Release Date: November 18, 2008
Natsume's Harvest Moon games, for all their similarities, tend to do a lot of things differently. Some are focused on interpersonal relationships, some on farming, some on marriage, and some on collecting items. The biggest change of all, however, came from Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, which changed the formula by combining Harvest Moon's traditional farming gameplay with the sword-and-magic action RPG inspired by games like Zelda. It seemed like an odd combination, but the end result was extremely solid. Rune Factory 2: A Fantasy Harvest Moon is the sequel to the first game, and while it doesn't change much, it brings more of the same fun gameplay that Harvest Moon fans have come to expect.
Rune Factory 2 puts you in control of Kyle, an amnesic young man from an unknown land. While wandering, he finds his way into the small town of Alvarna and is promptly waylaid by a seemingly friendly young lass named Mana. Before he can so much as object, Mana discovers his amnesia and promptly gives him an abandoned farm located on the outskirts of town — although not before charging him his last few gold for the farming tools necessary to run the place. Before long, Kyle has proven himself an adept farmer and sets out to run a successful farm and begin his life anew. Unfortunately for Kyle, his forgotten past is going to come back to haunt him … and his children.
Rune Factory 2 switches up things from the original Rune Factory with the introduction of a new plot mechanic. Once your character gets married, has a child and builds a schoolhouse, the game will instantly advance seven years, and you'll take over gameplay as your character's son or daughter. This is a pretty neat idea, except it has one fatal flaw: The first generation is a complete waste of your time. Almost all of the gameplay features are sealed during the first generation. You can't cook, you can't forge weapons, and you can't learn new magic or abilities. There are no real dungeons, and the dungeons that you can explore are all limited to the first three screens without any bosses and weakened enemies. The end result is that Rune Factory 2's first-generation character can't do anything except plant and farm, talk to people and capture monsters. There are fewer things to do in this first generation than there are in the original SNES Harvest Moon, and that is just depressing to veterans who find the lengthy "tutorial generation" a waste of time.
Your goal is to get married, but this doesn't matter at all either. The game pushes you heavily toward Mana, but your choice of marriage has no influence at all on your second generation protagonist. It doesn't change your child's status, abilities … heck, it doesn't even change the hair color. You can marry the elvish maid Cecilia, and yet your child looks no different, even though every other half-elf in the game has pointed ears. None of your friendships carry over into the second generation, and your child bizarrely begins with no friends at all. Not even your own mother likes you! The second generation is also poorly thought out in relation to the character's family relationship. The characters all act exactly the same no matter who your character's mother is, even if the mother is supposed to be someone they're related to. Depending on who you marry, the second-generation dating options could end up being your cousins, or even your aunt, which is more than a little creepy.
One interesting feature of Rune Factory 2 is that your second-generation protagonist is a schoolchild. While you don't actually have to go to school, and indeed, nobody says anything to you if you decide to go and play hooky to fight demons in the woods, there are some rewards for doing so. Your schoolteachers will offer to teach you how to make various items, which makes it much easier to figure out the exact recipe for a Wind Sword or Platinum Hammer. This is done by telling you the recipe step-by-step and then asking you to pick the correct steps from a list. Having a complete set of recipes available at the touch of a button is nice, although having to play the mini-game simply to find out the supplies is a bit tedious. Once you've learned a recipe, you can check it out while trying to make it, and even see the success rate of making it with your current supplies.
The school is also the base for most of your second-generation only features, which is basically everything but farming and monster-slaying. If you want to cook, forge, create medicine, train your fighting abilities or even make yogurt or cheese, you do it from school. The school begins as a pretty run-down and half-finished building, and you have to earn money in order to upgrade it. The more you upgrade it, the more features will be available, including a library and dojo, where you'll be able to learn new magic and special moves. The primary features you're going to be using are the school's item-creation facilities. Item creation is done by selecting a set of materials and combining them, with the success rate of the combination dependant on your character's skill. It's not too different from the original Rune Factory's system, even if the setting is different. It may take you a while to get a fully equipped school, but having one will make farming and dungeon diving a lot easier.
Farming in Rune Factory 2 is basically identical to how it was in the first title, and indeed, how most Harvest Moon games handle it. You can till your fields and plants you seeds, and after a certain number of days of careful tending and watering, you'll have a fresh crop of healthy plants. Each of Rune Factory 2's four primary dungeons matches one of the four seasons of the year and will remain in that season for the entire year. This means that you can use the small areas of fertile ground in these dungeons to plant a specific crop year-round, while your home farm will be at the mercy of the changing seasons. Rune Factory 2's farming is everything one would expect from a Harvest Moon title, and fans of the series will have few surprises here.
Unfortunately, just as in Rune Factory, the best way to turn a profit isn't to grow a successful and high-quality crop, but to make a quick-growing crop like strawberries and then abuse the seed machine to transform those strawberries into bags of seeds, which sell for enough money that two or three harvests will solve any money trouble you'd have for the rest of the game. Thankfully, farming has secondary benefits. Growing crops causes Rune Bubbles to form, and they're important because they are one of the few ways to refill your character's Rune Energy, which functions like stamina from classic Harvest Moon games. Every action you can take (except for walking) uses up Rune Energy, and if you use it all, you start losing health and the ability to use magic.
Harvest Moon may be about farming, but Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon is about farming and fighting. In order to do everything in the game and complete the main plot, you'll have to venture into the dungeons. There are a handful of dungeons in the game, although there are four primary dungeons you'll be concerned with. Dungeon diving is quite easy, and it's almost unchanged from the first game. Players venture into the dungeon of their choice, armed with whatever weapons, armor and magic they choose to bring. Weapons are used the same way as a farmer uses his or her tools, and can even be charged to deliver special attacks. Once you've gotten a dojo or found the various damaged books scattered around town, you can begin to learn new special abilities and magic powers as well, which can be used with the X or Y buttons. These abilities cost a lot of Rune Energy but provide effects that a regular sword just can't muster.
As with most of the game, the dungeons in Rune Factory 2 are mostly locked until the second generation. In the first generation, Kyle will have access to three screens of the dungeon and a handful of weak monsters, most of whom can easily be defeated with your farming instruments, so there's no need for weapons. The second generation is where things start to get interesting. Once your child is born, the dungeons become populated with more dangerous monsters, including gigantic bosses. New paths are also opened in the dungeons, allowing you to venture further into the depths, with your goal being to find the various statues hidden through the game's four dungeons. Each of these statues holds part of a magic tablet, and in order to get the tablet for that dungeon, you have to complete special objectives, which can entail hunting down specific monsters, answering quizzes, defeating bosses, or even having to grow certain crops or till certain fields. It's a surprising amount of fun, and being given different objectives makes exploring these dungeons quite satisfying.
Rune Factory 2 hasn't changed much visually from the last game. It uses the exact same engine and is almost identical, except for a few minor interface updates. Perhaps the biggest problem with the interface is the same that plagues all Harvest Moon titles: a fairly bad translation, numerous graphical errors, incorrect information and bizarre glitches. While nothing in the game renders it unplayable, and there is nothing quite as confusing as the "phantom crops" translation in the original Rune Factory, it still takes a bit away from the charming graphics when one of your friends or romances begins speaking in strange broken English.
In many ways, Rune Factory 2 is just an update of Rune Factory. Few of the gameplay elements have changed, and anyone who has played both games is going to find a lot of things quite familiar. The biggest change, unfortunately, is perhaps the worst, with the gameplay involving your first-generation protagonist falling flat. It is long, boring and tedious, and seems to exist entirely to extend the game's length and force players through uninteresting toned-back gameplay to get to the actual fun. Thankfully, once you get past the first generation, Rune Factory 2 is a completely worthy, if not particularly different, sequel, and one that any Harvest Moon fan should enjoy.
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