Rune Factory 4
Fair skies above the clouds come crashing down on a dragon in the form of a resilient hero, whose origins and intentions are unknown due to the unfortunate consequence of having lost all memories on impact. Noticing a unique ability to bring soil to life and connect with monsters, Ventuswill, the Divine Wind Dragon, issues you a proclamation: stay in this castle as royalty, and bring prosperity to the town of Selphia! Now called an 'Earthmate' for your talents, you must take on the responsibilities and wishes of the citizens, and it won't be easy. Befriending the townspeople, arranging festivities, expanding the town and reviving the fields must now become second nature to you. There is also the matter of protecting the town from a great monster in the forest, only to see it transform into a young girl right before your eyes... What reasons are there to be placed as royalty under the watchful eye of the Divine Wind? What force could transform a monster into a human being? While adventuring and building new friendships within Selphia, you – the newly-designated ruler – will draw ever closer to the secrets buried in your own lost memories.
The best way to describe the Rune Factory series is that it's the love child of the Harvest Moon games and fantasy RPGs. You run a farm and interact with the townsfolk (including possibly marrying someone and starting a family) while also delving into dungeons to fight monsters. While it may seem like an odd combo, I think they work well together, if following the cliche "amnesiac farmer destined to save the world" story. Though I do like that the farming part isn't merely background; the game pretty much goes "it's all fine and dandy that you're saving the world, but don't forget to water your crops." It's a series I've had a love/hate relationship with, as the previous games I've played often had something that ruined an otherwise good series, whether it was the cringe-worthy voice acting in 2 or the chore that was the runey system in Frontier. And while Rune Factory 4 doesn't exel in comparison to other games, I consider it a success in that it lacks anything that is a huge turn-off for me.
Rune Factory 4 certainly knows how to make an entrance, having the player character (male or female) fall out of an airship onto a holy dragon, lose their memory, and be crowned prince or princess of the town of Selphia all in one day. To its credit, the game also pokes fun at itself and the concept the series has run on (as every protagonist has been an amnesiac), though the amnesia doesn't seem to have a purpose at first aside from letting characters explain things about the world to the protagonist (on that note, don't worry if you haven't played the other games in the series; while 4 makes references to the previous installments, they're more like easter eggs than anything plot-relevant). I say at first because the story is divided into three arcs. The first follows your character adjusting to their new life while investigating an ongoing mystery involving monsters turning into humans. Said-people also seem to have a connection to Selphia's protector Ventuswill, the divine dragon of wind (though she prefers to be called Venti). The second arc has you fighting a plot by the Sechs Empire which ties into an important thing from the first arc. The third, unofficial arc is closure for the second, though it doesn't receive as much fanfare as the first two. The story as a whole is done well and can even be moving at times; without giving too much away, I ended up crying at one point.
Along with farming to boost Selphia's economy, your duties as Prince/Princess also include completing tasks to get Prince/Princess points which can be spent on orders like new festivals or shops for the town or increasing your bag size. The bulk of the points are earned via completeing requests from Eliza the request box and can range from harvesting crops to defeating monsters to giving a townsfolk an item. Some of the requests also unlock new features like more seeds at the shops. The downside is that you can only accept a certain number of tasks each day and you start out only able to accept one. Note that I said "accept" rather than "complete;" if you accept a request and cancel it, it still counts for your daily quota. So my advice is pick the requests you know you can complete in one day. These only refer to Eliza's requests, however; talking with townsfolk will sometimes result in them asking you to do something for them and accepting won't count towards your daily quota. Another limit on orders is your rank, which increases when you get enough tourists visiting Selphia. This increases by making improvements to Selphia and completing requests, though it still takes some time. Until you reach a certain rank, you're unable to make certain orders. So the bottom line is save the bulk of your points for orders like festivals or shops, complete requests, and ship as much as you can each day.
To progress through the story, you need to go through dungeons filled with monsters. Combat is mostly determined by what weapon you use, but other things factor in. See, farming isn't only good for money and Prince/Princess points; leveling up your skills also gives you benefits like increasing your health and rune points (the latter is spent on actions like swinging a sword, watering crops, or casting spells) or your strength or intelligence. (Actually, pretty much anything you do in Rune Factory 4 -- even walking or throwing objects -- has a skill associated with it, and it will benefit you a lot to increase these as much as possible). But you don't have to kill every monster you encountered; you also have the option to befriend them. As long as you have space in your monster barn, you can give items to a monster and if they like those items enough they will stop being hostile to you and will travel alongside you. Befriended monsters can also take care of farm chores and some can produce items like milk or wool. The only caveat is that some monsters like bosses require specific items to befriend them and the more powerful they are the more difficult that item is to obtain.
Another skill necessary for surviving dungeons would be the crafting skills: cooking, forging, accessory-making, and chemistry. These allow you to create items out of raw materials. While shops like Bado's sell similar items, crafting results in higher-quality items, which are a must for more difficult dungeons. All four crafting skills follow the same template; you pick a recipe or throw items into the material boxes (which isn't recommended as it can result in failures or just take up a lot of rune points) to create an item. Recipes can be learned by buying and consuming recipe breads from Porcoline's kitchen. However, if your skill level isn't high enough you won't learn any recipes (the good news is that the bread isn't wasted; it'll just reappear in your inventory until you try again). In the case of forging and accessory-making, you can also improve your gear using items you've found. This and crafting consumes rune points, moreso if the gap between the item's level and your own is fairly large, so be careful and keep an eye on your bars while crafting.
Last but not least are the inhabitants of Selphia. While most are faceless NPCs which represent the tourists visiting, a handful are characters which you can interact with on a deeper level. They are a colorful cast, from the flamboyant and food-loving Porcoline to would-be detective Illuminata. Even when they fell into stereotypes like the tough but secretly-girlish Forte they are still a fun cast and often have more depth than their first appearances would suggest. Said-depth comes with what's probably the game's most frustrating feature, the town events. These happen at random and can sometimes take days to complete. To add to this frustration, marriage requires the player to go through specific events, including a proposal event, in order to marry a character. There's also one required to trigger the third story arc. This makes progression in the game more frustrating than it needs to be, but it was never enough to put me off the game. One part is because, again, these give insight into the characters. Or they're just entertaining to watch. Before wrapping up, I should note that all of the marriage candidates (six boys and six girls) are straight, so you'll have to play a certain gender to romance a character.
Rune Factory 4 may not be a particularly complex or groundbreaking game, but it still has merit. The gameplay is good, the characters are interesting, and the story is engaging. Out of all the games in the Rune Factory series, this is the best. And for the series' latest entry, that says a lot about it. If you like dungeon crawling and the Harvest Moon games, give this a shot.
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