Rune Factory 5 is an imperfect, but charming farming RPG

Rune Factory 5 is an imperfect, but charming farming RPG

Rune Factory isn’t just another Harvest Moon spinoff. It’s a farming simulator and fantasy RPG in one, and that combination has been a strength it’s carried throughout its different iterations. Xseed Games hasn’t released a new Rune Factory title in North America since Rune Factory 4 Special, the remastered Nintendo Switch version of Rune Factory 4, in 2020. Fans have been waiting for Rune Factory 5 for years, so long that some people have splurged on the Japanese version already. Now, Rune Factory 5 is finally coming to North America and Europe. 

First off: It’s everything fans want. Rune Factory 5 brings back the same qualities that made its predecessors great, including a satisfying progression system and charming cast. I only played up until the end of the first dungeon during the preview, and even that was enough to hook me into this new generation. It’s not perfect, especially given the less-than-elegant jump to a traditional 3D perspective. Still, it’s worth looking into for series loyalists, farming sim fans, JRPG enthusiasts, or any cross between the three.

Welcome to Rigbarth

Alice wanders the streets of Rigbarth in Rune Factory 5.

Rune Factory 5 starts with a story that should be familiar to any fan. An amnesiac protagonist wakes up in a foreign town, where they work on a farm in exchange for board while unearthing the mystery behind their lost memories. In this case, the protagonist (the male Ares or female Alice) wakes up in Rigbarth and accepts an offer to join Seed, aka the local task force. As part of Seed, their responsibilities include farming, running errands, and fending off monsters.

And, of course, they need to bond (and flirt) with the villagers. All Rune Factory games feature several bachelors or bachelorettes for players to pick from during their time in town. These singles each have their own unique appearance and personality like the kindhearted, pink-haired maid Priscilla, and the hardworking, armor-clad blacksmith apprentice Martin. Chatting with them every day, showering them with gifts, and spending more time with them should raise their heart level enough for them to accept you as a romantic partner.

Marriage candidates cover a wide enough range of character types that at least one of them should stand out to the player. Players only meet six of them at the very beginning of the game, and the rest appear later in the plot. Many of them made an intriguing enough impression with their introductions and cutscenes to make me want to learn more about them, even if they weren’t necessarily my “type.” Even their trailers from the Japanese release were enough to drive fans into a lovestruck frenzy.

Fun (and welcome) fact: Rune Factory 5 is the first Rune Factory game to incorporate same-sex marriage.

Alice and Martin in Rune Factory 5.

However, dating is only half the fun. Rune Factory is part farming sim and part fantasy RPG. Both go hand and hand, though, as the progression system applies the same way for both farming and fighting skills. Players level up skills by doing basically anything, even walking. Skill levels exist for farming, crafting, forging, cooking, and other activities that can be done throughout the game, and all of them have their own experience bar that can be viewed in your character summary. In short, it always feels like something is leveling up.

It’s more sophisticated than one might expect from a half-farming sim, too. Rune Factory takes everything that works from Harvest Moon and adapts it to a fantasy setting. Mining for ores means forging weapons as well as farming tools. Wild grasses aren’t only for tea — they’re also for potions for when you inevitably get hurt in a fight. Also, monsters essentially count as animals, so tons of other drops exist besides milk, eggs, and wool. You can have a pet wolf that drops a claw or fang in your barn every day.

Improvements from past games

Alice carries a stack of rocks in Rune Factory 5

Rune Factory 5 incorporates safety nets for many of the dumb mistakes I used to make in past games. It prevents you from using items like seeds or cooking bread at inappropriate times, which essentially saves you from wasting them. I did smash through a shipping box while chopping a tree trunk that spawned beside it. Still, it’s mostly an idiotproof game when it comes to wasting items. Some of these things carried over from Rune Factory 4 and its remaster for the Nintendo Switch.

It also improves on quality-of-life additions from past titles like more fast travel locations than Rune Factory 4, and guide markers for major story quests. Fans can also expect returning fan-favorite features like riding monsters, expandable inventory, and item stacking. I haven’t progressed through enough of the plot to judge it fairly. However, even up to just the first dungeon, Rune Factory 5 offers enough information to hint at an overarching plot involving magical creatures and mysterious happenings.

Not a fan of these few things

Alice inspects a cooking table in Rune Factory 5

Unfortunately, Rune Factory 5 doesn’t necessarily surpass its predecessors in every category. It’s a more traditional 3D game than ever, but it still feels like a 2D title stuck in a 3D body.

Rigbarth feels bland in design compared to the series’ other towns. Settings look more like blurred patches of color compared to the more detailed scenery from Rune Factory 4. Buildings are far apart and don’t stand out from one another, and townsfolk don’t seem to interact much outside of their homes. The town now incorporates hills thanks to the 3D graphics, though they don’t do much besides turn a long empty street into a long empty hill.

Some tasks, like placing furniture against a wall, also become more difficult than necessary because of the underlying layout. Character models, however, are more detailed than ever and allow players to dress them with cute and cool outfits.

Rune Factory 5 has a different camera from past games, too. Instead of a completely third-person point of view, it takes inspiration from action games like Legend of Zelda with its adjustable POV camera. I’d advise adjusting camera settings right away to turn off auto-adjust, though. It often shifts the camera into awkward angles while farming and fighting. I struggled to readjust during fights and sometimes found it easier to just slash and hope.

Frame drops, aka unexplained lag that makeesthe animations drag, also interrupted gameplay during boss fights and even simple tasks like carrying furniture. It hasn’t bothered me enough to stop playing, but it’s an issue that never popped up in Rune Factory 4.

Martin and Cecil read as Alice looks on in Rue Factory 5.

Some problems extend beyond technical limitations. Sidequests don’t always have clear instructions on how to complete them or don’t  highlight where to go next to activate the quest like in open-world games. One character posted a request about building a barn for my monsters and said he would provide the wood and stone for it. However, when I visited him, he didn’t mention anything about it. Eventually, I found that I needed to order the barn from the renovation tab at the shop. It’s also annoying to double-check the wording on the requests since you can’t read it again from your quest menu. You have to cancel the request and take it again for the instructions to replay.

Despite the flaws, I’m eager to continue Rune Factory 5. It’s just that it doesn’t seem like a significant improvement over past titles so far. Sure, it’s 3D, but I feel I’d enjoy it equally, if not more, in 2D, especially with the frame rate issues. I’m still excited to play through the entire thing, or at least far enough to get a better glimpse at the plot. Even so, it seems like an easy recommendation for fellow Rune Factory fans or those who want to try a farming simulation with a JRPG twist.

Rune Factory 5 releases in North America on March 22, 2022, for the Nintendo Switch.

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