Rune Factory games are always fairly straightforward. They’re a mash-up of action RPG and life-sim that involve helping a hero complete a certain fantastical story, then live a somewhat ordinary life. Well, ordinary for people who live in a fantasy world with monsters. The previous Rune Factory on a console, Frontier, had a frustrating farming system involving Runeys. Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny takes another, more successful stab at bringing the series to the PlayStation 3 and Wii.
Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny starts with two characters named Aden and Sonja. Aden is an Earthmate, someone who can wave a wand to plant crops and encourage plant growth, and Sonja is his childhood friend. They’ve lived their whole lives on Fenith Island and it’s been pretty ordinary so far. On a day like any other, they’re wandering around when they see some kind of disturbance near a pond. While investigating, the two get sucked in. Or across. Or something. They disappear.
When Aden wakes up, he’s by the same pond, but he seems to be alone. That is, until Sonja wakes up. Somehow, she’s stuck inside Aden’s body. While the two panic about the situation, a girl named Odette shows up. She informs them that they’re on Fenith Island (still) and actually doesn’t seem too weirded out about Aden and Sonja sharing a body. (Actually, no one does.) Since it’s obvious they’ll be there a while, Odette shows them around, introduces them to the island’s inhabitants and gives them the conveniently empty house next to her family’s inn. Aden and Sonja also find a strange seed during this tour, which the two plant.
The next morning, everybody wakes up to find a gigantic golem next to the island. It grew from the seed Aden and Sonja planted, so it will now obey their commands. This provides the body-sharing duo with the opportunity to explore neighboring islands, farm, collect monsters and do lots of other fun things to find out what’s going on, how to get separated, and why this Fenith Island is so similar to their original home.
Fenith Island is very easy to navigate and is filled with both important townsfolk and filler NPCs. There’s a map that’s well organized and simple to check, with distinct icons showing where everyone is and if they happen to be moving. The regular residents usually have a couple of different things to say each day. They’ll even remember and mention if they haven’t seen Aden or Sonja for a few days, which is kind of cool.
This is helpful because relationship building is, as always, a major part of Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny. Aside from building relationships with potential bachelors or bachelorettes so Aden and Sonja can get married after the main storyline, making friends is important to unlock quests or learn information. As you talk to a character and get to know him or her better, you’ll eventually find new requests from them on the Three Sisters Inn bulletin board. Some of these quests, especially Maerwin’s, can result in discovering new islands.
The islands are crucial to advancing the story, since they’re where you’ll find dungeons to explore and advance the story and island with monsters to tame, shrines or farmland. This is where Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny starts to diverge from its predecessors. In other Rune Factory games, you just come across dungeons. There, you’ll find a boss to defeat, monsters, items, treasures and extra farmland. Here, each island has its own specific purpose. It’s actually kind of helpful to keep a note of what island has what kinds of monsters or items, since you may have to revisit to recruit new monsters, find spirits to revive dead islands or just level up. You don’t need to keep track of islands with farmland, since portals to them will automatically open up in Ymir the golem’s monster barn after you’ve been there.
Actually, I’m not even sure what to call the farming aspect in Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny. It’s more of a management experience, rather than an actual hands-on farming simulation like in the previous Harvest Moon and Rune Factory games. When you find a dead island, you bring collected spirits there to revive it and make more planting plots available. You then equip the spirit wand, look around for a viable, highlighted ring where a plant could grow and wave the action button. Voila! You’ve just made a crop grow. Then, you have to assign a monster capable of growing a kind of produce or flower to the island, purchase some monster cookies from Bismark and Sierra’s shop so there’s a stockpile in Ymir for working monsters to grab and come back to the island in a week to collect the crops your monsters harvested.
I’m not even sure how I feel about this new system. Part of me really liked it. As long as I had tamed the right monsters and loaded up on cookies, which they’d get themselves, I wouldn’t have to do a thing. I could just forget about farming completely and focus on fulfilling quests, crafting and fighting. On the other hand, I miss the control I previously had over my farm, where I could pick exactly what I wanted to grow and stop by daily to tend it. It has its positives and negatives, I suppose, and people will either like or hate it. Either way, at least it’s a system that’s easy to adjust to and understand.
It also proves how important monsters are in Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny. You not only have some that are good for harvesting items from, like wool from Woollies, you have some that are perfect for farming, like goblins, surprisingly. Plus, most are generally good companions for fighting. You never have to feed the monsters, just stop by to talk or brush them each day to make them happy. Well, if they’re farming monsters you do have to make sure to stock up on monster cookies periodically, so they’ll keep farming. But really, they’re pretty hands-off as well. Even if the monsters who are livestock or working don’t particularly love Aden or Sonja, they’ll still do their jobs or provide items.
This leaves plenty of time for fighting and crafting. Dungeon crawling is a typical action RPG experience. You choose what weapons and armor Aden or Sonja equip, then head out into battle, button mashing the A button to chain together attacks to take down anything in their path. Recovery items can be assigned to the directional buttons as well, so you don’t have to worry about wasting time hunting for a potion or poison cure. All dungeons and some islands have glowing monster gates on them, and destroying the gate will keep monsters from regenerating in an area. There are also occasionally mild platforming elements and perhaps an occasional puzzle, but it’s mainly about hacking and slashing stuff to bits.
If you want to be truly efficient though, you need to start crafting. While you can find some basic weapons, equipment and potions in town, the best stuff is the kind you make yourself. All crafting involves a recipe and a gauge. (The same gauge that shows up when fishing, in fact!) You collect the ingredients and recipe and then attempt to make it. The bar shows up on the screen and you must press a button when the indicator is in a blue region to successfully forge, cook or create. Depending on your level and the difficult of the recipe, the size of the blue area can be larger or smaller.
Which brings us to leveling up. You’ll be doing a lot of this in Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny. That’s because, like all Rune Factory games, you have a general character level and skill levels. The general character level seems like it increases as long as Aden or Sonja is making some kind of progress fighting/farming/etc. That increases power, strength, HP and RP. The skill levels deal with strength in different areas. For example, catching colds levels up a cold stat that makes it more difficult to get sick. Leveling up fishing makes it easier and more efficient to fish. Leveling up certain kinds of weapon usage/skills means you can unlock new abilities and just become a better fighter. This all happens without you even realizing it, so it’s better to just do what you like to do best in the game, and let it adapt to your needs.
All in all, Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny manages to encourage players to not only fight and farm, but also to talk to neighbors, make items, tame monsters and explore their surroundings. Yes, there are times when I wished I’d had more control over the farming, or that it was more prominently featured, but the fact that the Rune Spirit system is much easier to utilize more than made up for that. In a way, it may prove more helpful in luring in gamers who are unfamiliar with the Rune Factory premise, but are interested an an RPG with life-sim elements since it would mean they wouldn’t have to pay as much attention to daily chores.
Food for Thought
1. Aden immediately starts with the ability to teleport, so if you’re in town or in a dungeon you can teleport back to his house or Ymir by tapping 2.
2. There’s only English voice acting, which is a bit sad because some of it really isn’t that good.
3. As we’ve reported before, people who choose to play as Sonja don’t have many bachelor options, while Aden players get practically the whole town to choose from.
4. You can collect accessories for other characters to wear in conversations.
5. As expected from a Rune Factory game, the music is usually very soothing and pleasant, and the character models are detailed and pretty.
6. You actually have to go into the main menu to get out a "held" item. Only usable items and equipment can be assigned to quick equip rings.
7. Fishing is, as always, an awesome way to earn money.