Rune Factory 5 Review: Worth The Wait?
When Rune Factory first came on the scene, it separated itself from past farming games, by which I mostly mean Harvest Moon since the genre wasn’t nearly as broad in those days, with a stronger focus on combat and dungeon crawling. It effectively combined the farming genre with more traditional RPGs to create something new. It stood out and provided players with hundreds of hours of fun. In 2022 that’s no longer enough to stand out in an increasingly crowded genre, though. Tons of farming games have dungeons and combat now, and while Rune Factory 5 is still mechanically solid, it doesn’t deliver on the expectations fans have after the series took a nine-year break.
Rune Factory 5 starts in the same place so many RPGs of the past have. You play a nameless character with amnesia. They have a limited personality, acting as a cipher with no real history in order to allow the player to self-insert themselves into the story. It’s well-worn territory, and while not on its own a massive problem, when combined with a story that doesn’t go anywhere particularly interesting, it doesn’t help Rune Factory 5 to stand out.
Welcome To Rigbarth
Before you take control of your character for the first time, you’ll come upon a young girl in danger and rescue her from some monsters. Thankful for your help, she’ll offer to take you back to her home in the town of Rigbarth. With no money, no memory, and nowhere to go, you’ll soon be recruited into the town’s SEED organization. One part detective, one part mayor, and another part farmer, you’ll be given a strangely large amount of control over a village you just appeared in. Fans of the series know what to expect on that front, as you’ll soon be picking out town festivals and molding the town to your desires.
Once you’re settled in Rune Factory 5 gives you a great deal of freedom to play the way you want. Story progress does open more options, but there’s a ton to do, and you’re rarely pushed too hard in any specific direction, even when, at times, the stakes in the main story would seem to encourage you to hurry. You can definitely head into dungeons and progress the story, but if you’d rather hang around town, building relationships with villagers, completing requests for them, and growing crops.
There’s a lot to do. Like most games in the series, you can’t call out Rune Factory 5 for lacking content. On top of everything, I’ve already mentioned you have cooking, crafting, fishing, and romance which can lead to marriage and more. You can spend a pretty crazy amount of time just trying to grow perfect plans. Because there’s so much to do, you’ll spend a not-insignificant amount of time early on going through what amounts to a long tutorial, but this is much better-paced than in Rune Factory 4. Little stands out compared to past games in the series, though. There are certainly a few welcome additions. Same-sex marriage is now present, which many players will appreciate, and new farm dragons who give you special dedicated areas to grow your crops in are cool, even if I’d probably prefer to let my farm be an organic part of my town, but after nine years without a new game in the series fans have every right to expect more of an evolution than Rune Factory 5 provides.
It seems the development team decided that Rune Factory 5’s new look was enough change for the series. This is the first mainline Rune Factory title to be fully in 3D. Rune Factory has explored 3D games before back on the Wii and PS3; those were always spin-off games. The main series until now was originally released on the DS and 3DS, and while those games were in 2D, they had charm to spare. I played Rune Factory 4 Special last year, and it still looks great. I wish I could say the same for Rune Factory 5. While character designs definitely are still filled with charm, the village of Rigbarth and the areas around it feel awfully paint by numbers, and the graphics don’t feel that far beyond the series’ past 3D attempts a decade or more ago.
One Step Forward, One Step Back
Worse, the actual gameplay hasn’t made a particularly smooth transition to the third dimension. Unlike past games in the series where controls felt very precise, here they’re strangely floaty. It’s not a major issue or going to stop you from doing what you need to, but the precision I felt in past games is gone. I often put things in the wrong spot or had to go back to water a lone plant I had missed or pick something up I was trying to grab. It’s not that any moment feels terrible, but so many little moments don’t feel as good as you’d want them to.
Well, there is one moment that feels pretty terrible. The lock-on mechanic in combat is kind of a mess. Once you lock onto the enemy, you want it works well enough, but swapping between enemies or locking onto the foe you’re targeting can be way harder than it has any right to be. Once you have the enemy of your choice, combat is simple but fun with enough mechanical variety to keep my attention and frequent enough new equipment and powers to keep things fresh. Such a fundamental mechanic working so poorly, though, means you can never really lose yourself in battle.
At least PC players can expect generally solid performance. Our own Kenny McKee checked out the Switch version of Rune Factory 5 earlier this year and noted significant issues with the frame rate and draw distance which were a serious issue for players on Nintendo’s console. I had few of these issues in my time with the game on PC. Now and then, I had a minor frame rate drop, but it was rare and usually right after an area loaded. Nothing that impacted my enjoyment of the game in any meaningful way.
Most of Rune Factory 5 is fine. There are minor issues with everything from the story to the graphics to the gameplay, but only a few of these issues will negatively impact the experience in a meaningful way. The bigger problem is simply that so little about Rune Factory 5 stands out. So many of the minor issues present here could have been overlooked if the core experience was exceptional and really moved the series forward, but instead, the development team spent nine years making a new Rune Factory, only to put out a game that feels like a minor step forward at best and in some ways feels like a step back. If you’re a massive fan of the series and need more of it, you’ll have a fun enough time with Rune Factory 5, but everyone else should proceed with caution.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Switch; Publisher: XSEED Games, Marvelous; Developer: Marvelous Inc.; Players: 1; Released: July 13th, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Rune Factory 5 provided by the publisher.