Oct 16, 2007
Before we talk monsters: yes, it's a Harvest Moon game, so farming is at the heart of it. But unlike previous iterations (which ran along the lines of "farm crops, get married, farm more crops") you're given a real plot to contend with.
You've lost your memory and been set to work on a farm by a nice girl who points out that the town has recently seen an increase in monsters coming out of strange machines in the cave system. Who put them there? What are they? Who are you? How did you get here? And why do the strawberries on your farm grow to the same size as your head? Constant suggestions from the village's residents that your fighting ability means you were once a noble warrior creates a curiosity that has been rather lacking from previous Moons.
So what about the fighting, then? Quite aside from the fact that a death while fighting in the caves means Game Over and a trip back to the menu screen (player death is all-new to Harvest Moon), it's not as simple as saying that you can choose whether to farm or to fight. If you want to make cash, then you only need to sit at the seashore catching enormous fish, or else go into the caves with a big hammer to find shiny things. What farming crops offers you, on top of yielding interestingly-proportioned fruit and veggies, is Rune Points, which you need in order to fight, or undertake most activities. Kind of like a stamina bar, you run through this before you get onto the health bar proper. And while you can fill your health bar with potions and herbs, the Rune Points can only be filled by picking up blue orbs that appear when a field of crops is ready for harvest.
This means that you end up planting crops throughout the cave systems as well as in your field, so you can sneak extra RP mid-dungeon battle. Each set of caves has a different climate which it keeps year-round, so you also don't run into the normal Harvest Moon problem of only being able to plant certain crops in certain months.
In fact, Rune Factory has removed lots of HM's farming turmoil. For example, you can walk all over your plants to water them without harming them, unlike in other games where you had to plant them in a weird shape to avoid having a dead space you couldn't reach to water. All in all it's far more accessible, which means you have more time to get more involved in the other elements of the game, such as taming monsters to come and work for you, and flirting casually with the laydeez.
There's none of that Heart Event rubbish you have to endure in the other Harvest Moons. No longer is your love affair doomed just because you forgot to bring the girl you like a polka dot tea cosy made of cheese at exactly 11.20 on a Sunday morning - now you can treat your women like you treat your farm skills and swordfighting: a slow leveling up process made possible by repetitive behaviour that provides small incremental rewards.
The great thing about playing as a character that's lost their memory is that you get to mould that character in your own image. Thrown into a peaceful village suddenly under threat of monster, will you play the part of the vigilante? The peace-loving farmer? The irresponsible playboy? Or will you just go to the pub and have drinking contests with Sabrina every night?
That's the joy of Rune Factory. Gentle prods every now and then steer you into making your farm more successful and venturing into the dungeons, but how and when you go about it is left entirely to you. Spend all day in the pub, see if the game cares. Spend all day flirting, or fishing, or even idly moistening the feet of the town doctor with your watering can. The game won't give you grief for it - it'll delight you and entertain you, entirely at your own pace.