Normally the temptation when writing about a Rune Factory game is to start out talking about the whole sordid history of the series and the various name and developer changes that have come about since the original Rune Factory was spun off from Harvest Moon (now Story of Seasons.) However, for once, I’m going to avoid this, because realistically, Rune Factory 5 is now far enough removed from the Story of Seasons games that the comparison just feels sort of pointless. Does this newfound distinction mean that Rune Factory 5 will break out of the niche audience it has captured? Probably not, let’s be honest.
If you’re not already an active life/farming sim zealot then you won’t know that Rune Factory 5 is the fifth entry in the spin-off series that takes a lot of the elements of the genre and transplants them into a fantasy setting. While Story of Seasons games have featured spirits and fantasy-esque creatures, this is more of an overt fantasy element including monsters, dragons, and even elemental magical spells that various characters use throughout the course of the game.
If you aren’t previously acquainted with the series it’s important to note that they share similar story elements. For instance, so far, each main Rune Factory game has featured a very similar style of story. Each game starts with a character with amnesia ending up in a small town and usually given farming responsibilities or other jobs in exchange for somewhere to stay while they work to regain their memories. There can be some variation, such as the last game where you were confused for royalty, but mostly the idea is the same.
Specifically, in Rune Factory 5 you’re a young boy or girl who wakes up in a random forest. After saving a young girl from monsters, you’re welcomed by the town’s peacekeeping forces known as SEED. You must work to protect the quiet town life while tending to several farms, exploring dungeons, and completing tasks for the townsfolk. Oh, and working towards recovering your memories as well if you can just about find the time for it. While it’s tempting to write the plot off for using amnesia as a key concept in every single game, it’s not really that much of a negative. Fans will know what to expect going in, and any newcomers probably won’t notice or care that they’re reusing the central plot point.
Having said that, Rune Factory 5 is probably the biggest change to the series since the jump from the DS to the 3DS, and possibly even bigger. First up, there is no top-down perspective this time, at least, not most of the time. You have a fully-explorable 3D overworld to run around in, with loading screens or transitions restricted to entering buildings and dungeons or using the teleportation feature. This certainly makes the game world feel like a more cohesive whole and helps both the town and the world around it to come to life a bit more easily, though it does impact certain parts of the gameplay.
When it comes to farming, the traditionally top-down camera is very helpful, and the game knows this. That’s probably why, whenever you step onto or near your farm, the camera will snap into a more top-down perspective. While this is somewhat helpful, it doesn’t make farming all that comfortable. With a fully explorable 3D environment that isn’t based on any sort of grid, it can be difficult to line up your target when trying to do almost anything on the farm reliably.
For example, in Rune Factory 5, you have to till the land, then sow seeds, then water them daily. This is pretty cut-and-dry in all of the previous titles. Use a hoe on a square, then use seeds, then use a watering can every day. The problem is that with more freedom of movement, the game has to rely on an auto-targeting system that highlights different squares in the farm as you move around it, and the system isn’t all that intuitive or accurate. You can be standing directly in front of a farm tile and the game will have you aiming at another one, which does make the farming feel a bit overly fiddly.
The farming in general does feel a bit underwhelming. As with many such games, when you start out the farm is covered in debris and you have to clear it before you can use all of the lands, but the issue in Rune Factory 5 is that it gets super messy again, really quickly. Each morning, new giant boulders and tree stumps would show up on my land, and even if I cleared them all in the morning, they’d be back by the evening. This issue is compounded by the fact that not far into the game you’re given another farm to look after that is much larger, and similarly fills up with an impossible amount of boulders and tree stumps every few hours. Then you get even more farms as the game progresses.
Honestly, I just ended up ignoring the farming for the most part. There’s a lot more to a Rune Factory game than just the farming after all. Completing requests and hunting monsters gives you more than enough money to get by, and since you can actually get monsters to work your farmland for you, there just wasn't much point in getting overly involved in it. The real question is how much those other gameplay elements make up for the lackluster farming, and luckily, there’s enough to like about the other aspects of the game to make up for it.
Obviously, there’s the aforementioned monster-capturing stuff that is quite a giggle. You get given a special seal that can be used to capture monsters, and once you’ve got a monster barn, you can make friends with them and get them to work your land and go out on adventures with you. Considering the relatively huge variety of monsters that you’ll find as you explore the game, you’ve got plenty of new creatures to meet and make friends with. This effectively boils down to feeding and brushing them regularly, but each monster has specific likes and dislikes that make getting to know them worth it, and by the end, I found myself quite attached to the first monsters I had picked up.
Speaking of relationships, there’s also the ever-present friendship and romance mechanics that you often find in the Rune Factory series. Each day you can talk to and give gifts to the other people in town. Some people will become friends with you, while others are potential romantic partners, and this marks yet another big shake-up for the series. For the first time (i think) in this series, you can actually romance and eventually marry someone of the same gender as your character, which is something that was suspiciously absent from previous entries. Having said that, while it’s good to finally have some freedom on that end, the game still wouldn't let me romance the older Kitsune lady which I think is a personal attack against me.
Of course, how much you’ll get out of the romance mechanics is heavily dependent on how into the characters you are. As with any other game in the genre, your main method of getting people to fall in love with you is to throw their favorite things at them each day. If you don’t have a particular bias towards any of the characters, that is probably going to equate to finding the person who likes something simple like bread or fish, and just romancing them because it’s the easiest option. On the plus side, your partner and friends can actually join you on dungeon crawls, so that’s nice.
Speaking of dungeon crawling, the combat in Rune Factory 5 is also pretty varied, if a little janky-feeling. There is a pretty wide variety of different weapons for you to use, from knives to dual-blades, to fists, and even magical rods that shoot projectiles. Each type of weapon can be upgraded to increase damage or apply debuffs, and as your skill with each weapon type levels up, you gain access to new combos and abilities for those weapons. This gives you a lot of different combat styles to try out, with a big incentive to try out new weapons as you come across them.
The only slight downside to combat is that it’s a bit stiff and deliberate. You can target and run around your opponents with total freedom, but your character registers every single button press that you make. So, if you’re in the habit of mashing the attack button during combat and then dodging away as soon as the enemy does something threatening, you’re probably going to find yourself getting hit as your character refuses to stop attacking until it’s animated every single button press you’ve done. Also, the dodge button is sort of lackluster. You can technically dodge with it, but you don’t go particularly far with it.
Visually the game is at least consistent, but if you’re a fan of high fidelity then you’re playing gather wrong game. The world is relatively bright and cartoony, even in the darker areas, and all of the 3D models match their animated counterparts. Whenever you talk with other characters, you’re both represented by hand-drawn character art that looks great, and thankfully doesn't feel the need to use Live2D, which makes the characters seem a bit uncanny valley to me. However, at least with the Switch version, there are a few issues with performance to worry about.
Whenever I would enter or leave a building, the framerate would chug and stutter. It usually only happened for a few seconds and seems to be absent from any of the dungeons or places where combat would happen, but it’s possible that it could technically happen to you. Of course, how big of an issue this is will depend on your personality. If you loath bad performance in all its forms then you’re probably not going to like it, but on the other hand, it basically didn’t affect my playing experience so it’s hard to get upset about it.
Overall, how did Rune Factory 5 come across? Well, I might have made some complaints about the janky nature of both farming and combat, but in the end, I still plan to continue once the review is done and that should at least give you a clue as to how playable this game actually is. For all of the jank and inconveniences of the gameplay, if you’re into a combo of dungeon-crawling and life-sim, then you’re going to be into this. Having said that, it doesn’t really do anything to draw in new players, so if you’re not at least partially into these games already, you probably won’t find a reason to get into them now.
TechRaptor covered Rune Factory 5 on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher.
- Huge world to explore that feels alive
- Fully 3D world with complete camera control
- You can romance people of the same gender
- Farming and Combat can be a bit janky
- Too many boulders and stumps showing up all the time