It isn’t very often that you get the feeling a game has been made just for you.
I can count the number of games that have made me feel that way ever since I started gaming on one hand. One of these games happens to be the original Rune Factory on DS.
Here’s a little secret: I’ve never played a Harvest Moon game in my entire life. I kept putting it off because there were so many other games I wanted as a kid and never had enough money. Gaming has always been an expensive hobby, so along with Animal Crossing – which always struck me as rather odd – the revered farming-sim never got a chance to make an impression on me. I just wasn’t willing to spend my pocket money on a game about raising livestock and getting married (or running errands for a raccoon, if you prefer), and I’m fairly certain everyone else who could only afford to buy one or two games in the entire year felt the same way.
All that changed when Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon was announced. The title and character art alone made a big impression on me. A Harvest Moon with elements from action RPGs and dating-sims? And you could raise monsters to help you out? It sounded interesting.
By this point, I was working full time and could afford to buy the games I really wanted. Remaining cautiously optimistic, I decided to check it out.
Much to my delight, Rune Factory was everything I could have asked for in a game. There were enough different things to do to keep you from getting bored. The farming was simple and fun. The cave battles had a steep learning curve, but once you got the hang of them, there was enough incentive for you to see each individual cave through to the end.
The linearity of the game coupled with the freedom the designers had provided within this linearity always ensured you were working toward a specific goal, even if you were doing things at your own pace. Oh, and it had a great soundtrack.
Before I knew it, the game had become my way of dealing with work stress. I would play it on the way to work and during the ride back home. I’d play it during lunch break and in bed. I’d even play it in the loo (too much info, I know). For about half a year, there was nothing better to me than staying home and playing Rune Factory on a rainy weekend. Something about it was just so…soothing.
Eventually, I put the game down and decided to check out some of the other DS titles that were coming out. Ace Attorney and Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword needed my attention. Just when I started to think I was done with the game, my girlfriend bought herself a DS and asked me for recommendations after playing through Phantom Hourglass. Without giving it a second thought, I told her she would love, “this farming game called Rune Factory.”
Before I knew it, the obsession was upon me again. Only this time, I was playing it alongside my girlfriend and we were growing different crops and cooking different dishes and courting different girls and comparing our progress. It had never really occurred to me before, but the next Rune Factory had the potential to be an amazing multiplayer experience if Neverland Co. and Marvelous decided to go that way.
So, after we were done with the game, we started to talk about the sequel and what we wanted from it. Unfortunately, once Rune Factory 2 was announced months later, we found out none of the elements we were looking forward to in a true sequel were implemented. It was still a good game. My girlfriend still liked it. However, I – having being into games longer – was expecting a little more than what it offered, so when I found out that the game didn’t address any of my concerns, it hit me a little harder than it did her.
I looked through whatever chat logs I could find of us discussing the series, and after planning and formatting it for about it for a week, I finally shot off an e-mail to MMV with a shorter version of this same story and included suggestions for Rune Factory 3 on DS, were it ever to be developed.
For all those interested, here’s the list with a few improvements:
1. Multiplayer: To me, this is the most meaningful improvement that could be made to the series. Rune Factory has incredible potential to be a very fun online multiplayer game. Being able to manage your farm with a partner, or even simply being able to visit each other’s farms (a la Animal Crossing) to help manage crops or cook together would add so much to what is already a great single player experience. Throw in the ability to tackle the caves together, and you would have what could be the best multiplayer action RPG on DS.
Sure, it’s probably hard to implement all this and would cost more and require a lot more playtesting and tweaking for the online component – but it would be totally worth the effort and I really, really hope Marvelous pushes for it to happen.
2. More Farming Techniques: Rune Factory struck a very nice balance between farming and combat, but it would be great if Rune Factory 3 could introduce a wider variety of farming techniques. For example; a method of Chinese farming called “wet farming” where rice is planted in the soil initially, and then transferred to a wet field where it doesn’t need to be watered anymore would work well within the game, provided a few tweaks were made to keep this from turning into a long, monotonous procedure.
Perhaps a “farm customization system” at the start of the game could help influence the game’s approach to farming? For example; you could choose to focus on alchemy, which would result in a more comprehensive forging and pharmacy system, or you could choose to make cooking the focus of your farming endeavors, which would result in Cooking Mama-like elements. This customization system would allow every kind of player to tell the game what elements to emphasize and which ones to put on the back burner.
3. The Art: This is very much a personal preference, so I would understand if no one cared about this except me. Please…for the love of God…no more shota characters. I had a hard time believing Kyle could tie his own shoelaces, much less run his own farm and have a kid.
4. Better Dating/Character Development System: Look to Persona 3 and Persona 4 for inspiration, that’s all I can say. I’m not sure if the DS’s hardware limitations would affect this, but it would be amazing to see a system whereby you could actually see your relationships with other characters grow as you spend more time with them. Oh, and make it so the characters don’t repeat the same two or three lines everyday for an entire year?
5. The Second/Minute Ratio: Again, this is a personal preference, but it would make for more effective suspension of disbelief if players weren’t able to see that each passing second = one minute of ingame time. Perhaps 10 seconds = 10 minutes would work better? This actually bothered me quite a bit in Rune Factory 2.
That’s about all I have (the guys over at MMV are probably thinking, “What does he mean, “that’s ALL?”). Again, I love the first Rune Factory to death, and all this is, is me using this opportunity to give my feedback to the developers of one of my favourite games of all time.
After all, that’s what us fans are for, right?
Images courtesy of Marvelous.