In a way, Rune Factory 2 is like having two games in one. The focus of the first generation of the game, where you play as a young man with amnesia who decides to settle in the town of Alvarna, has a different feel and sense of purpose than the second generation, where you play as the son or daughter of the young man.
Rune Factory 2 begins with a nameless young man on a quest for, well, something. He doesn’t know what it is, or why he’s traveling, because he has amnesia. (Surprise surprise.) He happens upon the town of Alvarna during the cherry blossom season, and finds the town peaceful and charming. After meeting the item shop owner Douglas and his daughter Mana, the main hero, we’ll call him Kyle, decides to settle in Alvarna and work the abandoned farm there.
The focus of the first generation of Rune Factory 2 is socialization and farming. The difficulty level on all four dungeon areas is one star, so level grinding isn’t really an option after you reach level 10 or so. Instead, your time is better spent talking with the people in town, giving gifts, tending your farm, raising monsters and taking message board requests. Don’t worry about making accessories, forging weapons, cooking or making medicine – you don’t get into any of that until generation 2.
The message board is a wonderful new innovation. It actually motivated me to make friends with all the villagers, instead of just the girl I wanted Kyle to marry. Every new level of friendship with a townsperson means a new errand or quest on the bulletin board from them. Completing this quest could result in you receiving money, seeds, food, a new tool or 100 pieces of wood. Often time, these are just fetch-quests, but they’re a good means of making money and acquiring items.
The whole first generation moves at a wonderful pace, so its easy to get addicted and you won’t find yourself bored. Relationships grow quickly, as long as you take the time to talk to the townsfolk at least once a day. Its also easy to get the initial bachelorettes to fall in love with you, after you get a hammer from Gordon’s quest or your Spring crops grow. I found Cecilia, Alicia and Yue were the easiest to get 10 hearts with, as Cecilia likes all gems, Alicia is happy with diamonds and fortune telling requests and Yue is pleased with Aquamarines from Trieste Forest.
Speaking of Alicia, she’s easily the most useful NPC, despite her rather flamboyant appearance. She’s the town fortune teller, and has two fantastic abilities. First, for 20g she will tell you where anyone in town is. Since she’s practically the only NPC who stays in one area on a regular basis, this is a huge help when you need to find someone to report back after completing a quest. She also can control the weather – for 1,000g you can make it rain.
The controls are also just incredible. You can almost play entirely with the stylus. I say almost, because outside the fields and monster barn, it can be difficult to make Kyle attack or perform an action. You can change equipped tools, skills or items by holding the L button and A, B or Y button, then scrolling through the options. You can enter the menu by tapping start or Kyle’s character portrait. Everything is smooth and effortless.
The only control problem I encountered was an auto-targeting system that implements itself in dungeons. Sometimes I’d want to just run in and mine some gems, but the game would automatically make Kyle take a swing at a nearby monster or portal instead of the rock cluster. It was more of a nuisance than anything, and I found I’d just have to take more care when positioning Kyle.
The game, as a whole, is not without its flaws. A recurring problem in both generations is a noticeable slow-down that occurs whenever a large number of characters are present onscreen. For example, on holidays in the first generation, Cecilia, Mana and Alicia will gather in the North Square Alvarna area. If the main character Kyle moves towards them, his typical run will slow to a leisurely walk. It is even more prominent if you ever have to use the monster barn – especially if you decide to have, say, four buffamoos on one floor. At this point Kyle will begin crawling. Heaven forbid if you decide to actually milk one of the said buffamoos, as the game may start to glitch, with an occasional black line passing over the screen as Kyle performs the action and retrieves the milk.
There’s also the outline issue. Every character portrait is, for reasons unknown, framed by either a black or very dark brown line. I noticed it about five minutes in, and couldn’t look away. Instead of looking at the character art, I would be captivated by this inexplicable black line that surrounded most of the characters. All of the other outlines in the art are completely unnoticeable, so it perplexed me that the developers would feel the need to outline the edges of each portrait.
Translation issues also come up. I have two personal favorites in generation 1. The first sometimes happens when you give Rosalind a gift she isn’t fond of. Like, a cookie purchased from the item shop. No matter what you set as Kyle’s name, she’ll call him Aaron instead, and offer a half-hearted thank you. I like to pretend that she was so displeased with the gift, that she decided to insult Kyle by forgetting his name. The second happens when you purchase a recovery potion from Natalie in the clinic. Instead of saying you received a recovery potion, it will say you received something ridiculous, like milk or grass. Something like that. If you check your inventory, you’ll only find the potion.
The final issue is voice acting. I haven’t yet reached generation 2 (rest assured, when I do there will be a review of that stage of the game), but the voice acting in generation 1 of Rune Factory 2 ranges from adequate to horrendous. Characters like Dorothy, Gordon, Alicia and Byron are tolerable, if not well done. But for every Dorothy, it seems like there is a Jake. Or a Barret. Or a Roy. Or a Cammy. Cammy is supposed to be a child, yet she sounds like a 20-something stewardess. Jake, a half elf, sounds like a member of the Lollypop Guild.
The regular music is very pleasant and wonderful, but I have to play with the sound off. I can’t subject my ears to the English voice acting. I won’t. Its easier to appreciate the beautiful, watercolor painting styled backgrounds and fantasy-gothic character portraits, and think of the game as beautiful, without the sudden disruption from a miscast voice actor.
Aside from those few issues though, Rune Factory 2 is wonderful. I quickly found myself totally addicted to this title. The first portion seems ideal for people who are fans of the Harvest Moon series, and could be a great way to gradually easy Harvest Moon fans into the more complicated and RPG oriented action that takes place in generation 2 of Rune Factory 2, or in the original Rune Factory.
Images Courtesy of Natsume.