Rune Factory 4 Special brings the farming/action-RPG hybrid to a new audience on the Nintendo Switch. Rune Factory 4 originally released on the Nintendo 3DS in 2013 and was the last game to be released in the series before the original developer Neverland Co. went bankrupt. Fortunately, the publisher, Marvelous Entertainment, brought the devs from Neverland in-house and updated Rune Factory 4 for Switch as a prelude to Rune Factory 5.
While Rune Factory 4 Special isn’t exactly a straight port, those who played it on 3DS will find a very familiar game waiting for them. There’s enough new content to interest longtime fans, but it’s all very tertiary to the main story arcs and gameplay loops. Fortunately, Rune Factory 4 has aged very well, and it’s still a great game, which makes an almost effortless transition to the Switch.
Rune Factory 4 Special Review | Once upon a time in Selphia
The story remains completely intact in the port. It still deals with an amnesiac male or female protagonist who finds themselves in the humble village of Selphia. You become the guest of the Elder Dragon Ventuswill and are given a room in the castle. You’re also given permission to do what you will with the field behind the castle.
You’ll spend the game forming relationships with the citizens of Selphia, exploring the surrounding lands, and seeking clues to your identity and the mysteries surrounding your arrival at Selphia.
The plot is entertaining enough, but it’s mostly a pretense to get you introduced to Rune Factory 4’s systems and keep you exploring and heading in the right direction. The game lets you set your own pace, and there’s no external pressure to explore or continue the plot at any time.
Rune Factory 4 Special does add some side story segments. Newlywed Mode lets you take on some self-contained adventures with any spouses you’ve married in the main game. There’s also the Another Episode DLC Pack, which contains visual-novel-esque stories narrated by the game’s bachelors and bachelorettes. However, the main story didn’t get any additions or subtractions that I noticed.
Rune Factory 4 Special Review | Upscaling done right
The graphics have gotten a facelift in the port to Switch. The original visuals displayed at 400×240, and they weren’t among the 3DS’s most impressive even on first release. However, I found Rune Factory 4 Special‘s graphics to be pleasant. The in-game graphics look to be upscaled, but the menus, text boxes, and character images seem like they’re newly drawn for the port.
Rune Factory 4 Special isn’t a dazzler visually, but the textures aren’t muddled for the most part, and I feel a little nostalgic for the sloped models of the DS and 3DS, so I didn’t mind it looking a bit outdated. It looks like a 3DS game done large, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Rune Factory 4 Special Review | Working from sunrise to sunset
The meat of Rune Factory 4 is farming, exploration, and crafting. Farming will eat up each morning as you tend your crops and monsters, and you’ll usually spend your evenings exploring and grabbing up ore and monster items to craft. Farming works much the same as it does in Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons, and exploration is reminiscent of Secret of Mana.
Both farming and exploration feed into the crafting system. This is how you get new armor, weapons, and items that can be sold for a profit or used to further your farming and exploration efforts. Each system in the game is reciprocal, and I enjoyed the way combat and exploration filled time in the day that would otherwise be dead.
Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons (especially older titles) can have pacing issues where you’ll run into stretches of time where there’s not much to do besides tending your farm and building your relationship with whoever you’re trying to marry. In Rune Factory 4, those times can be spent searching for ore, or making your way through a dungeon and defeating monsters for rare item drops.
There is a carryover issue from the original game that I found incredibly frustrating, though. You can pick up items in stacks of nine, which is useful when you’ve got a lot of the same thing on the ground. When you harvest crops, chop wood, or pick up your daily monster items from the barn, you can tap A to pick up several of the same items at a time before putting them into your pack. Unfortunately, when you have an item in your hand, A also will give the item to a villager or monster next to you. So, it’s incredibly easy to accidentally give a thing you’re holding away instead of picking up another one. I lost count of how many times I accidentally have one of my Woolies their own wool back that I just clipped off of them, or how many eggs I threw back in my Cluckadoodle’s face’s. It would have saved me a ton of frustration if the “Give” and “Pick Up” commands were on two separate buttons.
Rune Factory 4 Special Review | RNG gone wrong
One of the facets of Rune Factory 4 that people love the most is the relationship system. Each villager in the game has a relationship stat, and you can speak to them each day and give them gifts to grow closer to them. The ultimate goal of this is to get close enough to one of the six bachelors or six bachelorettes to start dating them, get married, and eventually have a kid.
Unfortunately, getting married in Rune Factory 4 is one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve experienced in a game, and Rune Factory 4 Special didn’t do anything to mitigate this issue. To get in a relationship, you have to raise a potential mate’s Love Point level to at least seven; then, you have to confess your love to them. However, there’s an RNG factor when you confess your love that is set once a day, and there’s a tiny chance of them taking you seriously, even once you hit LP level seven.
So, to even get into a relationship, you’ll have to feed your potential mate their favorite item, and hope that’s the day they’ll take you seriously. In my latest playthrough, I chose Forte, the shy knight, and it took at least 100 days to get her to say yes, even after our relationship level reached seven.
So, she finally said yes, and we started dating. However, marriage is a another RNG ordeal. To marry someone in Rune Factory 4, you have to view two or more events that can happen entirely at random. You could spend an in-game year or more waiting for these events to appear.
The RNG is irritating, but the fact that you’re left to figure this all out on your own adds to your frustration. Rune Factory 4 gives you minimal direction about anything past the initial week or so, and you’re left to figure out things on your own. It’d be different if things like the relationship system were intuitive, but how is anyone supposed to know that you need to trigger multiple random events to get married?
Rune Factory 4 Special Review | A classic of the genre
Rune Factory 4 Special brings a ton of content to enjoy, especially if you didn’t catch the original on Nintendo 3DS. The added content is appreciated, but it’s not a gamechanger. There are still some issues with this port that existed in the original, specifically a lack of explanation of the game’s various systems and some very obtuse RNG in relationships.
For its flaws, Rune Factory 4 Special brings an incredible life-sim/Action-RPG to the Switch. There are few games in the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series that match the complexity and fun of Rune Factory 4, and this port has me excited to see Rune Factory 5.
PR provided Rune Factory 4 digital code for Nintendo Switch for review.