I think Neverland is set for life with Rune Factory. Few other series can withstand being rehashed over and over again without much in the way of innovation. Most stagnate enough that even the die-hard fans abandon them. Dynasty Warriors is a good example of one of the few capable series; perhaps it’s because the beat-em-up is that ideal genre where one only need switch up a few move-sets and add new characters and people will be satisfied.
Surprisingly, RF3 does not cater to the, er, fur-inclined.
Despite the fact that every Rune Factory is very similar, the three I have played feel very distinct. In Rune Factory 3, you still raise crops, forge weapons, woo women, and fight monsters – many more activities exist, most of which are variations on the rest, such as wooing monsters and forging women. Along the way, you’ll naturally find a dark secret that threatens the fragile balance of the world. RF3 doesn’t have Rune Factory 2’s slow farming and ultimately disappointing plot arc in which the first 10 hours was a long prologue. Nor does it have Frontier’s glacial dungeon advancement or useless friendly monsters. The third named (or fourth practical) entry in the series has neither of these disappointments because it seems like, for once, the focus was on making the game fun.
All of the improvements have been relatively minor, don’t get me wrong; it’s not like someone who dislikes the simulation genre will like this game. The improvements are undeniable, though; it’s like for the first time, Neverland has looked at what players find most frustrating about older Rune Factory games and fixed things. Farming took too long since you can only hold one thing at a time, so RF3 allows you to stack and carry multiple of the same kind of object without having to put them in your pack. Monsters were sort of tedious to level manually, but now some will level on their own and you can feed them to speed up the process. The progression curve is normally akin to a brick wall, so they made higher-level minerals much more accessible and many more items available from shops. The overall change has been from doing a lot of everything to doing a little of everything and a lot of whatever you want.
The core game is still much the same. For the uninitiated, it’s a farming simulation with dungeons to explore, or a dungeon simulation with just one farm to explore. In between farming and dungeoneering, you get to know the townspeople and solve their problems for them. Story progression in this one mostly occurs through exploring the dungeons and developing relationships with townspeople. Farming serves as a major source of income and gifts to ingratiate yourself with the natives. Eventually, you can start dating one (or all) of the game’s selection of bachelorettes in a series of sweet-but-creepy missions specific to each girl. The Anime blood in the series shines through as usual, but it’s not as bad as previous entries in that the bath scenes have been removed (darn).
Revised flow from the Rune Factory Frontier review.
So then, what might you do on a typical day on the fantasy farm?
- Wake up, water the veggies and harvest any that are ripe. If anyone in town likes them, pass them out – otherwise, sell them.
- Feed any monsters you’re keeping around, sell any produce (e.g. milk; surprisingly monster milk is quite valuable).
- Check the mailbox for any new “important” (personal) quests and maybe start them if it isn’t the innkeeper telling you to kill mushrooms again.
- Check the billboard for any new “less important” (typically simple) quests. Ignore them unless you’re just starting to build a relationship with the requester.
- Venture out into the most recently unlocked dungeon. Keep moving and fighting until you’ve leveled up a bit and hopefully made some progress. You may get new story or a boss-fight if you’re lucky.
- Go back to town and take a bath to restore HP and RP (action points).
- Head back home and use any recently-acquired ingredients to make or improve weaponry.
- If you’re feeling adventurous, cook something, botch it, and eat the result anyway since it’s the fastest way to dispose of it.
- Save and go to bed.
Yes, this is an honest analysis of what a day (around 10 minutes) of RF3 is like. This sequence sounds dreadfully boring to me, too, but it plays really well. If you get bored of whatever you’re doing, you can find something else. Farming is really the only thing that is a day-to-day necessity, and you can set up monsters to take care of it for you. You can blow off everything and spend the whole day fishing or cooking. In fact, since there are levels for *everything* (including sleeping and running), and each improves your stats, such blowing-off will still help you in the long run.
The locals are as colorful as always. Not a one is normal.
My favorite new addition to the game is the ability to eschew monsters as companions in favor of townspeople. Yes – you know that gentle girl who likes flowers? You can bring her with you into the dungeon and she will fight monsters with you (not well, at first). Townspeople level up much like monsters and can be given equipment to improve their chances of survival. Most of them are not incredibly helpful, but the system adds a lot more variety to dungeon delving and gives a bit more flavor and customization to each of the potential companions. Unfortunately, this part of the game wasn’t well developed, so there isn’t much built around this feature aside from quests.
With several improvements and a much shorter overall game (20 hours, versus an estimated 80 RF Frontier and 50 for RF2), I wouldn’t pass up RF3 if you’re a simulation RPG fan short on time. It’s the first game in the series that feels more a game and less a chore; the tedious elements are still there, but last minutes rather than hours.