The first question I had when I saw the ads for Rune Factory Frontier was, “How is that the game is set in a different location, yet all the characters are the same? Is it a retelling of the first story?”
Thankfully, that isn’t the case at all. Rune Factory Frontier is a direct sequel to Rune Factory on the DS, story-wise. The game has you playing as Raguna once again, and most of the main cast of ladies from the first outing make a return along with some new ones for you to court. Just like in Rune Factory, when you’re not toiling away on your farm, forging items at your home or using Retornen on monsters, you’ll be spending your time getting closer to these (for the most part) lovely lasses.
The basic premise is this: Mist goes missing without a word and Raguna goes searching for her. He eventually runs into her at the village of Trampoli. Mist tells him she felt something calling to her from the village and decided to investigate. Mist convinces Raguna to stay on at Trampoli with her until she gets to the bottom of things. Soon after, Rosetta, Melody, Lara, Bianca and Tabatha all end up at Trampoli, too. The game spends less than ten minutes explaining all this, so things do feel a tad rushed at the start. Frontier is very much targeted at fans of Rune Factory and not so much at newcomers.
Frontier’s story gets better the longer you play. Being on a console as opposed to a portable system, it certainly is a little heavier on story and presentation via cutscenes than the first game, which is an aspect of it that I personally liked very much.
The second question on my mind when I first heard about Rune Factory Frontier was, “Will being on Wii make it a better game than Rune Factory?”
And this is where the game’s ups and downs come into play. It’s hard to say whether Rune Factory Frontier is outright better than the first game or not. There are parts of it I like more and parts I like less. For one thing, it’s not portable and that certainly makes a difference. You’ll need to dedicate some solid time to this game if you want to experience all that it has to offer. I find myself only being able to play it on weekends simply because once I start playing, it gets addicting really quickly.
Unfortunately, Rune Factory Frontier doesn’t make the best first impression. It’s not a “gateway” game, and if it’s trying to be one, it’s not doing a very good job of it. The game leaves you to figure out menu shortcuts for yourself, and to find the best way to navigate through its rather disorganized user interface. To make things even more uncomfortable, navigating through the simplest of menus sometimes can be a pain simply because the analog stick is so sensitive, you’ll find yourself overshooting items that you meant to select all the time. The analog sensitivity even becomes an issue while trying to line yourself up with crops properly. Using the Wii remote’s IR capabilities to grab and move items around in menus would have made a lot more sense, so I was surprised to find the feature missing.
For the first two hours of the game, farming can be a pain in the ass. The camera is locked in place instead of being locked behind Raguna or in an overhead view like on the DS. You’ll constantly have a tough time aligning yourself with crops correctly to water them. At least until you forge a better watering pail. This automatically switches you to the overhead view from the first games while you have it equipped around the farm, and while it was a very nice surprise, players who aren’t into forging new items might never even come across this improvement until much, much later.
Rune Factory Frontier does its absolute best to create a less than marvelous first impression. Anyone following us on Twitter will likely know that I’ve been flip-flopping with my opinions on the game for the past two weeks. It’s unfortunate because this is undoubtedly a good game once you spend a couple hours with it.
Frontier brings several improvements to the Rune Factory experience. Three hours into the game, I was settling comfortably into the role of Raguna once more and finding it extremely hard to tear myself away from the TV.
Combat is much better paced this time around and the game emphasizes it more than the DS game did. You gain levels faster and the enemies are a little more balanced than they were in the prequel. Attacking with the swords, hammers, axes and spears in the game feels very satisfying, and some weapons even have special attacks which are fun to perform. The hammer special attacks in particular make you feel like a total badass.
The game also gives you all these items early on, so you’ll find yourself mining for minerals and using them to forge better items much earlier than you would have gotten the chance to in Rune Factory. The game keeps things interesting by being a little faster-paced than the original. Yet, at the same time, it doesn’t hurry you along the way the original did. Seven hours into the game, I had my first barn, a basic forge and a basic kitchen all set up with a sizeable number of turnips and strawberries growing in my field. I’d also been to the first cave several times and mined for minerals, fought monsters and even helped Melody start up her new hot spring in Trampoli.
Rune Factory Frontier always keeps things moving by giving you new things to try, and it’s great that Neverland Co. worked hard to improve the pacing of the series. Between Runeys, the Whale Island up in the sky, boating, new monsters, characters and more of an emphasis on story, it evolves the lovable RF formula enough to justify moving the series to a home console. It doesn’t make the best first impression, but it’s the kind of game that grows on you the longer you play it, and after about two hours in, you’ll find yourself having a great time.
Food for thought:
1. Rune Factory’s characters look great in 2D, but they could use a little work while being translated to full 3D to help make them look a little more interesting. Overall, Frontier’s art direction is great. I just wish the character models stood out a little more. Is it just me?
2. Oddly enough, Rune Factory Frontier marks the first time I’ve seen pixellated water in a recent game. It’s just in one spot and it takes a while to notice. See if you can find it!
3. Neverland Co. still won’t let me date the women I want to. Being faced with a hot elven blacksmith that you can’t date is pure torture. Why, Neverland, WHY?
4. Rune Factory on consoles has a fantastic opportunity to be the next major niche Japanese RPG, especially with turn-based games not faring as well in the West anymore. While the DS games could focus more on connectivity and customization, console versions could emphasize story, combat and the single-player aspect the way Frontier does. It would just need to be marketed to the right crowd.