Rune Factory 3 marks the third time Marvelous Entertainment and Neverland Co. have adapted the ages old Harvest Moon farming-sim formula and used it to competently complement and flesh out what would otherwise be a fairly regular dungeon-crawling RPG.
This stroke of experimental genius worked wonders for the original Rune Factory, resulting in a solid, tested formula that could stand up to scrutiny and has proven itself time and time again with a series of games that could be categorized from “good” to “excellent.”
Looking back at the original Rune Factory, one might even wonder why it took Marvelous so long to expand upon their Harvest Moon recipe and put it to good use in a fantasy setting. Perhaps the original Rune Factory was ultimately created out of necessity. Maybe Marvelous needed something that would shake the Harvest Moon series up a little. Maybe they felt adding a touch of action and fantasy to it would give it more of a mainstream appeal.
Whatever the case, the end result of Marvelous and Neverland’s experiment wasn’t a game — it was an experience. A magical, engrossing experience that you wanted to lose yourself in for hours at a time. In comparison, Rune Factory 3 is simply a good game.
A Little More Originality Please…
For all its advancements over the first two games — and there are several — Rune Factory 3’s shortcomings are in its utter lack of originality. For instance, if you’ve played Rune Factory 1 and 2, you’ll find the idea of playing as yet another amnesiac that gets taken in by a kind girl slightly off-putting. It’s a little saddening to believe that Marvelous couldn’t come up with a different premise for your character.
The game’s world doesn’t feel very different either. The main draw of the original Rune Factory was that the universe at the time seemed so different from anything seen in a Harvest Moon game before. Rune Factory 3, on the other hand, just feels like a generic fantasy world with little to make you want to learn more about it.
The New Town and its Inhabitants
In the way improvements, Rune Factory 3 has a lot going for it, most notably the new town and its inhabitants. The town is bigger than the one in Rune Factory Frontier, and is easier to navigate. Your interaction with the townsfolk and the way they behave, too, is far beyond any of RF3’s predecessors, making the entire town feel more lively and like it’s bustling with life.
Little details like having characters call out to you as you walk past them, and the fact that they’re constantly on the move — sometimes, even the shopkeepers take off for a stroll — are constantly amazing to see for the first hours of the game. The first time I found myself fishing at the beach, only to have a character randomly walk up to me and look like she wanted to start a a conversation felt very convincing.
Overall, I find RF3’s girls the most consistently interesting of any Rune Factory game, and I’m certain this is largely due to the increased interaction and dialogue RF3 offers you. It’s very apparent how much effort Neverland put into creating the new town.
On the downside, it also sometimes feels like the town is too lively. There are always a lot of townsfolk wandering about, going about their daily schedules, and you’ll constantly run into them no matter where in town you go. The top screen of the DS also displays a town map with little icons representing each character, showing you their movements, and this tends to magnify the problem further, making the town feel a little stuffy.
I find myself not taking to the design of your new house either. In case you didn’t know, your house is inside a giant tree in Rune Factory 3. Your farm appears to be either underground or inside the tree (or behind it…I can’t tell) as well. This makes you feel a little more cut off from the town than you’d like. The original Rune Factory had you living just the right distance away from town, while Frontier made up for isolating you by giving you neighbours. Rune Factory 3 doesn’t quite do either.
A Faster-paced Game
If you’ve played a Rune Factory before, you’ll know there’s a lot to do in these games. This one is no different. Between planting and watering crops, cleaning up your field, chopping wood, upgrading your house, taking on requests at the notice board in town, fighting monsters etc. etc., Rune Factory 3 gives you a lot of possible options.
To this day, I regard Rune Factory Frontier as the best-paced game in the series. It allows you to do everything the series is known for, but it reveals these possibilities to you at a very comfortable pace, so you never feel overburdened. Frontier also has a very balanced economy in that you really need to work hard to be able to acquire certain tools that you need to upgrade your farm or craft better tools and equipment.
For instance, a fishing rod in Frontier is a little harder to come by, so I didn’t begin fishing until a few hours in, and not being able to fish was almost a boon in that it encouraged me to explore other aspects of the game, such as cooking and crafting, which were demanding but equally necessary in their own right.
Rune Factory 3, on the other hand, shows you a lot of what you can do all at once, and I’d imagine this could feel a little overwhelming for a newcomer to the series. On the other hand, a veteran player will feel right at home and appreciate the adjustments made here. Any basic tools you need at the outset, such as an axe or fishing rod, can be bought from the blacksmith’s, and you’ll find yourself getting your farm in order much faster, especially if you take the time to explore the game’s cooking aspect.
Food for thought:
1. Rune Factory 3 seems like a faster-paced game overall, and mean that literally. Aside from the fact that I found myself progressing through it much quicker than in past games, your character moves faster, and — this I can’t be sure of — time felt like it was passing more quickly, too.
2. Perhaps this is a direct result of Marvelous hearing feedback from Rune Factory 2 players who felt like they couldn’t progress through the game quickly enough.
3. I also took producer, Yoshifumi Hashimoto, up on his suggestion to try out the new Dual Blades weapon, and yes, it is indeed very combo-able and fun to use.
4. Speaking of weapons, Rune Factory 3 feels more combat-oriented than the games before it, which is something we’re seeing carry over to Rune Factory Oceans as well.
5. For the first hour or so, I wasn’t sure I liked any of Rune Factory 3’s girls. Now, I’m having a hard time choosing between a lot of them.
6. And finally, a nod to Natsume, who promised us that Rune Factory 3 would feature better voices than Rune Factory 2. Not only are a lot of the voices enjoyable, the overall localization is fantastic and full of personality.