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I've had a long love affair with the Harvest Moon series, which was slightly dampened by Harvest Moon DS with it's complicated controls and far too simple ways of gaining lots of money very quickly. It was at the least better than the version that they put for PSP which was atrocious. But anyhow, it was therefore with both excitement and trepidation that I bought 'Rune Factory' as I hoped that Natsume would have got their acts together by this point. I was not disappointed.
Title: Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon
Price: From £9.99 on Amazon at time of writing.
Harvest Moon is a long standing series of games which started with the SNES in 1996 and has grown from there. Since then there have been games for the original Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, Gameboy DS, Gamecube, Playstation consoles and the PSP. The central theme that runs through all of the Harvest Moon games is the farming aspect, and often or not you are a child/young adult who either inherits, finds or is given a plot of land to take care of and make it into a running farm. You then have the task of making everyone in the town like/love you, finding a bride to be, marrying your chosen female out of all of the eligible options and then having a child and taking care of the child. The aim is to live a life of happy family life whilst running a farm to keep the financial aspect of life ticking. In the largest majority of the games a main source of income is raising animals as well as growing a variety of crops, and to gain more animals you will need to upgrade your farms buildings such as chicken coops.
Considering that there have been so many games in the series of Harvest Moon and that Harvest Moon DS was such an unmitigated failure, the first question that has to be asked is 'How is this any different?' When a series has had so many successes it is very easy for the company to become lax and just create re-hashes of the same game in different formats and bore the socks off the customer. So, have they managed to make a good game? Yes, in fact they have. And the reason for this is because they have introduced a completely new aspect into the game which makes it a mix of Harvest Moon, Final Fantasy, and Monster Rancher...which considering that these are my all time favourite games then I'm on a winner.
The basis of the game is still farming, you still have to clear your farm and then grow crops and fish to earn your living. But the game has a major twist right at the beginning and it is partly this that gives it the Final Fantasy RPG feel. This is that your main character wanders into the town exhausted, hungry and with no idea of who he is or where he came from, is met by a beautiful (by anime standards) young woman called Mist who takes him under her wing. This protagonist build up makes the game feel like a typical Japanese RPG...until the girl hands you a hoe and you end up looking after the farm! The other main difference to all of the other Harvest Moon games is that in this particular game you are also fighting monsters in different caves that you can unlock as the game goes on. This gives you both an extra source of income as the mining materials are often worth something, and allows you to progress in a story line. However, also in the caves are monsters that you can befriend and take home to your farm with you (see the Monster Rancher similarities here!?). These monsters (depending on their variety) can either help you in the fields with watering or harvesting crops or can give you wool, milk or honey etc, or even support you in battle. This can rather aggravating as to tame the monsters you have to use a certain glove on them while they are attacking you...so you can lose a substantial amount of HP just in trying to tame them. However, it also adds a significant amount of amusement to the game as you try to figure out which monsters you can befriend, and in total the monsters are what makes all of the dungeon crawling worth it as the more you befriend the more efficient your farm becomes.
This to begin with can cause a problem as the controls do seem rather fiddly at first and take a while to get used to, particularly as there is no tutorial and very little in game help. Once you get used to them, as with all games, it becomes second nature, but they are more tricky to pick up that I would have thought completely necessary. The game does take advantage of the touch screen which the DS boasts, but does not (like Harvest Moon DS) make this an absolute necessity, which to me is a major boon as I keep losing the fiddly little stick things and have to make do with whatever is in my immediate vicinity. The touch screen is your main view of your character whilst the upper screen contains the map of the world and where you are at that point in time, and both screens contain the menus when you click start, the touch screen comprising of the items, animals and friends you have (depending on the area of the menu), the top screen comprises of information on the data you have selected.
This is where the game comes into a realm of it's own as it has managed to merge the farming style of Harvest Moon with the RPG style game. The dungeon crawling and defeating monsters emerging from shiny metal reactors which you have to destroy to stop the monsters emerging and to get to the eventual boss at the end of each mine. This allows you to continue with the story line and get new caves to explore. The amount of possible things to do in Rune Factory is staggering, be it farming, slaying, dating, cooking, fishing or caring for your animals and it is a game you can play for hours on end without it ever getting boring. Some annoying glitches have been cleared out of the game, for example allowing you to walk over your crops so you can always get to the middle square of them without wasting any farming resources. The game also allows you far more energy as you have bars of Rune Points (RP) which decrease as you do any manual work and a Health bar which decreases as you get hit by monsters and if you run out of Rune Points. The only annoying thing is that as in true RPG fashion if you run out of HP it is a game over and you have to load up your last save file instead of just passing out and being sent to the doctors. But all in all the game is great, it gives a large amount of excellent gameplay and has surpassed the other Harvest Moon games by a fairly long shot.
If you've been a Harvest Moon fan before but were disappointed by the atrocious PSP Innocent Life game, or the far too complicated and glitchy Harvest Moon DS then you have a friend in this. If you are new to the series of Harvest Moon then I can recommend that you give it a try as although the idea of a farming game may not sound too brilliant, in practice it is addictive and amazingly fun. The upgrades that the producers have made to the gameplay are fantastic. The usual tactics are there, the upgrading of tools, the routine of farming that you quickly settle into, the befriending and dating of eligible girls...and their families. However, the game seems quicker and more fast paced, whilst the inclusion of the dungeon crawling adds a completely new world to the game.
This is another major difference between this game and all of the previous games, the childlike, cutesy, block style graphics of the old games has disappeared to be replaced with a more anime style of graphics which I have to say, works very well. The characters are fairly well presented and some of the backdrops are fantastic, giving off an almost hand drawn impression which really draws you into the game as a whole. In truth I can't find much to complain about as I really enjoyed the new graphics.
In simple terms, this is a fantastic game. I can find next to no faults with it and have had an amazing amount of fun on it. I got addicted to the old Harvest Moon games, but this surpasses them in every way and the sheer amount of options that the game allows you means that you can enjoy hours and hours of gameplay. That is what I would call great value for money.
And I've even nearly stuck to my word count limit of 1500! That's what I'd call impressive!
If you ever played Harvest Moon, you'll know what its like.
This game is no different: you live a fantasy life as a farm boy and you have to grow yourself to wealth, a bigger house and a girlfriend. The graphics and animations in this is more mature, and im guessing its for an older audience but the game play is very much the same.
Whilst growing crops and tending animals are somewhat repetitive, the range of activities available make you spoiled for choice. You can also fish, mine, build, collect, cook, befriend and so much more.
The game is long to finish (if this is even possible) yet simple, so there is alot of game play time. However, there is also alot of walking, collecting and exploring, and perhaps these elements are abit repetitive. For me the best bit about the game is collecting the ingredients and cooking them and combining all the different ingredients to see what you can make!
This game is true to the harvest moon formula and is great fun. One of the best RPGs in the series, and the new revamped look is excellent. Characters look more realistic, with a hint of anime, which will surely appeal to fans.
You can purchase this game for under £20 which is a great bargain for so much gameplay and choice!