Rune Factory - A Fantasy Harvest Moon - NDS - Review
The Harvest Moon series has been around for 10 years now, having gotten its start on the Super Nintendo. Since then, installments of the series have appeared on most systems, console and handheld, and, well, the formula hasn’t changed a whole lot; aside from improved graphics and some minor additions and subtractions, the Harvest Moons of today play an awful lot like that first one on SNES. For the series’ 10th anniversary, though, creators Marvelous Interactive decided it was time to try something different with everyone’s favorite farming simulator. To that end, they gave us Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon for PSP a few months ago, which received mixed, but generally positive, reviews. Now they’ve given us Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon for DS, which might be the best Harvest Moon yet.
Players take control of Raguna, a young amnesiac found near the border of the small town of Kardia. There he meets a young girl named Mist, who allows him to stay in an abandoned house on her farm in exchange for working the farm. While staying at Mist’s farm, Raguna begins to make friends with Kardia’s townspeople; he also explores the town’s myriad caverns, fighting monsters and finding treasure. The storyline contains elements of standard RPG stories and traditional Harvest Moon stories, but manages to stay fresh and interesting, mostly due to the characters’ deep personalities you slowly discover throughout the course of the game.
Players will find an assortment of tasks to devote their time to, and the freedom to do so at their own pace; as each different activity can yield plenty of gameplay and advancement of the storyline, it’s possible for any two players to approach the game very differently. Raguna can farm, explore caves and fight, capture and raise monsters, fish, and pursue friendship and romance with the town’s citizens. Each of these activities is deep and intricate, with plenty of room for experimentation and advancement. So many choices of how to spend your time might seem overwhelming to some players, but the game never forces you to choose one path, so there’s plenty of time to try your hand at whatever you like. A streamlined interface makes interacting with the game world relatively painless, and a comprehensive menu system tracks the player’s progress is every conceivable way. Simple additions to the game, like an optional box that indicates what tile you can currently interact with, go a long way to improving the core gameplay.
Eschewing the traditional chibi-style animation seen in virtually every Harvest Moon title to date, Rune Factory’s world resembles a watercolor painting: bright, colorful, and beautiful. There are graphical details everywhere you look, leading to an intricate world that feels real. Characters are represented by 3D models, which appear natural in the pre-rendered world they inhabit, and by gorgeous 2D artwork during dialogue. The music is similarly fresh and beautiful; it, as much as anything else, contributes to the feeling of exploring a beautiful fantasy world’s natural outdoors.
Rune Factory’s not perfect. There are times when the game becomes repetitive, and some aspects of gameplay (specifically, harvesting and selling your crops) have been handled in a more streamlined, less arduous fashion in previous Harvest Moons. Even with these minor flaws, though, this is still the cream of the Harvest Moon’s proverbial crop, with improvements to virtually every (other) series gameplay element, and depth and fun added to aspects that were simply tedious in prior Harvest Moon titles.
This game could have been released as a simple dungeon-crawl with no farming elements whatsoever, and still would have been a fresh, fun RPG and one of the best on the DS. With the traditional Harvest Moon gameplay layered on top of the great RPG elements, however, it elevates it to one of the best games on the system. Like any Harvest Moon title, Rune Factory won’t appeal to everyone. That said, anyone who can enjoy planting and harvesting as well as monster-slaying and dungeon exploring will find Rune Factory to be the definitive Harvest Moon adventure, as well as a deserving addition to any DS owner’s library.
|Review Scoring Details for Rune Factory - A Fantasy Harvest Moon|
With few exceptions, Rune Factory presents the most fun, least tedious farming to be found in the series. Beyond that, cavern exploring, monster fighting, monster raising, fishing, and townspeople interaction all contain incredible depth, making for one of the most content-packed DS titles of all time. There’s easily three or four games-worth of gameplay packed into this one title, and it all fits within one adventure.
Beautiful environments resemble a watercolor painting come to life. Character models are a little low on detail, but are small enough that it doesn’t really matter. Fans of seasonal changes will be very happy, as every season has its own distinct, gorgeous look.
The music is simple and beautiful, enforcing the feeling of exploring a nature-based world. Sound effects are minimal, but subtly add to the immersion.
There are some difficult fights, especially later on, but the game is forgiving and the difficulty is ramped well enough that I can’t imagine it bothering anyone.
Harvest Moon as a series has always had a clever concept and is a nice counterpoint to most modern violent games. Ironically, the addition of enemies and combat to the series actually improve it, and remove some of the “kiddy-game” stigma the series is known for.
The multiplayer here is minimal, relegated to simple trading of items. This is fine, though; as a deep single-player experience, no multiplayer is needed.
Rune Factory is composed of many well-designed elements; the game is great because it takes these disparate elements and weaves them together into a single, cohesive quest. This game earns a spot next to Advance Wars DS and Castlevania: DoS as an essential title in the library of anyone who enjoys top-notch single-player experiences on DS.