Review: Rune Factory 5
There is nothing sadder than waiting almost a decade for a game, just to be disappointed by it. I still remember how excited I was when Rune Factory 5 was first announced. On the one hand, it was scary to think back on all the hours I poured into Rune Factory 4, but the anticipation didn’t go away despite the game’s many delays and the gap in release between the Japanese and English versions.
For those who don’t know, Rune Factory 5 is the seventh installment in the popular farming-simulator series. The point of these games is to simulate everyday farm life while also having you complete dungeons, flirt with villagers, and raise monsters, among other things. It was developed by Marvelous Inc. and published by XSeed Games and will be released on March 22rd, 2022, for the Nintendo Switch.
Stranger Danger? Not in Rigbarth
Rune Factory 5 kicks off with the main character waking up after blacking out, and nothing is given away as the game prompts you to pick your gender and save a little girl’s life. Saving this little girl, who you later find out is named Hina, is what leads (Alice if you choose a female main character, or Ares if you choose a male main character) to the town of Rigbarth, where they decide to stay mostly due to the fact that they do not remember where they came from. Shortly after agreeing to stay (more like being coerced into it despite no one knowing anything about you), you’re recruited as a member of SEED, an organization tasked with keeping the town (and to a larger degree the continent) safe from monsters and other menaces.
The tasks given by SEED are minimal at first, but eventually, you become entangled in the more serious issues plaguing the land. Uncovering the game’s main mystery is spurred on by your role as a SEED member, as well as the fact that you’re an earthmate (another series staple), but embarking on the game’s journey does eventually lead to answers about your amnesia.
Something that has always charmed me about the Rune Factory series is how much fun being an amnesiac can be. Not because this trope is particularly interesting after seven games, but because it kind of lets the player experience a sort of baby mode through the lens of the main character, as they themselves don’t know anything. This makes the world-building and initial interactions feel natural, which is something I really like. Having an amnesiac main character has been one of the biggest staples of the Rune Factory series, and Rune Factory 5 does not deviate from this particular plot point.
I can’t say that I have a problem with Rune Factory 5’s story. It’s not a series that’s known for its superb storytelling, but that’s mainly due to the fact that most of the games tend to be very cookie-cutter in their narrative. There are specific tropes the writers like to hit which usually lead to very similar endings. That isn’t to say there weren’t worthwhile moments and even some heartwarming tearjerkers, but overall I found myself feeling like I was in very familiar territory with the writing this time around.
Because the narratives tend to be so similar, Rune Factory’s formula relies on a new cast of characters every game. This is usually a fun time, especially if you’re like me and like to talk to each villager every day just to befriend (or romance) them quickly. I say usually, because this was not my experience this time around. I don’t know if it’s because the new designs used 3D models, or because their personalities just fell flat for me compared to Rune Factory 4, but it actually felt painful to get to know the cast members. They just felt so…childish?
Three of the bachelors, in particular, were very tropey, one-track mind sort of characters (looking at you Cecile, Reinhard, and Martin). The other three were more interesting but it took a while to find some depth to them and by then I was just too tired to feel satisfied with my progress.
The bachelorettes were no better – in fact, they may have been worse. Despite the fact that Rune Factory 5 is in the first entry in the series to allow same-sex marriage, I could not find the willpower to romance any of them. It was actually because of them that I felt very much like I was romancing children. Lucy, Priscilla, Beatrice, and Fuuka were either too naive, rude, or whiney to take seriously. Fuuka didn’t even speak words; she was a half-animal character who communicated through growls, but the main character could understand her because of the fact that they were an “earthmate.” The other two bachelorettes, Scarlett and Ludmila, were on the opposite end of the spectrum from each other, and while they were definitely more mature than the aforementioned characters, I just flat out didn’t like them.
One silver lining to the lack of good romanceable characters is that the other villagers did manage to shine through. Most of them were pretty standard in their roles, but a few of them surprised me with how cute they were. In particular, I really liked getting to see the antics between Julian and Hina because it sometimes felt like a better love story than whatever was going on with my character. I was also a little mad that some characters (looking at you Gideon and Misasagi) weren’t romanceable because I actually really liked them. Other characters, like Livia, were really intriguing and I was happy to see my hunch about them was right when the game started to reveal its plot and secrets.
Overall, I think in terms of story and characters, Rune Factory 5 might be one of my least favorite entries in the series. The story is pretty standard so there won’t be much disappointment there, but the supporting cast, aside from a few characters, was pretty subpar this time around and just doesn’t hold a candle to their predecessors.
Like all of the Rune Factory games before it, RF5’s gameplay mainly consists of farming and exploring dungeons. You are given some tools and seeds at the start of the game and work to upgrade them as you progress through the story. Farming eventually becomes a bit more complex as you get access to dragons that serve as additional farmland. Because that’s how dragons spend their time in this continent…just floating around letting you use their backs for growing turnips.
The same idea applies to your weapons and armor. The starting weapon is a sword, but as you level up your skills, you can eventually craft different things. There is also the option of buying these items directly from the different shops around town or getting lucky and finding them in the treasure chests around the map.
When you’re not adventuring or farming, you can take up requests from the townsfolk/SEED at the game’s quest board. Sometimes the villagers will just flat out ask you for help as well. These requests tend to be a pretty easy way to unlock new store items or get free money/affinity with the villagers.
Other in-game activities include crafting, cooking, fishing, kidnapping monsters and making them your farm slaves (these are the facts I’m sorry), hunting specific menaces at Livia’s request, and finding your one true love amongst the town’s eligible bachelors/bachelorettes.
I’ll admit that I did find myself with a lot to do in Rigbarth. The dungeons have a lot of enemies and were overall pretty fun to explore. The battles themselves weren’t particularly groundbreaking, but they were challenging enough to feel satisfying, especially in the later end-game dungeons. When I wasn’t kicking wooly booty, I was busy running around doing stuff for the townspeople so that I could raise my popularity points and boss them around via directives (these are basically just executive orders you can execute through a talking mailbox named Eliza).
There were some new quality of life improvements added that helped me maximize my time so that I could do more. A few of my favorites include the new markers for events (I was never afraid to miss anything going on because every event was clearly marked on my map and broken down by category), the increase in quick travel locations (especially so early in the game), and the option to invite a SEED ranger NPC to help you in battle (this saved my bacon sooo many times in the beginning).
I also really enjoyed doing the dating events this time around (not to be confused with me actually liking the dating candidates). The way dating and events in general were handled in Rune Factory 5 felt more engaging than in the past. They tended to be multi-step, so it was never just a one-and-done cutscene, giving the interactions between characters more depth, which was great.
On the other hand, some additions felt confusing and poorly executed. For starters, the high-ranked monsters you can hunt down at Livia’s request felt impossible to find at times. I literally spent hours looking for some and eventually had to give up because the directions to their supposed locations were so poor. This leads into my next gripe…the directions in this game in general. When you accept quests, make sure you read them well because despite having a section of the menu to keep track of your quests, the main completion details are rarely included there and you aren’t able to see them again unless you cancel the quest and accept it again. This was especially annoying with certain requests at the start of the game because despite knowing what was being asked of me, there was no guidance on how to do it so I was left clicking through everything until I finally figured it out.
Because of the shaky instructions, progressing through Rune Factory 5 wasn’t always the smoothest. Which is funny because, in some regards, the game goes out of its way to make certain features harder to get wrong. For example you can’t really eat your upgrade breads for funsies anymore; they only gets consumed if you can actually use them. I did enjoy the contrast of that change with the fact that I was still able to destroy my produce or furniture with one accidental whack from my tools or weapons.
I’ll end this part of the review by saying that it feels a bit ironic that where I wished Rune Factory 5 was more like its predecessor (I miss RF4’s characters soo much), there was no delivery, but the gameplay was definitely a homage, if not an outright copy of Rune Factory 4. I don’t know if it felt so similar because Rune Factory 4 Special was just released a year ago, but I was kind of sad to see a continuation of the style rather than a new upgraded system, especially when we’ve been made to wait so long for a new game.
Granted, there are some quality of life improvements that make Rune Factory 5 the superior choice, but those were not enough to warrant getting such a carbon copy of 4.
I was not looking forward to this part of the review, in part because I have nothing positive to say about Rune Factory 5’s visuals or music. The game looks….bad. The decision to make it a 3D game actually hurt it in my opinion. The characters, particularly the main character and bachelors/bachelorettes, all look crazy young to the point it’s cartoonish (especially when you think about the fact you’re supposed to want to marry these people?). It doesn’t make much sense because some of the more mature characters look great, so it’s not like they didn’t have options.
The character models are not the only thing plagued by RF5’s poor graphics. Rigbarth somehow manages to feel like one of the smallest and emptiest Rune Factory towns despite everything being visually bigger. The surrounding world follows suit with how bland and empty it looks. It’s colorful, but the textures and backgrounds are so poor I was transported back to the Wii era. These issues aren’t helped by the random framerate drops and the sporadic camera angles which, given that it was a new camera style specifically developed for this game, you’d think would work much better.
Rune Factory 5’s music wasn’t as offensive as its visuals, but that’s not saying much. The intro song felt so out of place that I skipped it, and the rest of the tracks were just not memorable. The voice acting was decent, but I got so tired of hearing the same lines spoken so often that I turned off my sound after a few hours of playing.
Honestly, I would have been fine with another 2D game if it meant reduced loading times and just better overall graphics/controls. In terms of loading, RF5 wasn’t nearly as bad as Story of Seasons when it was released, but it was still annoying to deal with for a game that didn’t even look good when it did load. The clunky controls when placing furniture was an even bigger gripe for me though because you’d think after this many iterations of a game, facing the right way to put something down wouldn’t be such a hard thing to do.
A Tall Order..Unmet
All in all, this was actually a very bittersweet review for me. I am a huge Rune Factory fan and have been excitedly waiting for this new entry in the series. Unfortunately, I can’t say that it met my expectations. The good news is Rune Factory 5 is a familiar experience for those who are used to the genre. The love interests are a bit cringy, and it has god-awful graphics, but if you have a bit of patience and don’t nitpick as much as I do, it will be a mostly enjoyable experience.
The combat is easy enough to get into, there are a ton of things to do, and some of the supporting cast will make you smile. I clocked about 64 hours into this game and I’m pretty sure I could have done more, so it’s at least a bang for its buck if anything.
I’m just hoping that if Marvelous Inc. makes us wait another ten years for a new entry, it is of a higher quality.
Review copy provided by XSeed Games for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of XSeed Games.