I’m not sure what genre games like Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon fall into. Farm-em-ups? Farm & Daters? Real Planting Games? Whatever you’re meant to call them, they’re usually pretty good. For me, though, the truly GREAT entries in that genre belong to the Rune Factory series. For me, these games just have it all – Stardew Valley and Story of Seasons have solid gameplay and charming characters, but the aesthetic and settings of the games don’t usually wow me. With Rune Factory, though, the mix of JRPG-style high-fantasy with subdued farm life feels like it was made for me. Fans were able to revisit the series recently thanks to the upgraded re-release of 3DS entry Rune Factory 4, but newly upcoming entry Rune Factory 5 promises to be the biggest and and most beautiful entry in the series yet.
Like the previous Rune Factory game, your adventure opens with your protagonist suffering from amnesia and unsure of their origins. This time, though, the player isn’t sure of the heroes origins either – your character flies out of a portal in the woods and promptly saves a young beast girl named Hina, but the mystery of where (or when) our hero comes from remains vague. Until you’re able to jog your memory again, the neighboring townsfolk happily welcome you and help you get set up with temporary shelter and work at SEED. This support office of ragtag volunteers run by a literal child serve as the problem solvers of the community – and with you joining them, you’ll be helping them cultivate farm goods, solve local issues, and keep the town running smoothly.
Everything you’d want from a game of this style is here, and you’re walked through most of it within the first couple hours of playing. You’ve got a farm to till and water in order to grow crops, a customisable bedroom, and villagers who go about their business throughout the town as you wander around and chat them up. There are specific guys and girls within the town that you can eventually marry, and the game makes it clear which villagers these are by giving you a romantic anime cutscene whenever you first meet them.
Frustratingly, it seems like some of the coolest characters in the village are destined to be undateable – a viking blacksmith with twenty abs, a glasses-wearing doctor who tests her experimental medicine on herself, and a very “sorry, mommy?” nine-tailed fox lady. Maybe they’ll open up to me as I get deeper into the game – for now, I’ve got my eyes set on a shirtless beast-man and a wolf girl who literally does not speak English.
Soon into your first few in-game days of Rune Factory 5, you’re tasked with diving into your first dungeon. This is where you first get to dig into the action-RPG combat of Rune Factory, which has always been one of the most exciting elements of the series to me. Early into the game, combat is simple, but still a huge step above the basic fare of Stardew Valley – attack animations are crisp and fluid, and locking onto enemies and dashing around them to dodge attacks feels super satisfying. On normal difficulty, the enemies and even the end-of-dungeon boss are hardly a threat – hopefully, as the game progresses, foes start to move at a speed that’s faster than “barely moving at all” and bosses are a bit more intimidating.
At this early stage Rune Factory 5 promises to be a great new farming-life experience, if my opening impressions are anything to go by. Minor snafus are there, for sure – a couple of framerate dips and some frustration with placing furniture in your bedroom due to a lack of grid-snapping – but I’m hoping the pros far outweigh the cons and Rune Factory 5 delivers a substantial step-up from the previous game as I continue playing.