I think I’m in some sort of slump where I’m having trouble enjoying things that I’d normally love without another thought. It must be university sucking the energy out of me (I am not used to taking 6 courses a semester and the difficulty jump). Time for sinking long hours into demanding games is scarce and I no longer have the ability to sit in front of the computer deciphering complicated Japanese (Masada’s chuu2 writing is glorious and painful at the same time) without worrying about something else in the back of my mind.
I got some free time during midterm week to Rune Factory 4, and I went up to the end of the second arc (beat main story) before setting it aside for Pokemon. The final arc is post-game material that requires some work to trigger, so I may revisit the game some day not during this Fall’s onslaught of games.
The only Rune Factory I’ve sunk time into was the first game, which was largely regarded as a kusoge but managed to grab me back then. Thankfully, the series was subjected to a myriad of improvements, because boy, Rune Factory 4 is incredibly addicting. The freedom and calendar-based progression along with the loads and loads of skills to level up makes up for the unspectacular graphics for 3DS (it doesn’t look that much better than the DS entries) and controls that aren’t as smooth as say, Ys.
Combat is no longer that clunky, and the dungeon-crawling ends up being very fun, in the you-get-to-mindlessly-beat-stuff-up kind of way. You are presented with choice from different kinds of weapons that all have their own different feel and advantages, and magic is useful, to say the least. You can bring town residents into dungeons as additional party members (up to 2) and they are actually quite helpful despite the almost suicidal tendencies of their AI. Some characters cast magic and heal you often, so they tend to be my picks for party members. Dungeons themselves are also a lot longer, later dungeons spanning multiple floors/sub-maps. Of course I’m only drawing comparisons to the first Rune Factory so RF3 probably also had decent dungeons.
There is an addicting cooking and forging system, and the farming seems to be pretty standard modern Harvest Moon, albeit it feels easier and less troublesome. Things seem to unlock faster to enable more efficient field work. I had a watering can that watered 4×4 grids two months into the game, whereas I would usually be stuck with the shitty starter can in a normal Harvest Moon for a long time. Monster taming is back, and you can bring them into dungeons or have them help out with field work. They also appear to level up by themselves, unlike the townspeople. Because there is a level for absolutely everything that increases as you do more of that thing, nothing becomes boring. Whether it is actions performed consciously (weapon mastery, cooking, farming, mining, etc.) or unconsciously or more out of necessity (walking, sleeping, eating), they all give you stat increases if you level them up and the sheer variety of options keeps the game from getting dull. The player’s main level can also go beyond 99.
The bottom line is that you have a myriad of ways you can spend time and nobody forces you to stick to one thing outside of clearing the main story (which also has no time limit). Aside from the beginning where the game takes a while to introduce and open up certain aspects of the game, nobody is making you do anything yet everything is fun.
Of course, I also came for the marriage candidates. Rune Factory’s fantasy character designs have always been more appealing than Harvest Moon’s, and raising affection with the townspeople in RF is also a lot faster and less tedious. You actually get somewhere by talking to them every day, instead of making friends being a long and painful process that requires you to give them their preferred item on a regular basis. Marriage also seems to require a period of dating and events acquired from said dating relationship before being possible, unlike past games where you just had to get their affection up.
I haven’t picked a waifu yet, but am certainly leaning towards Forte or Dolce. All the marriage candidates, male or female, have distinct character quirks and are brimming with energy. Their dialogues also change more often than the last Harvest Moon game I’ve played. There’s also the option of playing as a girl (with twintails!) and I might do a playthrough as her since the male marriage candidates are also quite decent. Although, with that being said, I haven’t reached a point where I can say I am truly invested into the characters. I don’t have the “I’ll definitely get her!!” motivation that I’ve had with galge and some pseudo galge/rpg. Forte does hit a good portion of my moe points, but not enough to make me truly want to work for it.
In conclusion, it is a fun game that one can easily lose himself in. I’ve enjoyed it more than how I’m liking Pokemon Y so far, but there is more to be seen with the latter. Story is not its strong point, but I don’t think it ever was for this series.