Review: Rune Factory 5
By: Fernando Da Costa
Developer: Hakama Inc
Publisher: XSeed (North America), Marvelous Inc
Available On: Nintendo Switch
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
WELCOME TO THE VILLAGE OF RIGBARTH! - Introduction
The definition of a spin-off is taking the basic idea of a title and expanding upon it, manifesting a new experience in its stead. There are several examples of this, from Persona, Donkey Kong, and The Sims. Rune Factory is yet another riffing off of Story of Seasons and introducing JRPG deliciousness on top of the farming sim flavoured ice cream. 2006 brought us the initial release in this illustrious franchise, but it missed me. I didn’t jump on the bandwagon until Tides of Destiny, and that wasn't exactly baby's best first step. It bombed both critically and amongst the fans. The fourth entry skipped my radar, too, until a colleague spoke highly of it. Unfortunately, it’s now rotting in my backlog. After years of lying dormant, the fifth entry is upon us and a second chance with it. Can it live up to the praise I've heard?
IT’S TRUE TO LIFE! - Writing
Despite this being my first proper foray into the Rune Factory universe, my adoration for farming simulators is strong. My favourite facet is the presentation of characters and just how fleshed out each one can be. Fortunately, what’s here is stellar, but I concede that the initial couple of hours is a slow burn. Immediate impressions were lukewarm, and my senses weren’t set ablaze. It wasn’t until I got to know everyone that eventually, they grew on me, shifting my opinions. In retrospect, my reaction is the perfect portrayal of real-life and how someone’s charisma isn’t always obvious. It takes time to witness it fully, and, needless to say, the citizens of Rigbarth are all oozing charm. Some more than others, of course, but there wasn’t anyone I actively disliked. Watching them walk around, enter shops and partaking in their daily routines added believability.
That isn’t the only parallels to our reality that Rune Factory 5 shares, either. It’s evident Marvelous strove to assure the return of this sleeping franchise was successful. A lot of the literary genius is hidden throughout the dialogue in snippets, but as a complete package, it’s hard not to see just how damn endearing it gets. Before I dive into that, though, let’s discuss the trope of amnesia and acknowledge that it exists. It’s a tired plot crutch that, thankfully, is not a focal point. The narrative never dwells on it, and if anything, it lingers in the background, sporadically being called to add mystery. If there are curiosities about the storyline itself, it’s pretty generic. We’ve seen the premise many times, and it's very by the books. Still, it’s sufficient, and besides, the real bread and butter lie elsewhere.
WHAT A WONDERFUL CAST! - Writing
One of the most alluring elements of slice-of-life romps is the relatability of characters. The realism their interactions bring to the table is the difference between immersive and not. Unless you relish exposition meant solely to develop and shape, this facet may be mundane. It’s frivolous information, ranging from a girl refusing to yawn and showcasing the roof of her mouth to several in a group gossiping or telling white lies so as not to bruise the feelings of another. I’m especially partial to how if you’ve not spoken to a specific NPC for a while, they reference it. I couldn’t help but smile at the young boy trying to impress a girl by being tough. It’s thanks to these moments of simplicity that gives the game an aura of authenticity, causing everyone to exude a pleasant air and making me content.
I hold the stance that if someone is keen on using archetypes, you may as well commit. Rune Factory 5 deals in a plethora of personality profiles that you’d typically find in any title of this type. From the overly tired woman who seeks an excuse to take a fast nap to the boisterous innkeeper that’s just happy to help. My favourite has to be the older man that loves to deliver a good pun. Perhaps it’s because of my corny sense of humour, but I’d have a cheesy smile stretch across my face. Sure, a few are rather groan-inducing, but that’s precisely why he bleeds wholesomeness. At the end of the day, he reminds me of the terrible dad jokes that you overhear at family gatherings, and it fills my heart with warmth. The coziness that swallowed my body was potent but robust.
A SUBJECTIVE TRIP UP! - Writing
Now, there isn’t an epic tale of wonder waiting for discovery. The plot won’t leave you awestruck by unexpected twists. Rune Factory is just a quaint simulation of a day in the village of Rigbarth. Regardless of not innovating, though, it’s still an enthralling good time. Many individuals have intriguing backstories, compelling me to continue getting to know them. It’s just as well, too, because, unsurprisingly, love is in the air as there’s a nifty romance system. Naturally, I must point out the inclusion of same-sex marriages, especially as it wasn’t present in the Japanese release. My only literary faux pas is that the narrative plays it safe, never taking a gamble - it doesn’t try straying from the general template of the genre. That, however, doesn’t deter me from becoming attached to the NPCs. They all became familiar; they all felt like friends.
GRINDING MADE SIMPLE! - Gameplay
There’s an abundance of activities to partake in that, to be straight-up, can get overwhelming, but in the best possible way. After an 80 hour session, there’s still a hell of a lot left for me to accomplish, ranging from relationship goals to hunting monsters - and that’s not even considering the post-game content. Before anyone complains, most of my time was spent cultivating crops. Sure, in between those duties, there was time put into grinding, but comparably, it’s peanuts. In fact, I’m currently level 132 and can bolster that rather nonchalantly. Basically, it’s a profoundly generous system, though, when it concerns enriching soil efficiency, the waters get moderately muddled. That takes time, requiring you to till fields, use seeds, and hydrate veggies. There’s no denying there’s repetition, but there’s also no disputing how damn tranquil it is.
BUILD UP THOSE SKILLS! - Gameplay
For those well-acquainted with the franchise, many of the norms you expect maintain their importance. For instance, by continuously providing maintenance and upkeep to the farm, your skill level with a particular piece of equipment ticks upward. In other words, consistently bashing stones means bettering your handling of that tool. Doing so won’t make the act itself quicker, though, because another mechanic affects that aspect. No, what ends up happening is a specific character statistic is boosted by the slimmest of margins. You see, every motion, be it swinging an axe, cooking, or walking, has a perk assigned to it. Take bartering as an example, which upon each new level enhances intellect. This one feature attempts to mitigate the repetitiveness mentioned above by giving purpose to roleplaying a countryman or woman, aside from making cash money, that is.
MY TURNIPS ARE TOO GOOD! - Gameplay
Another intriguing facet is the ability to manipulate the stock of in-game shops. There are two methods to do this, with the first requiring the extension of said building via Rigbarth’s carpentry. The second pertains to the crops grown themselves. By utilizing a sickle and slicing through these, you obtain higher-quality seeds. Harvesting can net you a few, too, but RNG is much more prevalent and doesn’t always like to play nice. As a sweet bonus, anything found becomes the default inventory sold in stores. It’s pretty convenient due to it helping to eliminate the need to go through this entire charade again. Doing the work is also a fundamental way to build up a healthy wallet. Some citizen side-quests also demand the cream of the crop, so living the plant life is rewarding and vital to pleasing people.
CREATING UP A STORM! - Gameplay
Since half of Rune Factory 5 is a genre that prioritizes crafting, expect to hunt for materials frequently. It’s an exciting mechanic; however, it also raises a couple of issues. A few item drops are difficult to notice during play unless you pause after a massacre to scan your surroundings. At first, that’s what I did, and needless to say, it quickly became tedious. Eventually, I’d grab what I saw before then move on. Luckily, most recipes necessitate vague ingredients, lumping them into generalized categories like sticks or furs. Thanks to that, it’s viable to manufacture higher-tier equipment with lower-tier components, as long as it meets the criteria. If there are open slots left to add an extra stone or scale, throw it in to strengthen the end product further. Just remember, repeated use means better options, so get used to it.
Now, before tools tap into their optimal performance, their default is sluggishly working one square of land at once. It doesn’t bode well for giant jobs and if you go bloody fanatical with your green thumb, anticipate a long slog of a chore. The key is pacing yourself and trying to unlock the know-how needed to construct the best variation. It won’t be done by simply working, being, instead, tied to the very aptly named “Recipe bread.” After consumption, it jogs your memory and teaches you - to a point, anyway. There’s a threshold to prevent the game's balance from wobbling. It’s a fascinating approach, but recipes are given randomly. It’s a good thing that RNG isn’t awful on this front then - I hastily got what I needed. Word to the wise, though, don’t get overzealous early on and mistakenly use the entire field.
QUALITY OF LIFE NEEDS! - Gameplay
Let me preface the following by saying I recognize how critical I’m being. It may not apply to the vast majority, but the disappointment is there. To craft, designated stations can be created and set up inside your home. The thing is, fashioning your room with any furniture is an irritating feat. It’s free-flowing and not confined to a grid, thus leading to some awkward placement. Sure, it doesn’t disrupt the functionality of Rune Factory itself, but it’s visually unappealing. Item drops desperately need to be bigger and bolder to help visibility for older men like me, too. At least have it, so they automatically get thrown into your inventory. It does somewhat do that already, but it decides when to work correctly. Oh, and having a checklist to cite the locations of already acquired ingredients would negate the need to take wild guesses when trying to replenish inventory.
THEY LOVE ME, THEY LOVE ME NOT! - Gameplay
A central selling point for any slice-of-life title is the capability to get married. There is a slew of eligible Bachelors and Bachelorettes to choose and sweep off their feet. Perhaps the rambunctious hometown girl caught your eye or that Royal Guard looking to live peacefully in Rigbarth. My protagonist was female, and she happily entered a loving lesbian relationship without looking back. There are numerous ways to court your crush, like maybe suffocating them with attention. If clingy isn’t your style, perhaps the killing of creatures is ideal - nothing says adoration like mutual bloodlust. The equipment they adorn is composed exclusively of the gifts that you create. I immensely love this as it provides a personalized touch to the partnership. Even if they are strictly platonic, seeing them use my creations was nice. Not to mention being in charge of outfitting them gives further purpose to grinding.
The romanceable cast is a diverse bunch and a head-scratcher to choose a suitable partner. Everyone is delightful and has traits that make them attractive. One other way to earn love that I haven’t mentioned is gifts can attain their infatuation. It sounds simple, but that’s not necessarily factual because it’s not evident which gifts that constitutes. Yeah, a few characters expand on their interests through casual discussion, but some don’t ever. A trial and error process then kickstarts that have you sacrificing items, hoping for acceptance out of lust and no obligation. Whenever one has a favourable outcome, I would promptly jot down my findings. It’s a way to bypass this problem, but it makes me question why this information isn’t displayed in the game itself. Mercifully, some likes are common sense, like the catgirl that adores fresh fish from the local river.
GOTTA TAME THEM ALL! - Gameplay
Pokémon-inspired one of the gameplay mechanics here, and that’s taming monsters. Balls aren’t the way of catching any, though; instead, it’s a sealing spell. Befriending them is really helpful as once they are teleported to your farm, they can immediately get to work - well, after snacking. There are no actual animals here unless you count the anthropomorphic good boy. As such, Fodder is on the menu, and it’s not that expensive. While taking care of them is pretty easy, subduing them is another story. Like with a romanceable partner, bribes work wonders to gain their affection. Fortunately, while trial and error also exist here, it seems none are materialistic, and food is a perfect temptation. Enemies can also be used as combat buddies, rendering battles a breeze, even if they already pose no challenge.
WHERE ART THOU, WAYPOINT!? - Gameplay
For many paragraphs now, I’ve continuously eluded to side-quests. Yet, I’ve not formally spoken about them. The gist of it is that most consist of the dreaded fetch tasks. None are overly complex, though, but I did come across a few sorely lacking a waypoint. There was one I accepted expressly that sent me to harvest oranges. Up to that point, I couldn’t buy seeds for the tree needed to grow the fruit. Luckily, in the briefest moment after accepting at the bulletin board, a short explanation of where to find it is outlined. Thanks to my horrible memory, I’d quickly forget what needed to be done from one day to the next. That led to a few minutes of aimless wandering. There is one way to circumvent this, requiring you to delete the quest and start over. While it’s a viable solution, it spotlights a puzzling decision.
ST-ST-ST-STUTTERS! - Performance
First and foremost, shut off the farm camera because it’s frustrating. Every time you walk into a field, the point of view switches to birdseye, and if you wish to readjust it back, you’ll need to do so manually. It got quite tedious and given how frequently it occurs, the irritation mounts. Frame drops are here, but they’re isolated. One instance happens within Rigbarth if several trees are on screen. Turning the camera fast also causes them but, again, usually in a populated area. Finally, walking out of buildings and holding forward on the joystick causes stutters. I was able to replicate this consistently. By not touching anything and allowing the assets to load, the issue seems to fix itself. Regardless, most are concentrated mainly on the village but occasionally plagues the open field. The actual combat itself is serviceable enough but does dip ever so slightly.
SUCH A CHILL BEAT! - Sound Design
Given the split between JRPG and farming simulator, with a pronounced emphasis on the latter, the music reflects that. While there are docile, relaxing musings in villages and such, traversing dungeons isn’t what I’d expect. There aren't many tracks designed to get your heart thumping. It’s a slight conundrum due to me absolutely adoring the OST. Several tracks are catchy as hell, and I especially enjoy the festival tune, mainly because of the accordion. Having grown up listening to Portuguese folklore, it’s reminiscent of it. Perhaps that’s why it resonates and is currently living rent-free in my head. Other parts of the score remind me of classics like Secret of Mana, with percussion instruments adding a mysterious tinge. It’s an orgasm to the ears, but something is missing. Essentially, it’s a successful farm sim, but as a JRPG, the serenity doesn’t quite match the action.
AND THE AGRICULTURAL VERDICT IS…
Rune Factory 5 is a superb return to an old favourite with a colourful cast and addictive gameplay. Even though there are frame drops, it was never enough to destroy the magic waiting to enchant you. Still, these are issues that were plaguing the Japanese release. It isn’t very reassuring that they're intact despite having months to rectify it. On a positive note, before you know it, the stutters stabilize. As for the gameplay, it’s simple but enthralling, always coaxing me to give it just one more hour. I’ve put an ungodly amount of time into playing, and my sleep schedule suffers for it, but man, I needed to court Ludamlai. Rest assured that once the final boss is beaten, that won’t be the end. Be it getting cozy with other potential lovers or entering the bonus dungeon. Whatever your poison, there’s an exorbitant amount of things left to do.
I’d love to recommend Rune Factory 5 highly, but the technical hiccups hold it back. While I never had my gameplay disrupted, I also have a high tolerance. For that reason, it’s a tentative recommendation until the drops are addressed.
Special thanks to OnePR for providing the code used for this coverage on behalf of XSeed Games