Review: Rune Factory 3 Special
Developer: Marvelous, Neverland
Publisher: XSeed (North America), Marvelous Inc
Available On: Nintendo Switch & PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
THE IDYLLIC FANTASY TOWN! - Introduction
If I challenge anybody to down a shot of whiskey whenever a farming simulator gets announced, I’d probably be in prison for murder. It’s a smorgasbord of content, with September alone having a total of four in the chamber. It’s enough to make grown men groan at the excessive nature, and that does occur when one appears during showcases. Be that as it may, they’re missing out because these cozy romps are perfect, especially on those cold winter nights. Quite simply, they’re the epitome of serene, unless, that is, they include combat.
Back in 2009, a hidden gem called Rune Factory 3 hit the Nintendo DS and blended both errands and bloodlust. It got a heap of positive feedback, too. The critics adored it, and rightfully so. Most of the praise I’ve seen is centered around the sublime dialogue. Hell, and pun, fully intended, it’s said to be the cream of the crop. Now, 14 years later, an enhanced edition is upon us, and XSeed wants us to know it's pretty special, but is it really?
MAN, WHAT A VIBE! - Writing
Within seconds of meeting the first villager, it was hook, line, and sinker. It held me firmly in a grip, refusing to let go during my entire 85+ hour session. What primarily tickled me was the sheer character of every individual I came across. Their charisma oozed from their pores, radiating brightly as we conversed. I was utterly delighted, and to truly illustrate that point, whenever I grew restless of the perpetual cycle of agriculture, my reprieve was slinging banter. It provided me with an enjoyable departure from those mundane chores and let that, ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary homies, be a testament to literary quality.
The key factor of the above is the quirks the townsfolk have. Sure, a few are stereotypical, like the ditzy girl, or follow those time-tested anime tropes. There’s the Tsundere - a girl who feigns disinterest despite the truth, or a less extreme form of a DereDere - someone who’s lovestruck, which is often shown by an energetic and sweet facade. However, in that mix, there are also unique traits I’ve never seen before. It’s thanks to those specifically that a cheesy smile crept onto my face every so often, regularly breaking into a chuckle. The goodness is heartwarming, and crucially, it doesn’t come off as awkward.
Sadly, missteps are inevitable with writing, but it isn’t due to those I meet, but more to do with myself. To be transparent, I’ve yet to dive into the 4th entry of the series but have penned coverage for the 5th. Rune Factory 3 Special marks my second foray, and while the story won’t be the tired formula of my dead grandpa passing on his farm, it does bathe in the cliché of amnesia. It’s a generic crutch, but to be fair, it created a mystery I was eager to see through. I wouldn't say I was swallowed by anticipation for the big reveal, but a layer of curiosity did blanket me. It propelled me forward, keeping me going until the credits rolled. It's also helpful that instead of being a big focal point, it’s hidden in the background and rarely surfaces.
WAIT, IS THIS REAL LIFE?! - Writing
Every slice-of-life adventure is made or broken by one thing, and that’s believability. I need to be able to imagine people verbalizing what these NPCs utter. Well, I can, and that’s exclusively thanks to how authentic they feel. Not only that, but their fleshed-out mannerisms went a long way to impact my immersion. I could easily relate to the lazy Karina and what came from her mouth or the hyperactive Carmen. Even instances where a smidgen of fantasy is sprinkled in weren’t so egregious as to take me out of this world. I won’t pretend my love extends to every character. There were one or two I found semi-decent. Compared to the many in town, they lacked that jeux ne se quoi.
Another facet that magnifies the unmistakable soul found in Rune Factory 3 Special is that playfulness. Whether it be a brother spewing dad-caliber jokes to his little sister or the varying personalities that are nothing short of impeccable, there’s no disputing how satisfying it is. To watch these interactions, like a bit of discourse between mother and daughter or the shenanigans of a girl who obsesses over painting a masterpiece, isn’t just pleasant, but it’s beyond nifty. The quips give me life, and they coalesce together to form a quaint little town.
A FELT ABSENCE! - Writing
Alright, this next bit will be disgustingly subjective and might not even apply to you. If you’ve played the upgraded ports of Story of Seasons, same-sex relations are usually a common addition. However, that won't be the case with Rune Factory 3 Special, but I understand why. See, the 2009 original didn’t have a female as a playable avatar. As such, none of the men are programmed in as Bachelor’s, and the script would need a rewrite to accommodate the change. What I can confirm, though, is the introduction of a new mode. After successfully putting a ring on it, I can live a newlywed life with my wife. Now, it’s not expansive, but without going into much detail, the whimsical feel I’ve been feverishly raving about is intact.
I do want to note that if you’re a newcomer to farming simulators and chose Rune Factory 3 Special to take your virginity, well, congratulations. It has quickly become my favorite of the two I’ve played thus far. If you’re looking for drama and to have your adrenaline pumping as you’re nervously awaiting a massive twist, however, temper yourself. Conversing with the inhabitants of this village won’t garner explosive revelations. It’s about world-building, cultivating romantic sparks, and being fed tidbits of information that could otherwise be viewed as frivolous. Most people likely won’t find it thrilling, but man, it's damn endearing.
GRIND UP ON ME - Gameplay
Slice-of-life may be at the very core of this game, but lest we forget the JRPG half. Of course, that means leveling is a thing, and, by proxy, so is grinding. I'm not talking about rubbing up against a person, either, but penetration is on the menu. Now, before tables are flipped, the actual process is egregiously generous. It felt like almost every half an hour saw my strength increase. Experience is rewarded in abundance - a number amplified when wearing an accessory with a perk meant as a booster - it becomes a cakewalk. I do concede I only attempted Normal difficulty, and as such, I’m unsure if it persists at higher tiers.
What I can unequivocally confirm is how swift combat is. Every slash of my weapon is fast. The snappiness of the action heavily contributes to the fun factor being as lofty as it is. One other aspect I appreciate is, believe it or not, the element of experimentation. It’s tiny, but thanks to the available armaments, I have a minuscule selection of fighting styles. If I, for example, were to equip a two-handed sword, the weight would reduce my swing speed. I must adapt, going from kamikaze to a more calculated approach.
Now, while it’s true I didn’t venture into Hard Mode, I did with Rune Factory 5 in my spare time. I reckon that those searching for a challenge will find a semblance of that 3 Special. It isn’t a massive spike, but it made for a spicier session. In addition, I eventually unlocked a new difficulty known as Hell. The one caveat is that to get it, the player needs to experience the story once, at least. Of course, that means a second go won’t be vastly distinct compared to the initial session, but it’s still a test of skill.
PRODUCING BITS AND BOBS! - Gameplay
Crafting is a genre mainstay, with damn near every title under the banner being an avid user. It’s a common mechanic, but the problems I encountered with the fifth iteration continue to haunt this entry. A quality of life improvement I desperately desire is for drops from enemies to absorb into me automatically. As is, I have to manually stroll to every potion, clump of fur, or whatever else falls to the ground. Granted, it’s not overly bothersome, but it somewhat disrupts the briskness of battle - the momentum of slaughter is ruined. Again, it isn’t a horrible blunder, but it does harm that seamless action.
If we’re discussing how to go about learning fresh recipes, it’s a tried and true formula. I’m personally a fan because it taps into reality. By repeatedly doing jobs, be it watering the vegetables or walking around, I improve my skills. Then, once I reach a certain level in a particular trait, usually ranging from multiples of five or ten, I can purchase specialty pieces of bread that, when consumed, can, the way I understand it, jog my memory. I recall how to create helmets, accessories, and, most importantly, better gardening tools. The loaves are obscenely cheap, too, and due to the incredible in-game economy, I could easily afford the daily allotted quantity.
I’ll probably be accused of blowing smoke up your arse with this next declaration, but there’s an addictive tinge to the act of crafting. In regards to what I can collect while hunting in the wilderness, a bulk of the items can be utilized as upgrade materials. By taking a gander at the bottom half of the description card, a few stat bonuses are outlined - these can be positive or negative. By assembling a forge in my home, I can infuse those values into what I wield. I can lightly customize it, throwing further points into areas like lethality or, if I’m feeling saucy, giving, say, a magical staff ridiculous defensive prowess. It’s where the genius lies, allowing me to give everything a brushing of personalization, and let me tell you, I devoted a fair chunk of time here.
GOING ON A QUEST! - Gameplay
Side-quests are divisive, mainly thanks to what the objectives usually constitute, and unfortunately, it isn’t getting any better. There won’t be any innovation as far as this feature goes, with tasks that consist of fetching stuff and going out to slay monsters. It’s pretty by the book, yet on the bright side, the gap between acceptance and finishing is also puny - none felt like they dragged longer than they should. What I consider the optimal reason for doing these otherwise pointless duties, though, is the character interactions accompanying them.
I do have one niggle, however, from an accessibility perspective, and it’s substantial. There’s absolutely no way to check what I’m doing for the main plot. It’s possible I missed it, but as of now, because of a horrendous memory, I forgot on occasion. That resulted in me meandering aimlessly, talking to every NPC until I stumbled upon it. Hell, there was one incident that saw me left clueless for an entire two days. I only discovered my next step because, as a port, the original Rune Factory 3 had a guide online, which helped remind me. Thankfully, I foresee this faux pas only being a hindrance to those who have trouble remembering details.
CALL ME SANTA! - Gameplay
When it concerns capturing the heart of your romantic infatuation, material objects prove king. After all, gifts are the gateway to a woman’s heart, or so an old phrase coined. See, it isn’t only conversating that’s integral to building affection, as each comes with likes and dislikes - just another method Rune Factory 3 Special tries to inject tangibility into itself. For anyone accustomed to both the fourth and fifth entry of the franchise, you’re already acquainted with the penalties of a failed attempt. It sucks, but I’m thrilled to report that disappointing a potential flame doesn’t have negative repercussions - a hated present won’t bring disdain.
Discovering what these girls are partial to is, thankfully, not like real life. They’re forthright about their interests, ensuring I know exactly what their heart desires. Granted, there’s still a handful of them that talk in riddles, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it was overly tough to discern. That, however, isn’t the case when bribing sentient plants, wolves, and the many creatures to your side. It’s a crap shoot, but because it’s supremely painless to replenish your supply of a specific thing, it balances out those cons. That said, that’s also nothing that the good old-fashioned piece of paper and pen can’t solve.
QUITE THE LOOKER! - PRESENTATION
The only apt way to kick-start this section is by mentioning the opening. My God, it's just so wonderful and made me so giddy. The song overlapping it is icing on the cake, and the smooth animations are the flowers made of whipped cream. The colors are vibrant, and the character designs are lovely, albeit slightly generic. See, I would have loved for more creative liberty regarding their appearances. I think what’s here is fantastic, but plays it safe. It’s a preference, obviously, and a giant nitpick, but I’m struggling for gripes. Well, unless it’s objects like the furniture that look very out-of-place compared to everything else on the screen. They have this squished, clay-like aesthetic that clashes with the details of home interiors or even the outdoors.
PC VS NINTENDO SWITCH!! - Performance
I'm handling this section a bit differently. See, XSeed was gracious enough to provide both codes to pit against one another. As such, I’ve enlisted the broski with the mostski, but also my Editor-In-Chief, Sahara, to try out the PC version. My experience with the Nintendo Switch was met with zero resistance. There’s no choppiness, and to my untrained eye, movements are fluent, maybe even 60fps. Of course, being a port from the DS era, it wouldn't surprise me. I also tried putting it through the wringer, yet stutters never began, and the polish always shone through.
On the PC, Sahara notes that Rune Factory 3 Special plays well on a mid-range unit running a 3060 GPU, SSD, and an i7 processor. They go on to say the game is playable with a keyboard and mouse or a controller. It also swaps rather easily between the two styles, which, to them, is a nice touch catering to gamers of different types. This title manages to work decently well on the lowest graphics settings of the game on their five-year-old Inspiron gaming laptop, too. Sahara adds that occasionally, developers are known to do the bare minimum in regards to updating graphics, but Marvelous has optimized it to look beautiful on a bigger screen before sneaking in that overall, it looks great - they point out the “cutscenes” as a welcomed upgrade. I tend to share that sentiment, as well as their assessment that these painted visuals are fantastic.
A NEW ADDITION!! - Sound Design
In the original, whenever you chatted up an NPC, their rebuttal was mostly text with grunts to show a touch of liveliness. If you had a fetish for those moans, well, the good news is they’ve returned but aren’t alone - to drive home the Special moniker of this enhanced remaster, voice clips are included and don’t sound dreadful. It occurs at certain points and usually only spans a sentence or two. In other words, it isn’t extensive, but I embrace it. It adds flavor to discussions, and to answer the burning question, the dub isn’t half bad. The music, on the other hand, is sort of reminiscent of the SNES era. I wouldn’t dare label these tracks as awful, but unfortunately, I didn’t find them memorable, either.
AND THE FARMING VERDICT IS...
Rune Factory 3 was an exceptional jaunt in 2009, and the Special edition continues that trend in 2023. I fully understand why it’s touted as the very best because, between this and the fifth one, I tend to cherish these NPCs more. From a whimsical, cheery cast to their brilliant personalities, I was engrossed. The cozy genre is meant to be a peaceful escape. I should feel relaxed, even as I face enemies. Thanks to intuitive controls, fast-paced combat, and a cartoony cosmetic look, it’s a pleasure to the eyes and strikes all the boxes. While I do wish they threw in select accessibility options, I reckon it won’t be a hindrance for the general population, but I wanted to address it.
In conclusion, I highly suggest buying. Hell, it inspired me to collect the big box releases of, to date, three, four, and five. Enough rambling, though - jump in, harvest some crops, and awaken the monster within you.
RUNE FACTORY 3 SPECIAL IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Special thanks to XSeed Games for both the PC and Nintendo Switch codes used for this coverage.