REVIEW: ‘Rune Factory 4 Special’ is a Solid Addition to the Switch Lineup (Switch)

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rune factory 4 special wallpaper

Before Stardew Valley captured the hearts of Millenials by letting them indulge in the dream of leaving their soul-sucking day job for an idyllic town and a life of farming, there was Harvest Moon. Rebranded as Story of Seasons when XSEED Games took the reigns in North America, Harvest Moon is the original farming sim and a decade and many Harvest Moon games later the spinoff, Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, came around.  With a deeper story and more mechanics, the Rune Factory series combined the small-town life simulation of Harvest Moon with exploring dungeons, fighting monsters, and saving the world. Eight years after Rune Factory 4‘s release on the 3DS, XSEED is bringing it to the Nintendo Switch as Rune Factory 4 Special, ahead of the much anticipated Rune Factory 5 with some updated story modes and difficulties.

In Rune Factory 4 Special, the player starts off the game choosing the gender of their protagonist who is on a secret mission but promptly loses their memory and ends up in the town of Selphia where they are presumed to be the member of the royal family sent to rule over the town. When the real prince, Arthur, shows up he allows the protagonist to keep playing the role of a prince or princess in favor of a more administrative role. Selphia is home to the Native Dragon Ventuswill who is treated like a God by the townspeople but who is actually a quite playful character when alone with the protagonist. Ventuswill identifies the protagonist as an Earthmate, someone with a special connection to the earth, and realizes they can help her. The story unfolds as you begin to explore caves and ruins surrounding the town and investigating strange happenings.

The mechanics of Rune Factory 4 Special will be familiar to anyone who has played a lifestyle sim before. You must befriend the people in the town and learn to farm, craft, and cook, along with increasing your skills in fighting and fishing. There’s even a walking and sleeping skill you can improve. There are also monsters to befriend and take along with you or have them work on your farm. From sentient mushrooms and apples to fantasy creatures like orcs and fairies to everyday chickens, you can fill up your monster barns with quite the variety.

Every motion uses up runes, your energy source, and the lower your skill level the more runes they take up. Rune Factory 4 added a town development aspect to the usual fighting and farming by allowing you to use prince/princess points to execute orders such as start new festivals and expand shops. These points are accumulated through fulfilling requests for villagers, made easy with a request box. It’s explained that these points show the villagers’ faith in their ruler to make the right choice, a novel form of politics. What a world it would be if we could only give politicians power commensurate with what they do for the people.

screenshot from the game
Ventuswill, the male protagonist, and some villagers in the palace

The controls are quite smooth with an easily accessible and scrollable inventory system and a simple combat and action system. The graphics are lovely and work well both as handheld and on the television. For a lot of Switch owners who are intrigued by the idea of Stardew Valley but turned off by the simple graphics or are interested in more of a story, Rune Factory 4 Special should satisfy their curiosity. The RPG aspects are solid and the story of war and environmental disaster is intriguing enough to be fresh whether you’ve played the game before or not.

One of the big additions to Rune Factory 4 Special is the newlywed mode. Often times in sims, marriage to a character triggers a couple of extra scenes in the game and perhaps a child or two but that’s about it and your character’s life continues on as before. Newlywed mode seeks to add more meaning to the marriage mechanic, letting players play through a standalone adventure centered on their new life with their partner. There is also the Slice of Life DLC, which will be available for free for the first month after release, which lets players take a glimpse into their future based on who they marry.

Unfortunately despite all the work to port Rune Factory 4 Special to the Switch and add new content, the game remains obnoxiously heterosexual. Opening up the dating options so no matter your character choice you can have the full range of suitors would have really brought this port into the present. Here’s hoping Rune Factory 5, currently slated for Japanese release in 2020, although no more information has been released since early 2019, finally opens up Rune Factory to the LGBTQ+ community. Until then, at least we have Stardew Valley.

Despite the forced heterosexuality, Rune Factory 4 Special is a solid addition to the Switch lineup. It was smart for the first Story of Seasons game to come to the Nintendo Switch to be a Rune Factory one since the added combat and story separate it more from the juggernaut that is Stardew Valley. Despite the natural comparisons between the two games, there’s more than enough room for both.

Rune Factory 4 Special is available now on Nintendo Switch.

 

Rune Factory 4 Special
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Despite the forced heterosexuality, Rune Factory 4 Special is a solid addition to the Switch lineup. It was smart for the first Story of Seasons game to come to the Nintendo Switch to be a Rune Factory one since the added combat and story separate it more from the juggernaut that is Stardew Valley. Despite the natural comparisons between the two games, there’s more than enough room for both.