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Rune Factory 4: Special review – fun revival of a retro franchise - MW

The Rune Factory brand is said to have died long ago when its developer, Neverland, declared bankruptcy in 2013, but last year it was revived by publisher Marvelous, with many original employees attached. . The first new game, a remake of Rune Factory 4 from Nintendo 3DS, has finally made its debut on the Switch, and in many ways is like pulling out an old comfortable blanket: it's not a good thing. Most there, but you're happy to see it anyway.

A fantastic spin-off on the theme of the Harvest Moon franchise is a little more anchored, the Rune Factory is an agricultural simulation, a collection of dungeons, a life simulation. However, unlike Animal Crossing, the Rune Factory is more a matter of time efficiency and continuous micro goals of progress rather than just enjoying the pleasures of life in small towns.

There is certainly fun to be found in the routine - waking up, watering your crops, taking care of your animals, saying hello to the villagers on your way to any task you choose during the day. . But with a watch that slowly counts down to midnight every day, there is always a deep awareness that there are many things you can do.

That's because the Rune Factory enjoys detail. Almost every action you perform - from hitting sticks with an ax or throwing objects to eating - fills its own experience bar, which also provides your overall level bar. Each food item, vegetable or crop has its own value, which can be changed by fertilizing or formulating, crop rotation, etc. From filling in a list of possible recipes, either completing your checklist of items shipped, or running your own store, or winning other festive mini games Together, the Rune Factory is crammed with things that give you a small dopamine process.

The story, involving an eccentric and lovable character, largely acts as an excuse to establish you with a farm and take you through increasingly difficult dungeons. The Rune Factory gimmick has always been a complement of top-down action RPGs in the style of Diablo or Ys, although the fun isn't as much in battle as interacting with the rest. of the game, farming system and leveling.

You need, for example, top-end armour and medicine to beat the more challenging dungeons, which might mean you need to harvest good crops, which requires better farming tools. But you need good loot to craft those tools, which necessitates a trip to the dungeon for the day, perhaps with a companion or two in tow. The way the game’s systems fold into one another is masterfully compelling, at least while the loop holds.

But once the (somewhat rote) story loses steam, once credits roll, you might be at a loss; the game doesn’t feel as strong when you’re simply existing in the world, trying to figure out your own goals. The writing is fun, and there’s a lot of character- and world-building to uncover, but once you’re used to the escalating challenge of exploring more and more dungeons, it’s difficult to return to mundanity. The game does have post-credits content (whole story arcs, in fact) to kick the loop back into gear, but it doesn’t address the problem.

Rune Factory 4 is a near-direct port of an eight-year-old game for a handheld system, and it shows. Though frame-rate and resolution are greatly improved, it’s still mostly upscaling relatively blocky characters and art, which is obvious on a TV and on the Switch’s built-in screen. The user interface in particular is not built for the system, a fact made most apparent by ridiculously tiny text on item descriptions and the like – thankfully, there is a button to awkwardly zoom in, but it’s not exactly an elegant solution.

There are some other additions to the Switch version - dual audio Japanese and English, harder mode, new mode and other mode / mini scene. Unfortunately for the veterans, the majority of the latter two modes are locked after end-game goals like marriage (which is currently only annoying heterosexual) and DLC downloads are not available at the moment. review scores, though at least they will be free for the first month since launch.

In a way, RF4: S is an interesting revival of a unique franchise, but it is very much a product of the times - and of its original system. One hopes that Marvelous is saving real innovation for the sequel, Rune Factory 5, this year.


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