Welcome, welcome my fellow virtual farmers. I’m a pretty big Harvest Moon/Stories of Seasons fan, despite the fact I’ve played so little of the series. My only complete experience was with the GBA game Friends of Mineral Town.
I had some memories of the game from my youth, but not much. One of those situations when you just know you played it and liked it, and that was kind of it.
Then years later, I downloaded the game on my Wii U and experienced it again. I loved it. It was relaxing, fun, a great game to just kill some time with. I really loved the sense of accomplishment I felt as I expanded my farm, upgraded my tools, and formed relationships with my neighbors.
It’s a very rare type of game. The only series I’ve ever played comparable to it is Animal Crossing, but that’s still very different. Harvest Moon (as I’ll be calling it) is very special.
For a long time after that, I’ve had this itch to start another life as a quiet farmer, but for whatever reason, I never got around to it. Too many games in the world, ya know?
Because I procrastinate a lot, I eventually started looking into another series that was a spin-off of the first – Rune Factory, a series described by Yoshifumi Hashimoto (Harvest Moon’s producer) as “Harvest Moon where you wield a sword.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but a quiet farm life where I can swing a dangerous weapon around sounds much more entertaining. In my mind, Rune Factory seems like a more fantasy setting Harvest Moon. I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but as somebody who likes fantasy settings quite a bit, it sounded like a wonderful combination.
I decided ultimately that playing the newest game in the series, Rune Factory 4 (specifically the Switch version) was the right choice for me.
Some will agree with that decision, some won’t. I’m weird about the order I play games in. Some people like to start from the first release and work their way up. This is generally what I like to do too, as you get to see the series grow along, giving you a cool sense of progression, and you also avoid any awkwardness in jumping from an old game to a new one.
However, I decided not to do this. The Problem with that is often times the first game in a series can feel a little janky and not be as enjoyable as later entries, meaning your first experience with the series in question will be dampened as a result. For that reason, I say just pick whatever game looks the most fascinating to you personally and start with that.
Rune Factory 4 was that for me. Not only was it the latest game, so, in theory, the best, it was also the most readily available game for me to grab. Discounts are a double-edged sword, let me tell you. Anyway, be happy I saw that on Amazon because that’s the only reason I’m here.
I’m beyond excited to start this journey. This is a series that I have had my eye on for a little while after all. It seems right up my very particular, narrow alley.
I also haven’t beaten the game or played it for an incredibly long amount of time yet, so this is more me, as someone who has never played the series, diving headfirst into it. This isn’t really meant to be a review per se, just me chronicling some of my thoughts as – you guessed it – a “Rune Factory First Timer!” See what I did there? It’s the title and stuff.
The Start Of Our New Life
The story begins on an airship of some sort. We get to pick our gender based on a dialogue option about our situation.
“I’m flyin’ high, baby!” Now I’m a dude, who I later named Lest, as that’s the “canon” name.
On the airship, we seem to be carrying some type of crystal, maybe a rock. It isn’t entirely clear, but based on its dark glow, we know it’s important and that Lest’s goal is to bring it somewhere.
All is going well until a group of two bandits surprise us from inside of barrels. They both seem incompetent, but they put up a decent fight. In the end, we win, but they get the jump on us, and bash Lest hard on the back of the head, knocking him out and sending the stone off the ship, down into the lands below.
When Lest awakes minutes later, he seems to have lost all memory. He doesn’t know who the bandits are, where he is, anything.
Soon the bandits’ motivation becomes clear, they want the stone, but Lest already dropped it and forgot it had happened. Not believing a word he says, they decide to “threaten” him to get more information.
Unfortunately for every party involved, one of the bandits forgot how threatening works and pushes Lest off the ship, presumably to his death.
It is then that Lest manages to avoid death by falling onto a roof of a castle, breaking his fall.
The queen of said castle is a giant talking dragon that goes by Ventuswil. She takes to the boy rather well, even giving him a room to stay in the castle. However, this is all under the assumption that Lest is actually Arthur, a prince from a distant kingdom that was supposed to arrive at the castle the next day.
No matter what Lest says, they refuse to believe him. It isn’t until the real Arthur arrives that the truth comes out. But then for some inconceivable reason, Arthur gives his princely duties and title to Lest.
This means Lest must now take over and become the prince of the kingdom of Selphia. How does he do that? What do his duties consist of? I don’t know, like, growing vegetables and hitting on everyone in the kingdom. Maybe I was doing it wrong.
A New Prince In Town
The concept of the story is a little odd to me. It’s the type of thing that had the game had a different tone, it wouldn’t work. But in this case, it does. Rune Factory 4 can pull a super convenient amnesia plot off just fine.
We see almost immediately the type of humor this game has. The reason the story starts in the first place is that some goon forgot how to “threaten’ someone and sent them to their death instead. It’s ridiculous, but it works. And this sense of humor is carried out throughout the entire game, all of what I played at least.
And it’s not like this in is just the main story, there are bits of humor hidden in the most unlikely places. There’s a bathhouse, and because videogames have taught me to always walk into every room indiscriminately regardless of any consequences that may befall me as a result, I go into the girl’s side, where I am thrown out, and a counter starts at the bottom.
The first few times you enter you are called “scatterbrained” by the game. Past 10 is “suspect.” Past 50 is “obviously on purpose.” And 100 is “perverted prince.” There very well may have been more, but I lost interest at that point. Still, it shows the length this game is willing to go for a joke. A joke that likely only a fraction of people will ever find.
It reminds me a bit of the one secret in Persona 3 where you’re at the school with Yukari following you, and if you keep trying to walk into the bathroom, eventually she’s just like “fine, make it quick.” It’s stupid, but it’s a level of detail I love.
And because of this sense of humor, it affected the way I played the game in a lot of ways. It led to the parts of the game that were actually my favorite.
With a game like this, it’s largely open-ended. It doesn’t hold your hand. Not one bit. I love that about it. It just throws you in, gives you some slight direction, explains a few things, and let you do the rest. It’s nice. This means that much of your enjoyment of the game will come from how you make it fun.
Yes, the game has a story, but that’s not the most important part. There’s no time limit, you can do that when you want. Much of your time will be spent doing whatever tasks you set for yourself and doing what you want to do. Whether that involves the main story is for you to decide.
This means I very quickly started to fall into the role of my particular Lest. I started to give him a personality and started to attach certain traits to him. I perceived him as a menace, and that’s what he became.
As early as day 1, I started running around the kingdom, professing my love to everyone I could. I broke into everyone’s houses, tried to sleep in their beds, sometimes with them watching, and found that the dialogue changes for each bed. I noticed more and more details, and as all this happened, I continued to develop my own story.
Crazy plot points started to unravel. Rivalries were formed. In my world, Lest fell in love with Nancy at first sight, but because of her pesky husband Dr. Jones, they could never last. That’s why he takes Jones on quests with him, in the hopes of killing him off so he can be with the one he loves.
After learning it will never work out, Lest decides to come back to reality and gets together with Margaret. He’s happy, but he can never truly forget about Nancy. Part of him still feels happy when he gets knocked out in battle and wakes up fully healed with Nancy at his side. I also like that because she doesn’t charge an arm and a leg when you die, unlike her husband. So my and Lest’s goals align there.
When a game gives you such a high level of freedom, it makes your imagination run wild, and you start to form stuff like this. It means that even though the game has a story, a fairly interesting one, I might add, nothing crazy but decent, it isn’t the “main” story. The main story is something you yourself craft slowly as you play.
Obviously, it’s not on the same scale, but it reminds me of something similar to the Elder Scrolls games in terms of freedom. Much of that series’ fun is crafting your own character as you explore the world. I feel the same when I play Rune Factory 4.
The game gives me complete and total freedom to do whatever it is I want to do.
This sense of freedom isn’t only in the story you create. Like Harvest Moon, it’s incorporated into every facet of the game, though I would argue to an even bigger degree.
In the beginning, I was baffled by the sheer number of things I could do, a feeling that only got more intense the longer I played. In Harvest Moon, you also have a lot to juggle, however, all of that is mostly related to farming and building relationships. In Rune Factory, it’s a bit different.
I had to juggle keeping my farm up and running, building relationships with the characters, doing quests to unlock more items, cooking, making armor, making accessories, making medicine, leveling up my abilities so I could make more recipes, and the list goes on. But that’s not the biggest change.
Rune Factory 4 has proper combat and a leveling system. I’m not going to say it’s amazing combat, it’s somewhat bland. It’s mostly just you choosing a weapon, learning how the attacks work, and swinging at enemies until they’re dead. It’s simple, but I think that’s a good thing.
Rune Factory 4 is a game where you already have a million things to do, combat is just one of those things. It shouldn’t be over complicated. Is it perfect? No, it gets awfully repetitive, but you switch between so many different things during any given day that it doesn’t bother you much because before long you’ll be running back home to do something you forgot to take care of.
You do so many different things that, even though they are all simple, you’ll not get bored of it. Rune Factory did a much better job of grabbing and keeping my attention. In Harvest Moon, you, again, mostly live the farm life. You make your farm nicer, form some relationships, maybe explore around a bit, and it’s done.
Certainly farming is an aspect of Rune Factory, but doesn’t hold the same weight in comparison. It’s a very small portion of what you’ll actually be doing. Farming is mostly just for your income, that’s it. I also think Rune Factory’s farming, in general, is a lot simpler than in Harvest Moon. For that reason, if you like the farming simulator aspect above all, Rune Factory may not be for you.
But for those who like certain aspects of Harvest Moon but wish it had more variety, then Rune Factory will be a home run. It takes all of the things from Harvest Moon, simplifies them, and add in a whole lot of other stuff.
I do think the biggest strength Rune Factory has over Harvest Moon is its story. Having an overall goal to drive you forward is something Harvest Moon games usually lack. Because of that, they can get stale rather quickly if you aren’t into improving your farm.
Rune Factory largely avoids this by letting you take the story at your own pace. It means you can still enjoy the quiet life, but if that gets a little boring, you can go explore dungeons, caves, and continue the story forward. You get to set the pace of the game, not the other way around, and it really helps in this case.
I also think the story helps with building relationships with the characters as well. The story is not that serious, but it has its dramatic moments. And in those times when the characters you’ve met come to your aid, you really feel like they have your back. It makes me like them a lot more, then say, if I just chat with them in the general store on the weekends. It really helps a lot.
You get this real sense of everyone being in this together. A type of feeling that you don’t really get by just running a farm. And since you’re supposed to marry one of these people at some point (it’s required in some of the games, as far as I know) having these instances that bring you closer to one another helps with that decision overall.
Having a story largely affects every single part of the game, and I think Harvest Moon in the future would benefit greatly from incorporating a proper one. You don’t need to do everything as Rune Factory does, you wouldn’t be your own thing then, but you can add something to push the player forward a bit. A long term goal to strive for. Something for the player to run towards as they set their own goals along the way.
It helps to keep things interesting. It lets the player change up the pace as they like. It lets the player be in control and lets them do things whenever they like. And that adds to the longevity of the game in the end.
You do You
If you were to ask me how I liked my first experience with Rune Factory, I would tell you I loved it. I really did and am still loving it. I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed Harvest Moon, and I believe it to be a better series in most ways.
However, that’s just me. I really like how many different things there are to do and the sheer amount of variety the game gives me. I love that it lets me set my own pace and allows my imagination to run wild. Still, this will not appeal to everyone. Rune Factory is a spin-off for a reason. It’s because the game has a different feel to it.
Whether you enjoy it will ultimately come down to the things you enjoy about Harvest Moon. It’s a much more focused series than Rune Factory is. Harvest Moon is about living a quiet farm life, and that’s pretty much it. If that fits your niche, and you really enjoy that less stressful, relaxing gameplay, Harvest Moon is likely the one you’ll prefer.
Rune Factory is more of a jack of all trades. It tries to do a little bit of everything. It gives the player dozens of things to do. But because of that, you could argue that it doesn’t flesh any one thing out as much as they could. Cooking, and crafting stuff is as simple as pressing a button when you have the proper ingredients for instance. Combat is just spamming a button with little alteration.
Because it does so much, you could say it ends up more watered down than Harvest Moon is. Which is probably true. For me, it didn’t hamper my enjoyment, but for you, it might. So play both series. Try them out. See which one is for you. And, of course, you can like both of them. Nobody says you need to pick. They’re different series for a reason, you know?
So get out there and farm, or hit on people, or unintentionally poison them with mystery grass as I did. Both series have a lot to offer, it would be a shame to only experience one of them.
Thank you very much for reading
What would you make your “Lest” like? What horrible things would you make him do? Maybe you would be nice. I’m just a monster, I guess.