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Rune Factory 4 Special

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Hakama
Release Date: Feb. 25, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Rune Factory 4 Special'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 28, 2020 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

Rune Factory 4 combines the farming elements the series is renowned for, with classic action-JRPG elements in a stunning fantasy setting.

Buy Rune Factory 4 Special

Rune Factory was a fantasy-themed spin-off of the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons franchise. It took the farming and casual life sim antics and added in a healthy dose of RPG elements to provide a similar-yet-different experience. Rune Factory 4 for the Nintendo 3DS was one of the best of the franchise and genuinely one of the best games on the 3DS. Rune Factory 4 Special is what you get when that is ported to the Switch. It might not be an impressive port, but it's still a great game.

Rune Factory 4 puts players in control of one of two protagonists: a boy named Lest and a girl named Frey. On their way to the city of Selphira, they are knocked unconscious by bandits and tossed off their airship. They awaken in the town of Ventuswill and, through a series of unlikely coincidences, take over as the ruler of the town. Being ruler doesn't mean sitting back and relaxing, but it's a combination of combat, royal management and, of course, farming. Sure, there's more complexity and nuance to the plot, but ultimately, it's about being the best combat farmer you can be.

The game is a series of interlocking games that all feed into each other. You start off in true Song of Seasons/Harvest Moon style by farming and turning your farmed goods into profits. You can use those profits to upgrade your other abilities, such as alchemy, cooking, and or forging weapons. You need to spend farmed items to use those abilities. In turn, you can use those things to farm better, collect monsters to harvest for eggs or milk, and so on.

Exclusive to RF4 are royal decrees, which are powerful bonuses that you can unlock by spending points that you earn by helping the town. Royal decree bonuses range from a larger backpack to throwing your own festivals. They're another resource, but it feels way cooler to earn these features by aiding the town instead of spending money or beating up monsters. The addition of a light town sim ends up working extremely well.

It's absurdly addictive. No specific mechanic is too complex, but since almost everything you can do in the game has an experience bar and feeds into each other, it becomes very easy to get addicted. Just one more dungeon run, just one more night of farming, just make a few more items — and then it's 3 a.m., and you're wondering where the time has gone. The game starts slowly, but it has so many interlocking parts that gradually build up that by the time it has its fiendish claws into you, it's too late.

The townspeople are also a lot of fun. RF4 has a solid collection of bachelors and bachelorettes to woo and romance, and there are also a number of amusing side characters. The writing is simple but clever enough to give the characters their own distinct personalities. You might not like all of them, but there's certain to be someone who catches your attention. (As is unfortunately common for the franchise, it's heterosexual marriage only.)

New to Rune Factory 4 Special for the Switch are the Newlywed and Another Episode modes. These unlock via marriage and DLC, respectively, and contain additional character skits and interactions. They're nothing groundbreaking, but they're a nice way to flesh out the cast and give your spouse some much-needed extra screen time to help them feel more like a character and not just a marriage object.

Of course, no game in the Rune Factory franchise is complete without dungeons. The dungeons in Special aren't anything … well, special, but they're fun. Combat is of the overhead hack-and-slash variety, with customization options coming from which weapons you choose or which spells you unlock. Like the rest of RF4, it's more of a casual experience than anything hardcore. There is a new, harder difficulty mode that can add some much-needed bite to the game, but Rune Factory is never going to be Dark Souls.

A lot of RF4's strength comes from the 3DS original, which was excellent and addictive, and the same is true of the Switch iteration. Special isn't much of an improvement over the original, though. The graphics are updated but not significantly so, and they still resemble the blocky 3DS originals. The music still sounds good, the voice work is fairly solid. It's just a port of a 3DS game that focuses minimally on updating it for a much more powerful system. This even includes some of the text, which can seem shockingly small and difficult to read.

That is really the only make-or-break element of Special. If you still own and play the original 3DS version, then not a lot has changed, and it's hard to argue that the new features are worth a full-priced game. If you haven't played the original, then Special is probably the best place to start. It's still an absurdly enjoyable game, but it's more of a minorly updated port rather than a fully fleshed-out remake.

Rune Factory 4 for the 3DS was one of my favorite games in the franchise, and the years have not dulled its qualities. If you enjoy farming, collecting, and casual dungeon-crawling, it's hard to think of a game that does everything as well as Rune Factory 4 Special. It's still a seven-year-old game at heart, and it sometimes does feel dated. Hopefully the upcoming Rune Factory 5 will keep everything that was improved in RF4 and give us a true successor to the 3DS classic.

Score 8.0/10

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