If you took video game fans, and divided them up into different groups you might feel reminiscent of high school. You’d have the jocks who love sports games, or the Ogres (Revenge of the Nerds Reference) who love their FPS’s, then you’d have the agriculture club who simply loves to farm (Harvest Moon). I’d be hanging out with everyone because I love all genres of gaming, but for some reason I’ve always had this strange attraction to Harvest Moon. My first foray into this sub-genre of gaming took place on the Nintendo 64. Once I planted my first turnip seed, I was addicted. Getting married to Karen, and having her gather eggs in the morning. Greatest moment of gaming material.
Next to Super Punch-Out, which I have close to 700-800 hours of game time I’d say Harvest Moon 64 is my most played game of all time. Since, I’ve played numerous iterations of HM, even the original on the SNES. None have quite captured what HM 64 was able to. It was simple, yet demanding, and the gameplay was very smooth. I had heard about Rune Factory on the DS, and thought that it was very interesting concept. Integrating dungeon crawling into the farming-sim aspect seemed cool enough. My initial thought is that they’d trade in the laid back, go at it your own pace feeling by adding combat so I never played the DS titles.
Kind of disappointed that I didn’t.
After playing Rune Factory: Frontier, I can safely say that it’s on par with Harvest Moon 64. As I dive deeper into everything the game has to offer, it could have the potential to surpass HM 64′s greatness. I’ve only played through my first season (Spring), and it’s already hard to begin explaining everything the game has to offer.
At the very beginning, you’re treated to an anime inspired intro movie. Which is very well animated. The story is quite simple: Raguna (you) is following a long time friend by the name of Mist as she left her home for unknown reasons. You end up tracking her down to the small village of Trampoli. Instead of bringing her back, you decide to stay yourself and raise a farm. After the first season, not much has come from the main story yet. Only that Mist hears some voices throughout the village. Schizo, or something sinister afoot? Only time will tell.
If I had to describe Rune Factory: Frontier in one word, it would be ‘depth’. With only one season completed, there’s already more to do than in most HM games I’ve played. You of course have your farm, which starts out a bit small. The reason being is more of the obstacles you have to clear requires tools you don’t have yet. So the amount of land you have to work with is minimal. Not complaining yet though, because there’s much more to the game than farming. Everything works just like in previous Harvest Moons. You clear out a patch of land, you till it, plant your seeds, water them, wait for them to grow, and then sell them for money or give them to your neighbors. Or use the to create recipes for cooking.
Even with all the additions to the game, farming is still the main crutch of the gameplay.
The second element of the game that is introduced to you is interacting with the villagers, and heroines. The heroines are the main part of your social life in Trampoli. These are the bachelorettes you’ll have to woo into loving you, then eventually marrying you. I stated in the title of the post that this is a ‘first impression’. I really haven’t decided who I’m courting yet, but I can say it will be hard decision. I actually like all of the bachelorettes I’ve run into so far. Which is strange because Karen in HM 64 is the only candidate I could stand in that game.
The final aspect of the game that I find so rewarding is the sense of exploration. The game highly rewards those who are curious and seek out everything there is to find in Trampoli. I’ve found a numerous amounts of things to do, just by seeking things out. Nothing is handed to you in this game, so if you get stuck you’ll have to discover what you need to progress.
One of the game’s first discoveries is Whale Island. This is the main dungeon of the game, and is where most of my time has been spent when I’m not working my farm. The main section of dungeon exploring is combat. Like most things in Harvest Moon games, it’s simple, yet addictive. It’s an action based gameplay, that relies on stats, but also on your maneuverability. Once you get good at dodging, and attacking it becomes easy to go through some parts of the dungeon without taking damage. A cool aspect of the dungeons is being able to grow crops in them. Your options for what to do with the crops increases in dungeons. You can sell them, eat them, or leave them there to grow Rune crystals. These items will help replenish your RP, which is the energy bar that is found in other HM games.
There are certain parts of the game I’ve just now started, or haven’t tried yet. Runey harvesting is probably the most intriguing aspect of the game, and most complicated. Each area of the world has ‘runey’s attached to them. They’re collection of spirits that have manifested themselves into different forms. There’s rock runeys, tree runeys, grass runeys, and water runeys. They all have different effects, and will do certain things to the land. For example having an abundance of grass runeys will help grow your crops faster. I haven’t truly dived into the runey harvesting yet, but it has the potential to be deep and rewarding.
My largest gripe with the game so far, is how fast everything flies at you. I’m only a season in, and I feel as though most of the major aspects of the game are already available to me. You still have to earn certain portions of the game, it all just seems to happen really fast. For example, I’ve built my barn and it didn’t even take a hour of my day. It just happened automatically. Which goes against the slow, methodical spirit of HM. This is but a small gripe though, as I’m sure there’s still a lot of surprises yet to come.
Graphically, this is probably the most beautiful game I’ve played on the Wii. Easily the most impressive game since Super Mario Galaxy. The world is so dense with flora, that it really feels alive. Even when you till land, and plant crops, it all feels so cohesive and blends nicely. The water is the most impressive graphical feat. I believe that the water effects, and animations rival some that have been seen in Xbox 360, PS3, and PC games. I love the anime inspired cutouts that are used when characters are talking. It adds a wonderful sense of style to the overall design of Rune Factory.
This Screenshot doesn’t do the water justice. You have to see it in action to appreciate it.
The music provides a great backdrop to the easy going nature of Rune Factory. I’ve been surprised by the amount of tracks that are available in different areas. It seems like there’s a different song for every building I walk into. The tracks seem to fit the mood with the places I’m visiting. The voice acting is ‘blah’, but luckily it isn’t overused, and you can skip over it if they annoy you too much.
After reading my first impressions, they’re about as long as some reviews. That just shows everything that Rune Factory: Frontier has to offer in such a short time. If even more aspects of gameplay pop up on top of what already is available, then I highly recommend buying this game. You of course have to enjoy farming-sim games (Harvest Moon), but if you do then Rune Factory: Frontier is one you shouldn’t miss.