While there’s a quaint and simple charm to slice-of-life games like Stardew Valley and Story of Seasons, it’s Rune Factory scratches that extra, oh-so-important anime itch. The combo of small-town farming and dungeon-crawling never gets old, and it’s always way more interesting to get to know the members of your town when they’re fantasy blacksmiths and wizard women. When I started digging into Rune Factory 5 last month, it felt like it was hitting all the right notes. After spending way, way, way more time with the game, it definitely sticks the landing, though not without a few minor fumbles along the way.
There’s a narrative setup to your arrival in the town of Rigbarth, but don’t expect a storytelling masterpiece. The game quickly establishes that your amnesiac protagonist fell out of a portal and then suddenly hands them a job as a member SEEDs – a sort of JRPG neighbourhood watch kind of group. After that, you’re taken through a series of pretty basic plot threads and story developments that mostly serve as ways to introduce new NPCs, new dungeons, and new caretaking goals for you and your town. There are some mysteries afoot, and even some straight up bad guys messing around with forbidden magic and deadly monsters, but these moments mostly felt like breadcrumbs on the trail. The real meat of the game comes from the stories you form for yourself as you bond with villagers and, potentially, marry one.
We shouldn’t be shy here. Dating options are arguably the biggest part of town-life simulators like these. It ain’t Stardew Valley without Sebastion or Haley, and it ain’t Rune Factory without the anime husbands and RPG wives. Early on, Rune Factory 5 tasks you with running around town and saying hello to everyone in the village – I was on cloud nine, ready to impress all my potential dates. To my dismay, the marriage options in this game ended up feeling way more limited than I was expecting.
Almost every girl NPC you can marry is on the younger side and sporting a one dimensional anime personality. The women who break that mold, like experimental-drug addicted doctor milf Simone or nine-tailed fox demon lady milf Misasagi or sleepy anti-labor milf Elsje are not an option! The male candidates are a bit more varied, but even the most interesting male NPCs end up being relegated to the friend-zone. Ultimately, I settled down with a succubus witch-girl named Ludmila who rocks permanent heart-shaped eyes. She’s great, she’s nice, but I’ll never forget Misasagi.
It’s also worth mentioning that, for the first time in the series, you’re actually able to pursue same-sex marriages. This wasn’t even a feature in the original Japanese release of Rune Factory 5 – the English localization team worked hard to implement it into the overseas release, and it even ended up getting patched back into that Japanese version. It’s an incredibly refreshing change for a series and genre that should’ve adopted this kind of feature as the norm long ago – it also provides a lot more variety in terms of options for who you will or won’t bond with.
Bonding with characters can happen in a million different ways – whether you’re diving into dungeons together, cultivating farm goods for them, or running around town to buy their favourite kind of gifts. No matter what activity you engage in, you’ll be sure to notice one thing constantly: the frame rate. Rune Factory 5 struggles immensely to run consistently. Entering or exiting buildings always leads to an awkward frame freeze, and the game often slows down a bit whenever fighting hordes of enemies. It looks beautiful and sounds amazing, so it’s a shame that such a constant technical hiccup plagues an otherwise impressive leap onto more modern hardware for the series.
You’ll likely push the frame rate into the back of your mind after a while. There are so many things to do in Rune Factory 5 with multiple farms to cultivate, crops to sell, missions to fulfil, NPCs to chat with, furniture to customise, dungeons to explore, bosses to defeat, monsters to catch – or tame, or befriend, or ride – and oodles of minor and major festivals and story events to check out in your town. When you hit that sweet spot of learning your checklist of tasks and the best way to tackle them all within a day, the hours of the real world will melt away. It’s so easy to tackle all your duties and wipe the drool from the corner of your mouth as you murmur “just one more day”, and do it all over again.
Just know that it might take a few hours to really find that sweet spot and that comfortable pattern. One roadblock you’ll face early on is that the dungeons and boss battles are really, really easy. Enemies spend eons telegraphing their next attack, and even if you slip up and let them hit you, it’s all too easy to roll away and heal up. You won’t be facing real challenges until you get closer to the second half of the game, but even in those early easy hours, it’s all too addictive to bust out knuckle-duster combos and flying death orbs as you mow down braindead mobs.
Another wrinkle in an otherwise delightfully addictive farming game is that the town you spend so much of your playthrough of Rune Factory 5 in is disappointingly lifeless. The layout is equal parts repetitive and barren, like someone playing the tutorial of a city builder for the first time. You’ll constantly come across dead patches of land and empty city streets as you sprint around to figure out where the NPCs are hanging out at during any given moment. Previous games in the series always had this delightful sense of hustle & bustle to their towns, and it’s sorely missed in Rune Factory 5.
Still, even with those issues, there’s plenty of hustling and bustling you can do yourself. It was so easy to fall into that same addictive routine with this game, and the sheer variety of monsters and weapons and items and dialogue events I ran into as I lived out so many seasons in Rigbarth kept me glued to the game. This is the same blend of chill farm vibes and exciting fantasy RPG adventure that made me love every other entry in the series – and even with some technical snafus and a slightly lackluster town, Rune Factory 5 is a welcome return for this fantasy farming franchise.