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Farming doesn’t sound like an inherently interesting game concept, but it’s proven to be hugely profitable for publishers. Besides the massive Farmville juggernaut, there’s the long-running Harvest Moon series from Natsume, of which the Rune Factory series is a spin-off.
Rune Factory games can essentially be described as “Harvest Moon plus an Action/RPG”, and Rune Factory 3 is no different. The bulk of your time will be spent tending to your farm as the in-game days and seasons pass, raising crops and finding ways to prepare and sell them. You’ll also interact with the local townsfolk, running various errands to win their admiration. Combat is a lesser – though still essential – part of the game, as you’ll need to progress the primary narrative by taking down some big boss monsters.
There’s a story here, but it’s trite even by JRPG standards: You wake up with amnesia in a small village, discover you can transform into a monster after fighting a boss, and need to serve as a bridge to reunite the human village and the outlying settlement of the outcast Univir race. This goal requires fighting boss enemies, which requires good gear, which requires strong crafting skills and money gained from selling crops – see how it all cycles back to the farming? As is typical for the series, there’s also a romantic subplot where you can form a relationship with, and eventually marry, one of the game’s female NPCs. The girls in Rune Factory 3 aren’t exactly the pick of the litter - they’re a veritable rogue’s gallery of one-note anime stereotypes – but the process of romancing them is still cute and fun, even as their bizarre quirks grate.
But even a lame plot can be forgiven if the game is solid. Sadly, Rune Factory 3 is littered with small aggravations, old and new. The controls and interface for item interaction can often be cluttered and annoying (for example, you can’t see the quality of an item before it’s in your inventory unless you pause). You can’t take on quests from townspeople while simultaneously advancing the main narrative, nor can you take on multiple quests at once or double-check objectives from your menus. You can invest a lot of money in buying crafting recipes only to not learn them due to low level – meaning your cash is wasted and you’ll have to get them again later. Finally, the fact that the game offers so much means that nothing feels as fleshed out as it should be – farming and crafting are fairly simplistic, and the only time combat proves challenging is during the game’s infrequent boss battles.
In spite of its issues, Rune Factory 3 is a charming game that can really hook anyone in the right mindset. Raising bumper crops as the seasons pass, making cool gear to crush enemies, and hooking up with a cute girl are all fun (albeit repetitive) activities. It’s simply frustrating that, even after several previous installments, the series has yet to improve significantly – even moreso since a lot of the issues holding it back seem easily fixable. As it stands, Rune Factory 3 is a solid game – just not a great one.
Dec 8, 2010