A decade since the last new game in a series with a dedicated fanbase—and with the bankruptcy of one studio and formation of another in the meantime—there’s some weight on the shoulders of Rune Factory 5. With expectations riding high, it’d be easy to get overly ambitious, to try to reinvent the wheel in an effort to make sure the series comeback feels sufficiently “new”. Rather than take the gamble of a new direction that might miss the mark, director Yoshifumi Hashimoto and his team decided to stick with the tried and true. For a series like Rune Factory, built as it is on charm and comfort, that’s the right call.
Rune Factory 5 is now available on PC, too! That version reportedly has much better technical performance (I haven’t played it myself to confirm), but aside from that, the comments in this review are generally applicable to the PC release, too.
Rune Factory 5 is a delight for all the same reasons that Rune Factory 4 was a delight (and Rune Factory 3 before it, and so on…): the effortless balance between Story of Seasons-style farm life and an action RPG makes it a game that scratches a lot of different itches at once. The daily routine of waking up at the crack of dawn, watering your crops, harvesting anything that’s ready to harvest, gradually building up your farm, and getting to know the locals in your new rural home is as soothing as ever. Adventures out into the monster-infested wilderness and a few dungeon crawls, with simple but still compelling hack-and-slash combat, bring a level of excitement and adventure into the mix, and lay the ground for a more plot-driven outing than you’d usually find in a farm life sim.
Farm life and action RPG hit very different moods and vectors of enjoyment, but they’re still different sides of the same coin: simple, satisfying game loops, built around an ever-present sense of forward progress, and with sufficient depth and variety to never become too monotonous. With the right balance, those elements come together to form the most enjoyable sort of videogame comfort food. That’s always been Rune Factory’s magic, and while other games have tried to mimic it to varying degrees of success, none yet have been able to find just that sweet spot. Rune Factory 5 does.
This isn’t to say the new game isn’t entirely without new ideas. The most immediately noticeable difference is the 3D perspective—and not with a fixed camera, like Tides of Destiny and Frontier, but full 3D, over-the-shoulder camera control. That changes the game more than you might think, especially while adventuring; fights feel more dynamic than in the past, with dodges and screen awareness playing a more important role than before. Rune Factory 5 also uses its 3D world to experiment a little bit with more seamless design; dungeons and indoor areas are still separate zones, but with no loading screens separating the town of Rigbarth from the surrounding wilderness, the world feels more connected and cohesive.
That seamlessness also helps blur the lines a little bit between farming and adventuring. Rune Factory always has found ways to intertwine those two sides, but without those artificial walls between the farm and the outside world (dungeons aside), there’s less of a sense of compartmentalisation. You can wake up, check your fields, go out and hunt some monsters, come back and potter around, and then go explore somewhere else—there’s a more organic ebb and flow between different tasks.
A greater focus on villagers fighting alongside you extends that cohesion to the life sim part of the game, too. This time around, you can bring up to three other characters with you, and powerful new Link Attacks create more of a sense of connection with them. There’s a more compelling central narrative this time, as enamored with the idea of harmony with nature as Rune Factory always is, but with more sense of mystery and higher takes to pull it together. None of this is game-changing—again, Rune Factory 5 isn’t looking to reinvent itself—but it all helps to create more of a sense of connection between your mysterious, amnesiac character, their new home, and the people around them.
Speaking of, the romance options are as delightful and charming as ever. They’re an eclectic mix: a princess on the run who has no concept of how the normal world works, a workaholic blacksmith-in-training, a cheerful fox-boy innkeeper, and a literal succubus, to name just a few. In true Rune Factory and Story of Seasons fashion, they come across as archetypal and one-note at first, but with richer and more nuanced characterisation unfurling as you get closer to them. Also in true Rune Factory and Story of Seasons fashion, choosing just one of these attractive suitors to settle down with is a tricky task, especially now that same-sex marriage is fully supported (and I’d have it no other way).
For all its peaceful, relaxed atmosphere, Rune Factory 5 does stumble over its own feet at times. The switch to 3D hasn’t been entirely smooth, with a camera and character movement that can be a little fiddly—lock-on keeps this issue to a minimum in combat, but trying to pick up small objects or efficiently till your fields can be more of a nuisance than it should be. Despite the vibrant art design, the 3D world often feels underwhelming and lacking in character—it’s there to be a backdrop for fighting monsters and exploring caves, not to marvel at. A generally clumsy UI makes a hassle out of basic interactions, like swapping tools and managing your inventory.
Yet even with some technical shortcomings, the charm of Rune Factory 5 is undeniable. It does what the series has always done best: combine the laid-back nature of a farm life sim with the sense of adventure you find in an action RPG, with a lighthearted touch and cheerful tone to tie it all together into something delightfully comforting. A few tweaks to the formula create a more cohesive whole out of those two sides, but at its core, this is the classic, tried-and-true Rune Factory.
Rune Factory 5
Developer: Hakama, Marvelous
Publisher: Marvelous Europe, XSEED
Genre: Farm life sim, action RPG
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.