Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon Review
Rune Factory has become prominent for taking farming simulation and blending it successfully with action RPG gameplay. The various entries in the Harvest Moon spin-off series have all fared well, and Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest is no exception. The game may not surpass any boundaries, but Rune Factory 3 provides another excellent mix of adventure, farming, and social elements to warrant a playthrough by any RPG fan with a Nintendo DS.
The game starts off with a sheep-like character known as a "wooly" falling from the sky. He lands so hard that he passes out and is taken into care by Shara, a young woman who lives in the town of Sharance. The next morning, the wooly transforms into a human with no recollection of whom he is or where he came from. He meets Shara in his human form, and is welcomed into the community with open arms.
The first thing you need to sit through at the start of the game is a somewhat lengthy tutorial on the farming aspect of the game. If you’ve played previous Harvest Moon or Rune Factory titles, then you should have no trouble getting into the groove of things almost immediately. If this is your first romp, however, be prepared to read a lengthy amount of text as you learn the ropes on farming, logging, crafting, cooking, and various other in-game tasks. After reading through tutorial after tutorial, it may start to feel like a bit of overkill, but it is definitely worth the trouble because all of these tasks are essential to increasing your stats, completing sidequests, and making some serious money.
Part of what makes Rune Factory 3 so enthralling is its wide range of tasks for you to perform. Farming requires you to plant flowers, fruit, or vegetable seeds. As the days pass you must cultivate the land and water your crops. You can also chop wood from tree stumps and branches that can later be used to expand your house. You can easily lose track of time as you tend to your farm and spend a good couple of hours focusing on this aspect of the game before you even attempt anything else.
Stepping outside of your farm opens up a fairly large world for you to get lost in. You can meet a myriad of characters, become their friend, and run errands for them. Characters’ requests appear on the town bulletin board and in your mailbox, and the more characters you get to know, the wider the range of jobs for you to perform. Fulfilling requests usually grants you with some type of reward, be it something you can sell or a vital piece of information.
The town of Sharance is home to many characters, some of which you can befriend, and others which you can attempt to court. There are a number of viable female candidates for your character to pursue a romantic relationship with, and talking to them, showering them with presents, and hanging out with them are all things you can do to get them to fall for you. It’s not too challenging to woo these characters, but it does take time, so don’t expect to find a mate after just a day or two.
If you have yet to play a Rune Factory game, then you’re probably wondering if there’s actually an adventure somewhere in this title. Farming and flirting aside, there is indeed an action RPG aspect to Rune Factory 3. There are five separate areas surrounding Sharrance that act as the game’s dungeons. Here you can battle monsters, collect special items, and even do some mining for materials. The combat in the game is very linear and consists of simple hack-and-slash mechanics. Though it isn’t very deep, it’s still entertaining, and tough enemies should keep you busy for a while.
Later in the game you can take on your wooly form as you please, and this opens up even more opportunities to meet characters as well as push the story along further. This adds even more to the game as you can then fight alongside fellow monsters and fulfill objectives for new sets of characters in different areas other than the village of Sharrance.
Watering your crops, cooking, fighting enemies, and even walking around all add to your character’s various stats. You don’t need to monitor these stats carefully; just battle and farm at a regular pace and you’ll steadily level up. What you do need to watch, though, is your Rune Points meter. The RP meter is located directly below your Hit Points meter and measures your character's stamina. Working on your farm, mining, and battling lower your RP meter. Once this meter runs out, continuous activity drains your HP meter, so you really need to pace yourself. Standing still slowly fills your RP meter back up, and the more you level up, the less RP you expend with your daily activities.
You might think that this mechanic slows the pace of the game down, but because time in Rune Factory 3 ticks away rather quickly, it’s hard to exhaust all of your RP after you’ve leveled up sufficiently. Once you’ve gotten far enough, you’ll find that you can do some farming and some exploration without using up all of your RP for the day. Additionally, if you tame monsters later in the game, you can have them live in your barn so they can do a little manual labor for you. It comes at a price, but it is definitely a time saver.
The look and sound of Rune Factory 3 are pretty simple and quaint. The different areas in the game all have a unique look, and visual landmarks help set them apart from one another. Character models are a bit unattractive, but this isn’t really an issue. Still, nice-looking sprites would have been easier to appreciate than the pixelated characters that appear in the game. The music is enjoyable to listen to and doesn’t sound overdone in any way. Additionally, there is even a bit of speech in the game, which was a nice touch on the part of the developers.
As much as there is to do in Rune Factory 3, none of it ever gets too complex or stressful. This is definitely a good thing as it makes the game a real treat to play rather than a chore. The hack-and-slash dungeon crawl elements of the game fit seamlessly with the farm sim aspect to create an incredibly compelling package. But aside from the fact that your character can switch forms between human and wooly later in the game, there isn’t too much that’s different with this game and other Rune Factory titles from a gameplay standpoint. Regardless, Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon is an addictive, engaging, and impressive DS game for anyone who wants a deep title to play for hours on end.