Rune Factory 4 Special Review

I am quite enjoying this current trend of titles (or franchises) that don’t normally feature on the Xbox, making their debut on the Xbox Series. It has made for an illuminating year of discovering new gems on the Microsoft monolith, and I am happy to say that this includes Rune Factory 4 Special.

Rune Factory 4 is a farming sim that has dating and 2D dungeon crawling, played in a top-down view. Each session is divided into days in which the player has a RP meter limiting the number of actions that can be taken. This meter that can be topped up by eating food and herbs or sleeping until the next day. All actions impact that meter, be it sowing seeds, chopping wood, cooking meals, going on quests etc.

Similarly, every action has an impact on a levelling system – walking, picking things up, hitting things – everything that the player can do has a corresponding statistic that will go up the more the player does it. I am not ashamed to say that there was a lizard-brain level of satisfaction in seeing a ‘Level Up!’ prompt after watering my plants, or preparing some pickled turnips, which is good because this happens a lot.  

It happens a lot because Rune Factory 4 has a lot of things going on. Fortunately, the game does a really good job of guiding the player through the early stages by limiting what it expects them to do. The staggering of tasks helps with not being overwhelmed. By the time Rune Factory’s lengthy tutorialfinished I felt ready to tackle anything I wanted to.

For those reading that have played Stardew Valley, or Harvest Moon, this might seem very familiar and wonder what RF does differently.  Rune Factory distinguishes itself by having both a solidly written story to follow and a reasonably deep combat system. The story follows the main protagonist (it is possible to choose between a male or female lead) as they are kicked out of an airship. The fall causes them to land on a dragon and develop amnesia. The dragon claims they are the chosen prince with a gift for gardening. The English translation is deeply tongue-in-cheek and what looks like a ‘chosen one’ story of the divine right of kings is turned on its head when the real prince shows up. All of the dragon’s pomposity about the character’s innate ability to be the best at being a prince turns out to be nonsense. The rest of the story maintains that level of ‘wink, wink’ charm.

The combat in the dungeon sections is surprisingly involved, as a player uses one of the weapons – ranging from gauntlets to spears – they will have access to different move lists, and unlock new moves as they level it up. There are also a number magic spells that can be used, at cost of RP, that can turn the tide of battle. These include uppercuts that can be used to juggle enemies and fireballs that, well, set monsters on fire.

People looking for a long and elaborate game will find plenty to enjoy; I’ve not even mentioned the festivals, or the fishing, which can take hours to get going.

Now for the obligatory ‘but’ section.

The “Special” part of this release is a visual upgrade from the original 3DS to current gen. While the hand drawn stills during dialogue are crisp, and the 3D models are jagged but readable as characters, the backgrounds have suffered during this up in resolution. It is hard to describe what seems to have happened but most of the décor and outside representations look like they were made out of plasticene and then squashed and smeared. It is reminiscent of the embarrassing ‘smoothing’ effect that a lot of 16-bit titles went through during the X360/PS3 era. I am baffled by this decision and can only rationalise it as a solution for having them render in 1080p+. There is no option to use the original art and resolution so RF4 Special feels hindered by this choice.

This is a shame because apart from this blemish, the game is excellent.   

Conclusion

Rune Factory 4 Special is a mammoth game with tons of content for those that are fans of the genre. It is hobbled by some strange High-definition upgrade choices.

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This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox Series S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.

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Good
  • A huge amount of content
  • Great tongue-in-cheek writing
  • Care has been paid on all of the different types of gameplay
Bad
  • That upping of resolution is bad, and the art suffers as a result
8
Great
Gameplay - 10
Graphics - 4.5
Audio - 7.5
Longevity - 10
Written by
AJ Small is a games industry veteran, starting in QA back in 2004. He currently walks the earth in search of the tastiest/seediest drinking holes as part of his attempt to tell every single person on the planet that Speedball 2 and The Chaos Engine are the greatest games ever made. He can be found on twitter (@badgercommander), where he welcomes screenshots of Dreamcast games and talk about Mindjack, just don’t mention that one time he was in Canada.

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