Rune Factory 5 Review: A Little Finer, A Little Fresher
Well, dear reader, here we are once again. It’s been almost two whole months since I wrote my preview of Rune Factory 5, and I’m currently sitting at around 130 hours of total gameplay time (although I’m sure plenty of you out there could have smashed that record)! Now, you might be wondering why I decided to tell you how long I decided to play this game—and I assure you that there is a reason. I could have stopped playing this game a good, like, 100 hours ago for the sake of the review. But I like this game, and this series, a lot. I didn’t go into it with the mindset of “okay, it’s time to review this game” (which is something I actually rarely do, if I’m being honest), but, rather, “oh, heck yes, I get to play Rune Factory 5!” And that’s something that I ask that you keep in mind when you read what I have to say. There’s no need to think of me as a reviewer (yes, I do have to give it a score, but that’s just part of my job). Just think of me as who I’d like to think of myself as while I’m writing about this—a Rune Factory fan talking about what he liked—and what he disliked—about Rune Factory 5. Nothing more, nothing less.
With my humble request out of the way, let’s get onto what actually matters—the game! Rune Factory 5, as I mentioned in my preview, is something that we’ve all been waiting for for a long, long time. In fact, it’s been about a decade. And, for the most part, I’m genuinely happy with what Marvelous has given us. RF5 is undoubtedly the most expansive game yet—with even the main town feeling larger than any other before—and, even after 100+ hours, there’s a lot left that I have to do. But as for whether or not this game feels like it was ten years in the making? Well, no, not so much. There isn’t any one thing that necessarily jumps out at me as being glaringly bad (thank goodness)—but there is a lack of polish that becomes more obvious the longer you spend playing. I suppose we’ll delve into that later on in the review, though. For now, let’s start at the begging like we always do!
SEEDs of a New Future
Adopting an opening that might seem slightly familiar to some of you, Rune Factory 5 begins with the protagonist waking up in the middle of an unfamiliar forest, realizing that they have no idea who or where they are. However before they can begin piecing things together, they hear a young girl screaming for help. Rushing to her aid and battling the monsters trying to make her their dinner, the girl introduces herself as Hina and tells you that the town that she can take you to her nearby town of Rigbarth—or she at least attempts to do that before you pass out. After waking up once more, this time safely within the walls of Rigbarth, you soon find yourself not only welcomed into Rigbarth as a citizen, but inducted into SEED—a ranger corps dedicated to upholding peace and protecting people around the world from bad people and bad monsters alike—and quickly begin your busy, new life in this not-so-busy little town.
One advantage that the Rune Factory series has over its more traditional counterpart, Story of Season, comes into play with story building—something which I feel that Rune Factory 5 does well in taking advantage of. While it doesn’t go too far out of its way to feel out-of-the-ordinary in the grand scheme of things, having your character enroll in any kind of corps whatsoever feels strangely at odds—but not in a bad way—with the nature-centric vibe that the series tends to give off. Still, it doesn’t feel like the game ever tries to play things too risky.
While being a member of SEED is always integral to the game’s plot, it never gets in the way of more commonplace series tropes like the character’s status as an Earthmate or the small-town vibe that Rigbarth has going on (which it maintains very well despite there being both a SEED outpost and a detective agency)—which could either be a good thing or a bad thing depending upon how much you like long-running consistency like this. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if the game strayed a bit further away from being so traditional in its main story components, but I can’t fault it for sticking to its guns—at least the whole SEED ranger thing was a cool and unique addition!
A Farm Away From the Farm
As far as sequels go, Rune Factory 5 is just a bigger, cleaner-looking version of its predecessors—and, no, I don’t mean that to sound insulting. Marvelous’ farming-based series are, if you’ll pardon the pun, rooted in tradition, so, it’s good that this game gives players something to go back to when it comes to cultivating the land. In fact, there really isn’t even that much to talk about, here. If you’ve played a Rune Factory game, especially RF4, you already know how this works. You’ve got your basic farming tools that you can use to prep your land and take care of crops, you can either harvest crops or cut them with your scythe to yield higher-quality seeds, different crops fair better or worse in different seasons, and so on. The only complaint that I have is that I wish that the game just implemented a multitool function because I got tired of swapping out my tools so that I could go about breaking down the myriad of stumps and boulders that haunted my fields every day—other than that everything was perfectly fine.
Rune Factory 5 doesn’t fail to shake things up, though. While how you farm doesn’t change, where you farm does! Would you believe me if I told you that about 90% of your farmland was on the backs of various giant, flying dragons called “Farm Dragons?” Yes? Well, that’s good, because it’s true! As you progress throughout the game, you’ll unlock these giant, living plots of land—each themed around a different season (plus a fifth one)—and, while you do have a small farm on the ground, your Farm Dragons are where you’ll actually be doing the brunt of your work. This is where most of your farmable land will be, this is where your monsters will reside and work, and you can even feed your dragons special crystals to gain various temporary and permanent benefits—like increasing crop yield, making it rain, or expanding the amount of farmable land! Yes, I’ll admit that I found Farm Dragons to be a bit goofy. I kind of like the idea of having a regular farm in a game about farming. Then again, this is a fantasy offshoot of Story of Seasons, so why the heck not create an entire race of dragons dedicated to letting people create farms on them? It’s definitely a creative idea!
Wandering the Land
Rune Factory 5‘s changes are most apparent when it comes to the game’s approach to (literal) world building. Because the game made the switch from top-down to third-person, Rigbarth—and the world beyond—is much more geographically diverse than anything else we’ve seen from main series entries and even manages to go toe-to-toe with what we’ve seen in the two spinoff titles (except for maybe the main town in Frontier). A lot of this has to do with just how open the entire world is. While dungeons are story-locked, the game’s overworld itself is immediately accessible from the get-go. This means that you can go to some of the hardest areas first—you’ll be doing 0 damage to all of the enemies, there, but that’s part of what makes it so exciting, right? In all reality, though, that is pretty exciting. Part of Rune Factory‘s appeal is just how much freedom it grants to its players—I’d say having literally zero overworld restrictions is about as free as you can get.
I’ve really got to hand it to the developers when it comes to dungeons, too. I’ll admit that, in the beginning, I was a little worried about them being very same-y—because they were. However, after about halfway through the game, they started to diversify a bit. Soon enough, I found myself having to deal with more unique dungeon layouts, specific gimmicks (the one that constantly drained your RP was pretty tough), and even the occasional puzzle or two. And, except for one switch related puzzle in the last dungeon that was very mean, I loved all of it! Seriously, Marvelous, you really outdid yourself with the dungeon designs on this one. The only thing that I found myself wanting was longer dungeons. I know that that might not be a possibility due to the fact that RF5 runs on a time-based system, but I still think that, given enough save/warp points, it definitely could have been done.
The layout of Rune Factory 5‘s world is fairly different, but there isn’t that much else that stands out in terms of feeling novel. Combat works exactly the same in terms of weapons and magic, with the player’s agility to cook food, craft weapons, and armor, and concoct medicine remaining, as far as I can tell, exactly the same as it was in the previous title. And, of course, the same goes for the all-important “level literally everything you do up” system as well! The only other thing that I guess is worth mentioning is that players can now hunt special Wanted Monsters and earn Crests—special pieces of equipment issued by SEED. Crests each have a very specific ability, like letting the player force townspeople to join their party, letting the player barge into people’s houses in the middle of the night (boy, you’re starting to sound like the bad guy, here), earning more SEED points (used to issue Directives in this game), and so on. Oh, and you can ride monsters, now! That’s about it for the new stuff, though. For real, this time!
So. Rune Factory 5‘s layout. It was good for the most part. And exploration was a lot of fun. But Marvelous, my friend, we’ve got to talk about the chugging. I’m not a big framerate guy. Yeah, a buttery smooth 60fps is great or whatever, but just make it a stable 30fps, and I’ll be happy. Rune Factory 5 is not a stable 30fps. This game dips, and chugs, and has weird draw distance stuff going on all the time. And it needs to be fixed immediately. I’m sorry, but I didn’t wait ten years to play a new Rune Factory game that can’t load assets properly and acts like it’s struggling whenever I’m running down Rigbarth’s main street. And it gets even worse when you’re in a dense area like the jungle, or in a dungeon with a lot of enemies. I’m not a game designer, so I’m not going to pretend to know how to fix this, but it needs to be fixed—it’s not fair for people who have been waiting this long to play the game to be playing it in this state.
A Lovely, Lovely Life?
So I hate to be a downer, but I’m going to end this review by talking about this game’s re-vamped romance system and why I’m not terribly fond of it. For the most part, romance in Rune Factory 5 works just like it does in every other RF game. You build up Friendship Levels with a person over time (up to Level 99, again, blech), and, after hitting a certain point, there’s a chance that, upon confessing your love to them, they’ll say yes. Yes, a chance—as in, it’s not guaranteed. If you fail, you just have to keep building up Friendship Levels and trying again indefinitely (I personally struck out all the way up to Friendship Level 10, so that was cool). The game doesn’t make this terribly clear, and I actually thought that there was some special step that I was missing—but, nope, they just decided to make it chance-based this time around. I suppose that I get the appeal of it being “more realistic” in a way, but, come on, guys, building up Friendship Levels is already a chore—don’t be mean like that.
You Reap What You Sow…
…And, for the most part, Marvelous sowed some pretty good SEEDs (hah, get it?). Obviously, I’m not completely satisfied with everything—the relationship mechanics are essentially a gamble, now, and we’re straight-up chugga-chugga-choo-chooin’ through certain loading zones, but there’s a reason that I played 130 hours of this game. At the end of the day, Rune Factory 5 is a fresh and enjoyable new entry to the series, and I really think that fans will come to love it just as much as they have every other title.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed) ; Publisher: XSEED Games; Developer: Marvelous; Players: 1; Released: March 22, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.