A Harvest Worth Celebrating
Remember how I said that I was really enjoying this game last week in my preview? Well, guess what? I’ve been playing it more than ever since then, and, well, my opinion hasn’t changed at all. …Actually, you know what? That’s a lie. It has changed—for the better. As a reviewer, I’ve always felt that, without a doubt, one of the best ways to judge a game is to ask yourself how much playing it feels like “work.” And my time with Rune Factory 4 Special, I am delighted to say, has not felt like work at all.
Dropping in to say Hello
I’ll be the first to admit that Rune Factory 4 Special‘s story pulls absolutely no punches from the get-go. The game begins with the protagonist aboard an airship, on their way to make a special delivery, when they suddenly find themselves attacked by stowaway bandits. Although initially successful in driving them off, the hapless protag eventually gets overpowered and thrown overboard, where they land promptly on the noggin of Ventuswill—a mighty Elder Dragon and the guardian of the town of Selphia. While ol’ Venti herself isn’t any worse for the wear, the same can’t be said for the now-amnesiac protagonist. Thus, with nothing more than his name and a mysterious power surrounding him, Ventuswill offers them a place in her castle, welcoming them as the newest member of Selphia.
Despite how quickly everything happens at the beginning of the game, Rune Factory 4 Special‘s story isn’t a significant focus of the game. Rather than acting as the driving force, it instead works as more of a complementary force that guides the player to new locations as they become stronger, more knowledgeable, and more proficient. Instead, the real narrative magic lies within—as it always does in games like this—the characters themselves. Each resident of Selphia does a nice job of standing out in their unique way, and daily interactions with each of them, more often than not, feel like something that you want to do. Much like farming itself, RF4S‘s pacing feels both natural and organic, and can ultimately go as quickly or as slowly as the player feels comfortable with.
Bumper (Crop) to Bumper (Crop)
Rune Factory 4 Special‘s gameplay is comprised of two primary parts. The first part, farming, essentially works incredibly similarly to games like Story of Seasons and Harvest Moon (which are technically the same thing, I know). When it comes to farming, the most important thing is, well, the actual farming. By planting seeds and caring for their crops as they grow, players can produce many delicious, yet all-too-familiar fruits, veggies, and flowers that can be shipped off for cash, given away as gifts, or used as ingredients in cooking and crafting. Not everything feels the same, though. Because of the duality of RF4S, farming typically isn’t something that eats up the better portion of your day—primarily due to smaller field sizes and the fact that, because almost everything that your character does (including going to sleep) has its own skill level, you’ll quickly build up Rune Points (stamina) thus preventing you from tiring out quickly—leaving you with plenty of time to walk around town and go exploring. And, despite what I might have made it sound like, growing crops isn’t always an entirely normal experience, either. While most of what you harvest will be run-of-the-mill crops, players are also capable of growing humongous fruits and veggies (I’m talking comically large, here), and, if they play their cards, right, can even grow literal dungeons in the middle of their field. And people think agriculture is boring.
There are also, as I talked about in the preview, no farm animals in this game. Cows? Sheep? Chickens? Nope, never heard of ’em. Instead, players wanting a steady supply of products will have to tame monsters out in the wild. At first, many of the monsters accessible to the player are glorified farm animals—and are thus a great source of milk and fur (this game’s version of wool)—however, as you get further along, you’ll eventually be able to befriend stranger critters that give more unique loot, like silk-bestowing spiders, and buffalo that shed their horns every day. Not every befriend-able monster gives you goodies every day, though. But that doesn’t make them useless! Once you’ve bonded with them enough, monsters can also be told to tend to your farm in your stead—with the player even being able to give them money to plant new seeds as land becomes available—and can also join you on adventures! In all honesty, taming and raising monsters has been one of my favorite parts about this game. Not only is it a unique way of replacing typical farm animals, but the fact that they can help both with farming and with exploration is a great way to tie the two vastly different genres together within a single game.
Prince and Pauper
While it’s not farming in the literal sense, part of the Story of Seasons-esque portion of Rune Factory 4 Special also revolves around your day-to-day life in Selphia. And, while the town itself might be relatively small, it’s always brimming with energy. By spending time with each of the town’s residents (and showering them with gifts in the process), the player can build up a relationship with them. By getting to know each of your fellow townies better, you’ll not only be able to access special character events and gain the ability to, on occasion, receive gifts from them, but can also take them along with you on adventures! Even without the added perks of getting to know everyone, however, it’s still worth doing it because of how enjoyable they are to hang around with. From the incredibly eccentric Porcoline to the mysterious and standoffish Dolce, each individual who calls Selphia their home is all but guaranteed to put a smile on your face if you spend enough time around them.
Did I ever tell you that the character you play as in this game is royalty? No? Well, that’s because you aren’t. However, due to, *ahem*, certain circumstances, you do play the part of one. For the most part, being a stand-in prince or princess doesn’t amount to much. However, there is one thing that your newfound royal powers let you do—orders! By shipping items and helping out the folks around town, you’ll be able to accumulate Prince Points (or Princess Points, depending upon which character you’re playing as). By saving up enough of these points, the player can execute special orders, such as inviting new merchants into town, holding festivals, and expanding the size of the player’s room, farm, and bag. While I’m still a little iffy on the fact that you have to “buy” certain festivals, I definitely enjoyed the order system overall. It was great to be able to work toward building up the town (and my own house) and hearing the fanfare that played every time I executed a new order always made me feel triumphant.
Happily Ever After-er
I’m sure you don’t need me telling you this, but this game has a lot of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. And, just like in the original Rune Factory 4, you can get married to one of them just so happen to catch your eye. But it seems like getting married just isn’t enough anymore, because Rune Factory 4 Special has upped the ante with Newlywed Mode! Acting as a small add-on of sorts, players can access Newlywed Mode upon marrying one of the game’s bachelors or bachelorettes, letting them view additional scenarios with the apple of their eye. While I’m not entirely sure why they didn’t just add these events into the actual game (you have to select Newlywed Mode from the title screen), I’m still happy with it overall. It’s no secret that Rune Factory 4‘s story isn’t the most grandiose in the world, and, by enhancing the story with those who matter most—the player, and their favorite characters—Rune Factory 4 Special expands upon the game’s lore in a way that’s both fun and unobtrusive (though perhaps to a fault). This does mean that you’re going to have to marry each and every character if you want to enjoy Newlywed Mode in all of its glory, however. Good thing this game has great replay value!
By now, I’ve already talked at length about the friendly, easy-going side of Rune Factory 4 Special. Given how important that is to the game, that only makes sense. But friends and farming is most certainly not the only thing that this game’s offering up to players. There’s an entire adventure to be had, too! Best described as a real-time JRPG, RF4S‘s “adventuring” section is quite expansive—especially given how much can be done without ever leaving town—and allows players to travel to plenty of places not only to progress the game’s story but to collect unique loot and befriend new monsters as well. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s tempting to rush through and explore as much of the game as you can, as quickly as you can—and it’s here where we find the brilliance of RF4S shining through.
Technically speaking, you could get through this game pretty quickly. While generously portioned, the game’s world is hardly “massive,” and could probably be fully explored within a day or two. But something stands in the way of that—monsters. You see, monsters don’t exactly level up in an even manner. Each new area that you venture into features a massive power spike—especially on harder difficulties—meaning that you’ll easily get thrashed should you poke your nose someplace that it doesn’t belong. But if you can’t defeat these monsters, what are you supposed to do? Easy; go farm. Remember how I said that just about everything you do has its own skill? Well, powering up those skills doesn’t just make you better at doing specific activities. It powers you up as a whole.
Furthermore, the stuff that you grow and scavenge for can be used to craft powerful weapons and items. And, because of how the game works, crafting doesn’t just get you better gear, it also—say it with me—powers you up. The fact that this game essentially tricks the player into switching between farming and exploring without actually forcing them to do so is, in a word, genius. Farming and JRPGs seem like they would make strange bedfellows, and in most cases, I’m sure that they would. But, with Rune Factory 4 Special, the synergy between the two genres is nothing short of magical.
In case I haven’t made it obvious enough, I really like Rune Factory 4 Special. Like, a lot. Despite being a remake of a 3DS game released almost a decade ago, this game absolutely still stands up thanks to its unique combination of genres, likable cast, and fantastic quality-of-life upgrades (most notably Newlywed Mode!). The only way I wouldn’t recommend this game is if you absolutely can’t stand both farming sims and JRPGs. And, if you are one of those people, I’m not sure why you’re reading this review. To everyone else, however, you’re only doing yourself a favor by getting this game. Whether you’ve lived in Selphia for a long time, or have yet to make the journey, Rune Factory 4 Special is absolutely worth picking up.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed); Developer: Marvelous Entertainment, Inc., Hakama, Inc., Neverland ; Publisher: XSEED Games; Players: 1; Released: February 25, 2020; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Nintendo Switch review copy of Rune Factory 4 Special given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher