At last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, one of Natsume’s representatives repeatedly indicated that Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon was quite different from previous entries in the franchise. For even casual admirers of the series, the rep’s motives were obvious: the Harvest Moon/Rune Factory games are often chided for offering a nominal amount of changes with each new iteration. Although Neverland’s naysayers will probably dismiss Rune Factory 3 as just another entry in the farming franchise, both series veterans and discerning DS gamers will likely find themselves alarmingly absorbed by the game’s fanciful simulation of rural life.
Admittedly, some of the series’ criticism hails from the oft-recycled plotline, where a mysterious but industrious amnesic, forges his own agrarian empire. While Rune Factory 3 uses the trope as a launching point, players will soon discover their ambitions aren’t constrained to mere agricultural and marital matters- they are also compelled to unite two opposing factions. While I expected the game’s quest for a harmonious, strife-free union to be heavy handed, the storyline has moments which are refreshingly tender. Sadly, not all of the game’s conversations are as notable. Early on, players will encounter a family that speaks in opposites, a lethargic shopkeeper, as well as the archetypal assortment of tsundere. As trying as some of the title’s personalities are, each individual is bestowed with an impressive amount of conversational dialog, adding to the richness of the landscape.
Whereas Rune Factory 3‘s banter can be occasionally uneven, its gameplay mechanics are remarkably polished. Players familiar with the 2008 DS predecessor while find a number of significant changes to the game’s control scheme. Farming now forgoes the held button press to till or water a larger patch or land, allowing gamers to rhythmically tend to territories. Also abandoned is the constraint of carrying a single item at a time, now multiples of the same fruit, vegetable or flower may be stacked sky high. Combat feels much more responsive due to the game’s increased speed and increase repertoire of strikes. Even, buying and selling commodities at the town depot has been cleverly streamlined. Although with the modifications, a host of small changes really changes the way the third iteration feels. From seed bags which randomly sprout when harvest flora, a speedier time clock, variable weather cycles, and an eased accumulation of wealth, the sum of each modification makes Rune Factory 3 feel like a new game. Yet one of the most skillful (and subtle) modifications was to increase the open-endedness of the title. While an unmistakable story trajectory is available, players are also free to follow with own variable interests. From cooking, fishing, spell casting, mining, instructing monsters how to be capable farm hands, to making friends (and potential spouses) there’s always another objective when the current duty grows tedious. Herein lies the beauty of Rune Factory– as each day ends, there’s always an array of exigent errands awaiting players. For task-oriented games, the title can be astonishingly addictive, making the cartridge an ideal campaign for both everyday commutes and long-distance travels.
Although serious slowdown plagued past iterations when more than a few characters were on-screen, Rune Factory largely rectifies this problem, only losing frames when fighting multiple enemies. Otherwise, the title’s visuals continually delight with trimmings which range from lush cherry blossom-lined courtyard, immaculately drawn icy tundra, and hand drawn 2D character portraits. Sonically, the cartridges selection of songs are delightfully melodic, and are subtle enough to avoid instigating fatigue in players.
With the capacity to absorb gamers within its myriad of tasks, Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon is an undeniably captivating title. Despite having recently played through its predecessor, I found the third iteration in the franchise made enough alterations to cultivate a distinct experience. Despite a few minor blemishes, Rune Factory is a near-necessary purchase for players who find virtue in intricate, but never impenetrable simulations.