. For instance, I was able to blow through an entire dungeon and do well on the boss, only for it to power up and dwarf everything that came before it. It became less a battle of skill and more of a stat indicator. You can master a boss and get his pattern down, which is nice and rewarding, but unless you happen to be at the level the game secretly wanted you at, or decked out with the latest gear, you will be dealing a paltry amount of damage and receiving tons in return for making little mistakes.

 

On the flip side, when you are appropriately equipped, the enemies become too easy. This cheapens the gameplay by making the enemies feel more like progress walls to climb rather than a legitimate challenge.

 

The strange combat balance also carries on when being penalized for losing. Fear of a ‘game over’ wasn’t my motivation for doing well; it was a fear of going bankrupt. Rather than being sent back to the title screen after a defeat, you are instead warped to the doctor’s office. A little too realistically, the doctor proceeds to slam you with a hefty medical bill. Call me a cheater, but I would much rather reset my game and redo fifteen minutes of progress rather than give up half my life savings. The amount he charges is especially staggering early in the game, where I was struggling to make any income at all.

 

Despite some issues with the combat, I was still motivated to push onward. Things may not be stacked in your favor, but battles can still be rewarding. The weapons and magic available add some strategy to the button mashing, and a lot of the enemies have attacks that require some fancy maneuvering to avoid. The quick pace of battle makes the combat both feel fun as well as easy to come back to after suffering a horrible defeat. Most of the dungeons are good at keeping your interest as well. They never felt too long, and there are lots of secrets to find and resources to collect.

 

While the fighting is fairly straightforward, it’s the rest of the game that makes Rune Factory 4 a unique experience. I was buried in the amount of options available in town. The game starts you off with farming, but you will quickly get the chance to dabble in things like cooking, fishing, interior decorating, crafting, chemistry, monster taming, mining, lumberjacking, and more. You can also earn Prince Points that can be used for passing sweeping legislation, such as planning a turnip festival or receiving a bigger backpack to hold items.

 

The vast array of systems is nice, but learning them all can be a chore. There are plenty of tutorials to assist you but it’s easy to get lost in them, and like combat, sometimes it can be unclear how to make progress. Generally the tutorials give you a basic overview of something like cooking, but don’t really explain how to do something useful with it. Systems that involve making your own products are simply drag and drop affairs, but recipes are necessary to know what you’re doing. I was confused for a quite a while on how to get more recipes, as it was done by eating special bread. Unfortunately, every time I ate bread my character would not learn anything new, saying I needed to increase my skill level. After gaining a ton of levels, I found out the problem was not my cooking skill, but the fact that I needed to buy more cooking tools. For the most part, tutorials can be done at your own pace, but it may be better to just experiment on your own.

 

Running around town becomes natural very quickly, however, and spending time in town is easy, thanks to the welcoming atmosphere. Townsfolk will often shout a greeting as you pass by, and stopping to chat with them all makes for a cozy experience. Doing this will also make people like you more, as they all have a friendship meter that can be filled up. Leveling this up allows you to learn more about these people as well as take them on adventures. It can even lead to marriage, if they happen to be one of the six eligible bachelors or bachelorettes.

 

Everyday life in town can offer some minor annoyances, however. All of the townsfolk move about of their own free will, which is neat until one of the store owners is nowhere to be found and you don’t have any way to buy what you need. This problem is especially baffling as the blacksmith allows you to buy items whether he’s physically present in the store or not, so it makes no sense to restrict everyone else. Additionally, I ran into trouble with my item storage. Some items can stack when you obtain more than one, keeping them all in a nice convenient item slot together. Others though—mainly things you cook or craft yourself—don’t stack.

 

This makes it so you have to take each individual one out and put it where they need to go separately, which can be a hassle when you’ve crafted a ton of swords to sell. There’s a few minor problems like these, and I really want to emphasize that they are minor, but dealing with them on a daily basis in-game starts to feel obnoxious.

 

For everything I’ve said above, however, Rune Factory 4 makes up for it by offering you a lot of freedom. It was completely up to me how I wanted to spend my day, every day, once I was settled in.

 

Sure, I could tackle the next dungeon and get torn apart by chipmunks, but it might be less stressful to just take the day off and work on my fishing. Eventually, I settled on a morning routine where I would wake up, tend to my garden, and go around town giving gifts to all and spreading cheer. After that, I would focus on something different to close out the day. There are so many systems at play in the game that it’s hard to both run out of things to do as well as keep track of it all. On top of that, new stuff seems to always be trickling in. For example, I played for about 20 hours without realizing I could open a shop to maximize profits.

 

More important than throwing a bunch of options at you though, is that the game allows you to adjust to them at your own pace. I spent forever figuring out how to craft something I actually wanted to use, and even longer until I started hiring monsters to do my farm chores for me. Meanwhile, you’ll discover new farming areas the whole time. While the main garden is behind your castle in town, I found more patches throughout the game’s overworld and dungeons, allowing multiple gardens to be run at the same time. Personally, I think keeping track of one is enough, but I definitely appreciate the chance for improvement.

 

My favorite feature in Rune Factory 4 is that literally everything you do works in favour of improving your character. Opening up my skill screen for the first time was a shock, as there is a skill level to increase for just about anything you can think of, whether it’s taking a bath or simply walking around. I was especially glad to see that getting beat up a lot was actually beneficial to raising my overall HP. Rather than being a horrible failure, it turns out I was actually strategically maxing out my stats for the next boss fight. This constant sense of progress makes the game very addicting, as there’s always something you can be doing and nothing feels like a waste of time.

 

Rune Factory 4 is an addicting game despite its flaws. However, it is also a huge time investment. I’m still trying to master all of the subsystems that the game has to offer, and there’s no definitive ending in sight. After sinking in the required time, though, I don’t regret moving into town in the least.

 

Food for Thought:

 

1. My perspective of the game was from the male side, and so I feel like I got to know the female cast a bit more than I would have as the other gender. At the same time, it seems I missed out on learning more about the male cast, which might be interesting for a second playthrough. All I could ever get out of Dylas, a surly restaurant server that I rescued, was a “Get out of my face.”

 

2. Getting good equipment can cost you your fashion sense. For about the first half of my time playing I was wearing an unfitting ribbon in my prince’s hair, as well some sandals that would make an obnoxious squeaking sound. These days I’ve upgraded to a maid’s headdress.

 

3. If you happen to fall in battle, wait to see who wakes you up in the doctor’s office. I found that his wife would heal me free of charge, saving me a reset and proving there are still good people in the world.

 

4. Speaking of cheating, you can spend some play coins to receive emergency gold funds. Great for times where you happen to blow all your money on a new kitchen without saving a little for ingredients to use in said kitchen. Not that I would know about doing something like that.


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  • PoweredByHentai

    Is there still a time limit where you need to accomplish something in order to not get a Game Over?

    For example, in the Harvest Moon games, you have a few years to get yourself up and running with the end goal of getting married.

    • http://amc9988.deviantart.com/ amc99

      nope just take your time XD

      • PoweredByHentai

        Awesome. Thanks!

  • http://amc9988.deviantart.com/ amc99

    Love the game, I just don’t like that the events are random but other than that it is great

  • Enma_Kozato

    Let’s not forget the game has 3 story arcs to go through, everyone. Or that you can’t marry certain characters until advancing through the plot.

  • AkiraScare

    Love the series but its not that hard to stay alive i don’t know if its that ive been playin all the RF games but im playing on hard and ive only died once (^_^) and its actually pretty easy to make money just sell everything you see…
    But the best thing to do is just enjoy the game…

    • fyi1191

      You’ll regret in post game by selling everything you see.

      • AkiraScare

        Like ive said ive played and beat all the RF games (except for the wii one (TT_TT) ) so yeah im pretty sure i know what im doing… its kinda pointless to hold onto items once you reach 9 since itll go over and just take space… anyways the other thing that i ment was like if you plant a turnip and you cook it you can get a lot of money and use some of it for energy to keep cooking (0_0)

  • xe7en

    I’ve been a fan since the first and I’ll be getting my copy of this once I’ve finished pokemon x.

  • chibidw

    Magic seems to be especially more powerful in this game than the other games. Most magic attacks take very little(if any) RP now, and are very strong especially given the fact that you can attack from ranged. This is probably the first RF game where I’ve gone with a magic build rather than a melee build.

    • School Idol Addict

      No actually magic is much weaker, in RF3 i could easily kill most bosses with magic, but in RF4 i can’t unleast i have some items that boost my MATK.
      Like for example i use fenrir glove that give me a boost of 10k to MATK with thoses gloves i do around 10K damage with magic and without the glove i do around 2K, split the damage by 2 against boss when they are under half their HP, so around 5K with gloves and around 1K without gloves, which isn’t a lot when bosses have over 100K HP.

  • Lazulis

    Selling stuff is pretty easy tho; go to the shipping box, press it, and press Y to instantly sell it. It wouldn’t make sense for other characters to let you shop when they’re not there…the blacksmith is lazy…that’s everyday life of people though! Each one is different and it won’t always be the same evey time. The item storage system isn’t as bad as grand bazaar’s tho. Freshness! Each bug is a separate slot!

    I befriended a fairy and combat is SO easy now. It’s pretty tanky for being a fairy and its damage is always pretty good.

    • Mujtahidul Haque

      I loved almost everything about Grand Bazaar. One thing I’ll never miss is the item storage.

  • Triplicity

    I do not know about cooked dishes, but the reason equipment isn’t stackable is because via the upgrade system every unique piece of equipment can have wildly varying stats (different upgrade materials) and there isn’t really a way of showing that on the UI.

    Regarding selling large amounts of things, if you go to your shipping box and look inside it manually, you can press Y to move items to and from your backpack without having to Hold and Place/Throw them into the box one item/stack at a time. Less visually satisfying than throwing things in, but much faster.
    (This also works for any other storage-type fixtures, like the storage box and refrigerator.)

    Lastly, healing potion-type items have no use animation and are more suitable for combat/boss type situations, though they restore less HP than mid/high-level foods and I suppose you still have to stow them away afterwards. Maybe separate all of them into “stacks” of one before the battle if you have space?

    Thanks for the impressions and getting a positive word about the game out!

    • https://twitter.com/DocFishz Jack

      Hey, no problem and thanks for reading! So just to clear a few things up quick:

      That explaination makes sense, although I feel like mass produced stuff made with the same materials should still stack. Oh well.

      My bad on the item storage thing, I actually found that out myself the other day. It’s pretty awful to think how much I played it before discovering that! However, you do still have to drag each one individually into the box, which is kind of annoying when I think personally they should just stack in the first place.

      And finally I guess I wasn’t totally clear about it but the delay I was referring to was the “taking item out of your pocket” animation, not the actual consumption. Although the consumption is obviously a problem too when using food. I’ve mostly turned to just using healing spells now, although I still get knocked out of those sometimes as well.

      • School Idol Addict

        You don’t have to drag, you press Y and the items will go directly in the storage and stacks if the items can stack.
        You can also throw your items in the storage if you want, which isn’t as fast as pressing Y, but still faster then dragging.

        Also consumption isn’t a problem at all.
        You have potion that replenish HP instantly as soon as you use the items.
        Foods give you lot of bonus other then just HP, so i think that’s more then ok that they take a bit of times to eat.

        • https://twitter.com/DocFishz Jack

          Sorry! My overall point is though that I wish they would just stack for efficiency’s sake, as you are still handling them individually. Obviously an incredibly minor nag, but I think I said that in the article. :)Think you also kind of misinterpreted what I was saying about healing, I don’t think food eating is a “problem” in a design sense, just that it’s a bad idea when trying to heal in the middle of combat. Didn’t mean it as “this is a bad thing about this game.” But anyways I appreciate setting me straight on item storage, although I still don’t think it’s perfect. You don’t have to agree with me on that obviously, looking at the comments people have a lot of different preferences on things the game does.

  • refrain
    • Mordina

      Wow, didn’t expect that reference in this game xD

      • refrain

        This game has so many references in it.

    • MrTyrant

      I think even Pokemon Y/X have some reference from Skyrim too.

      • Emi

        I think they mean that they got married

    • AkiraScare

      Doesnt almost every game has a reference to skyrim (0_0) just sayin…

  • https://twitter.com/#!/Ojsinnerz Firo_Prochainezo

    Coming from a guy who’s played every game in the series so far, I think the 4 is slightly disappointing going from 3. Not saying 4 is bad, because I’ve spent almost 40 hours into the game (And I bought it 2 days after release!) and I love the game.

    3 is one of my favorite games of all time, and I wondered what 4 would do differently. Every RF game does things differently to improve upon the predecessor, and 3 changed everything in the handheld rune factory games. Everything was much faster, you can throw stuff, combat got some cool additions, and they did some really cool things with the sign board (Damn it Wells, why are there 4 different requests from you). Fighting as a Woolie was fun too. The ONLY real flaws of the game was that it was way too easy to make a ton of money, and you can easily beat the game in like 10 hours? (Oh, and everybody in the town was wacky as hell, but that’s not really criticism)

    With 4, they made the game a lot “harder”. In 3, if you died once, it’s like a few thousand gold, pfft. Big deal, plant some seeds, and get it back in like 20 seconds. In this game, making money is harder. I feel like you have less options to make big money real fast (Until you get the ability to sell things through your “store”, which comes in much later in the game). Everything costs a lot of money, and even with a ton of money from shipping flowers and whatnot, you’ll blow it really quickly. Oh, and if you die, you lose a BIG chunk of your wallet, unless Nancy found you. Then it’s free.

    Dungeons are harder now too. You no longer use any RP from attacking, but you take a boatload of damage from regular enemies. A lot of them don’t have a hitstun while in attack animation so you gotta be careful. First dungeon is easy, but the Water Ruins wrecked me pretty hard. The dungeons beyond were pretty tough, even if I was like 20 levels ahead. Lack of really good weapons to build early really hurt it, I think. The necessary weapon and armor I would need aren’t available in stores, and I have to forge them. That’s how it’s always been, but forging items are also harder now too. Chances are, I can’t even make the items for my level anyway since I need to level up my crafting/cooking/making status. And forging a brand new item that’s higher than your craft level pretty much takes all of your RP with a single item now, which stops you from abusing it. On the bright side, unlike the previous games, there’s no chance of failure in trying to make something unless the item happens to require more RP than your currently possess.

    And to change things up again, the request board is much less about your interaction with characters, but just doing some chores (It’s mostly been chores to begin with, but you still had stuff like the Monica quest in 3, and you got to show Pia your thing. Now that’s just all gone) and basically learn stuff to get prince points. Instead, we have the town events that occur at random times. I like the town events, but I wish they were either a little more frequent, or at least give a bit of guidance. I’m getting an event once every 2-3 weeks or so, and these events usually last for 3-5 days (With the exception of Dolce’s quest, which was all in the same day) since you have to approach them at different times.

    I don’t think I’ll stop playing this game for awhile, because I need really good items to break through the enemies in the floating empire. Leveling up my cooking levels and forging levels while dating two girls takes up all the time.

    Combat is pretty much the same as 3, but with some minor additions. You can grab enemies and suplex them when you’re wearing a glove, for one. I also already mentioned the hitstun thing. Aquaticus is back as a boss but he doesn’t steal your marriage candidate and throw hurricanes at your crops. You can have 3 characters in a party, and this is pretty much mandatory now or you’ll die really really fast.

    Long story short, it’s a great game that takes everything from RF3 as base and does very different things with it. If you like the previous games, then by all means. If you love 3 and haven’t played this game, what’s wrong with you?

    Oh, and Clorica is my waifu.

    • https://twitter.com/DocFishz Jack

      I actually really appreciate you writing all this, interesting to see a perspective from a longtime fan. I’ve played a Harvest Moon or two and tried the original Rune Factory, but it’s been a while so I was basically a newbie coming into this. I feel like we made a lot of the same observations though, just from different viewpoints. Thanks for sharing!

  • School Idol Addict

    A small tips for anyone that want to go through RF 4 more easily, use the wet boots.
    They will boost you critical rate by 75% and that help a lot.
    Defense don’t matter against critical, so you will always do good damage with critical even against enemy you usually do really low damage.
    The only downside to that is you will occasionally fall on your face and sometime it can be annoying when you fall 3-4 times in a row, but 75% critical rate boost is more then worth it.

    • TheExile285

      nice tip, thanks

  • Matenshi

    I’m guessing the “freedom” doesn’t include any same-sex relationships?

    • School Idol Addict

      In a way you can.
      After you finish the second arc, you will have the abilities to change you sprite in game to anyone else in RF4 with prince point, it only cost 50PP.

      • Matenshi

        Does the game still treat you as the sex you chose at the beginning, though? IE when people use gendered pronouns, etc.

        How far into the game would you say that is? And can you start a new game with that in effect?

  • klkAlexar

    I’m loving this game! I’m liking it so much more than HM; the villagers are entertaining and I’m always looking forward to talking to them, and I don’t feel overwhelmed with farming and taking care of the animals like I do in HM. The only thing is that I suck at combat, I went hard because I heard that the game was easy but then I quickly had to switch to easy because the game was kicking my butt. Hopefully I’ve gotten good enough to play normal in my second playthrough.

    I’m so looking forward to RF5.

  • Tom_Phoenix

    “3. If you happen to fall in battle, wait to see who wakes you up in the doctor’s office. I found that his wife would heal me free of charge, saving me a reset and proving there are still good people in the world.”

    Are you sure it’s not “free of charge” because it was an intimate sort of healing? =P I mean, Lest is a “prince charming” and he was unconscious just a moment ago….

    • Triplicity

      Haha, I think Jones and Nancy are well-enough happily-married as is.

  • sakusakusakura_nyo

    I’m having lots of fun with this game! I think I want to marry Dolce.

  • Nexus

    It hurts me to say that I now prefer Rune Factory waaay over Harvest Moon. I’ve only played for like 6 hours or so and I love it whole-heartedly even with all its faults. Since its my first entry to the RF series, I’m kind of bummed that it doesn’t have the same livestock as the ones in Harvest Moon. I do miss those adorable cows…

    Looking forward to playing it some more this week. Also, Forte is best girl.

    • Luke

      I sometimes miss cows too but this has adorable little apple bears who will help out on your farm, to make up for it!

  • TheExile285

    This is my first RF and I’m enjoying it a lot.

  • MrTyrant

    I love how the game is faster than previous entries. I played some of the old ones and took me a while to do something an even the movements were stiff.

    I like Clorica, Forte, Margaret and Dolce. I having a hard time to decide. But how do you make them accept your confession? do you need to see all the events about the character or just havin a lots of hearts?

    • https://twitter.com/DocFishz Jack

      From what I could tell it was pretty random, but 7 hearts is where it can start to happen. I went for Xiao Pai though, not sure if its the same for all the girls.

  • HIROYUKIMKII

    this game has too much content, if I had to pick between this and pokemon I’d pick rune factory 4

  • wahyudil

    you can pay play coin for funds??? how you do that?

    • https://twitter.com/DocFishz Jack

      Talk to Arthur when he’s in his office in the restaurant building. If I’m remembering right he takes 10 play coins a day.

  • Dream

    IMO, RF & RFF > RF4 > RF3 > RF2 > RFTOD

    I disliked having a castle in RF4, I liked having a house with nobody in it besides for yourself and your wife/kid. Also, I liked the character set of RF and RFF better, I feel like I’m actually in a fantasy medieval world unlike the other games that are slowly driving away from the theme.

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