Farming, cooking, fishing, battling monsters… This game is just like real life.
Rune Factory Frontier is, for those that are not “in the know”, a fantasy based version of Harvest Moon. This is the third Rune Factory game, with the previous two entries into the series appearing on the Nintendo handheld. So, does this third outing into the world of Rune Factory deserve the big screen view? Or would it be better as a small package?
The Harvest Moon/ Rune Factory games have a great fanbase, and deservedly so. Whilst not to everyones taste, the laid back gaming style, combined with an incredible amount of depth, kept players of Harvest Moon engrossed for an amazing amount of time. Rune Factory, that was originally a spin off of the farming/social sim, came along and added a sense of adventure to the proceedings. The most recent Harvest Moon game that appeared on the Wii failed to capture all but the most fanatical fans. Hopefully Rune Factory Frontier on the Wii will be able to fill the gap for the fans, whilst being accessible enough for newcomers to gain a foothold in this series.
Developed by Marvelous Interactive, players will begin their adventure as Raguna, the same character from the previous Rune Factory outings. Whilst searching for his friend, Mist, Raguna stumbles upon the rundown village of Trampoli. Fortunately, Mist lives in this village, so Raguna moves into the empty farm house next door and thus begins his journey.
Working to the whims of time, the game features a full clock with day/night cycles and even seasons, the player will have a huge number things that they can do. The aim of the game is really what the player wants it to be. Return the farm to its former glory and make a living off the land, explore dungeons and fight monsters, cook, craft, raise monsters as if they were farm animals, or follow the story. With all of these options, it is easy to forget that there is a story that can be played through. In fact, the story triggers certain events that are needed to progress in any of the other aspects of the game.
Throughout the game there are certain key items that are needed to allow the player to do other things, such as the axe or scythe. These items are obtained from talking with people. But there is no rhyme or reason to which people will give out which items, so the game ensures that the player has to talk to everyone, even if they are not planning on playing the social game.
Working the land is an honourable way to make a living in Rune Factory. Prepare the land, sow the seeds, water them and then wait for them to be ready for harvest. Then sell the produce and start again. There are loads of different seeds available , allowing the player to exercise their green thumbs. Produce can also be used for other things, such as cooking, which adds another level to the game.
Reasonably early on in the game, assuming that the player has been sociable, they will gain access to the first of the games dungeons. This offers a new way to play the game, with the player indulging in a bit of dungeon crawling. The monsters within can be beaten down, and sent back to where they came from, or, as long as the appropriate item has been obtained, they can be tamed and taken back to the farm. Some will produce eggs or milk which can then be sold for profit. These monsters must be tended to every day, much like the crops.
It really is very difficult to express just how much there is to do in Rune Factory. It seems that every thing that the player can do has an equivalent skill, which levels up as the player uses it. Raguna himself also levels up, making him more powerful and capable as the game progresses. However, mastering everything in this game would take a substantial amount of time, possible even besting the play length of FFXIII.
Rune Factory Frontier comes very close to being a perfect game, but its not quite there. Little things like the sheer randomness of how you receive key items for game progression, can be a bit frustrating. Another big problem that will apply to all newcomers, is the accessibility of the game. The player is thrown in at the deep end, with no real sense of purpose, and left to work things out for themselves. Players of the other games will have no problem here and will likely feel at home within seconds. But for players that are maybe picking up the game for the first time, some guidance would have been nice.
Another annoyance of note was the precision of the game. Whilst preparing the field for planting, the player has the option to work in small squares. But precisely positioning these squares is very difficult. The same applies to fighting in the dungeons, which turns into a button bashing exercise as precise hits cannot be made easily.
Rune Factory Frontier looks really good on the Wii. The characters are well made and the environment is detailed and fitting with the theme. However, everything has a “water coloured” feel to it, looking slightly washed out. Whilst looking pretty, I personally prefer the brightness and colour that can be found in games such as Animal Crossing.
The only other negative thing that I have to say about the game involves the pacing. Rune Factory Frontier starts slowly and then, gradually, gets a bit less slow. Progression is not the fastest and, with the exception of the dungeon crawling, is not the most exciting ever. That being said, the game is relaxing and to get the most enjoyment out of it, players will need to really put the time in.
These things are, however, only small annoyances and do not prevent the game from being utterly mesmerising. This is the game that fans of Harvest Moon and Rune factory have been waiting for. With such a wide range of things to do in this dungeon crawling, farm and social simulating RPG, there really is something for everyone. As a first entry for this series on the Wii, Rune Factory Frontier does and amazing job and, if they manage to fix the few small irritations in a sequel, could become one of the greatest Wii franchises thus far. If you own a Wii, give this game a try.