STAFF REVIEW of Rune Factory 4 Special (Xbox One)

Monday, January 3, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Rune Factory 4 Special Box art Have you been trying to find a relaxing game where you can farm produce and flowers at your own pace? What about one where you can cook a bunch of meals? Or an adventure RPG where you can fight monsters and explore dungeons? What about a game that does all of this, and more, but also looks adorably cute? That’s where Rune Factory 4 Special comes in, a remaster from the original 3DS game from back in 2013. Rune Factory is a spinoff from the STORY OF SEASONS games, which used to be Harvest Moon, so if you’ve played either of those series, you’ll have an idea of what to expect.

For those new to the series, Rune Factory 4 Special will allow you to play however you like, be it the life of a farmer, cook, adventurer, fighting or taming monsters, crafting, simply being a social butterfly making relationships with people around town or a mixture of all aspects. Be it newcomer or series veteran, Rune Factory 4 Special will cater to any type of fan, adding plenty of new content for those that already put countless hours into the original 3DS version almost a decade ago.

After an interesting encounter with some thugs on an airship soaring through the skies, events occur and you end up falling from the airship to the land below. Thankfully you end up relatively unscathed as you just happen to fall on top of Ventuswill, a dragon that watches over the lands of Selphia. This fall has caused you to lose your memory, unsure of not only who you are but your original intentions and why you were on that airship.

Thankfully Ventuswill is a friendly dragon, watching over the people of her land, yet unable to leave. After a brief conversation, you’re invited to not only live in the castle and be a member of their community as a member of royalty, but are also given a room and a ‘job’ to earn your keep. You’re simply tasked with planting some turnips and other small jobs, eventually earning the trust of the citizens and being offered numerous jobs such as cooking, exploring, fighting monsters and crafting numerous items, along with farming.

As you earn your keep you’ll take on more responsibilities, though you’re able to focus on whatever tasks you wish at your own speed. Want to take a few days to simply talk to everyone around town to learn their story and likes? How about spending a few days just farming in your backyard garden, to either make and cook dishes or sell for profit? Or maybe you have the itch to adventure the nearby forest and caves, taking on monsters, bosses and looking for treasure. Each day may bring you closer to returning your memories and curing your amnesia, though it’s going to be quite a lengthy journey, taken at your own pace.

So if you played Rune Factory 4 all those years ago on 3DS, you might be wondering why this version has “Special” in its title. Not only is it a remaster with updated HD graphics, but there’s a handful of additional modes and bonuses as well. Dual audio allows for English or Japanese in the main story, though there’s very little voice work overall here, so it’s not as drastic as an addition as you might expect. The graphics are highly improved from its 3DS roots, as going from a small 3DS screen to large TV’s is no easy feat without it appearing pixelated and stretched, and while it’s not perfect, as it simply seems higher resolution, it still looks as though it’s a 3DS game in every other aspect.

In the original game you were able to choose one lucky suiter to eventually marry if you chose, starting a family, and while this was a cute addition, you never really saw what happened to the couple after the credits rolled. This is where Newlywed Mode and Another Episode additions come in. Newlywed Mode allows you to go on an adventure with your wife or husband from your regular game save, having some more time to bond with them in a whole new scenario that centers around them in a unique undertaking. This is also where you’ll see new animations as characters talk to one another, previously just static drawings, and some newly recorded lines.

Another Episode is simply a quickly voiced story about marriage candidates, only having two or three static pictures, but telling a story about the character, able to choose each of the main townspeople you meet in the main game, including Ventuswill. If you already mastered Rune Factory 4 in the past, you’ll be happy to know there’s an even more challenging difficulty level, Hell, making adventuring even more difficult for those that crave it. For players like myself that never got around to playing the original release, I appreciate the effort that went into adding more content and not just making a quick port to consoles on the TV.

As you embark on your adventure, you’ll first choose to play as male or female, though in a really odd way that I’ll leave to you to experience. Once you go through the first bit of narrative and are then set on your own, you’re able to play in any way you desire, never forced to focus on one thing or another. Feel free to play Rune Factory 4 Special completely as a farming game, or maybe spend hours fishing. Want to cook or craft, you can do that too. Maybe you’ll talk to residents, finding out their likes and able to give gifts, eventually able to pursue a romantic relationship if you desire. Or maybe you want to have the best gear in the game, exploring dungeons, fighting monsters and taking down fearsome bosses. It’s completely up to you how you want to live your life in the land of Selphia.

Everything you do has a skill level, raising the more you do it. Running around town a lot, your skill will go up. Farming every day, skills go up. Swinging swords, hammers, sickles or casting spells? Yup, you’ll improve those as well. Even watering your crops, bathing and everything else you do has skills to improve in should you wish.

While not forced, the relationships you can build in town can play a large part, not just narratively, but in the game as well. You can become close friends, have people fight alongside you in battle, and even date or marry one lucky person. It should be noted that it’s clear the game is a little dated, as there are no same sex options allowed, so you only able to date and eventually marry one person from the other sex if you’re able to improve your relationship with them. Each character is very unique, each with their own personalities and able to take on dates, so there’s sure to be some you’re enamored with, and others you might avoid.

Maybe you’re not interested in creating relationships, so why not befriend some monsters and turn them into pets to keep on your farm? Take great care of them and give them some fancy meals and maybe they’ll return the favor by helping you on your farm with simple chores. There might even be certain pets that will give you special items, used in a variety of different recipes and more, so be sure to experiment.

A large part of becoming a part of the town is making choice of what to do with your Princess Points. These allow you to create a better town and attract new guests and tourists. Each day you’re given a choice of tasks to fulfil at the Request Box for certain residents. Complete these objectives and you’re rewarded with items and Princess Points. These points are then used for a number of different things, such as setting up a Festival for your town, upgrading your bags and much more. Funny enough, this Request Box speaks to you, and seemingly only you. I wonder why? Basically you want your town to grow, so taking on these tasks is how you slowly start to do so.

Farming is a large part of Rune Factory 4 Special, and though you never are really forced to, I found it quite relaxing to do so in my off time. You start with a hoe, needing to till each square on your gridded garden. Once the soil is tilled you can then place seeds on it, but will also need to ensure they are watered each day if you want them to grow. You can eventually craft a fertilizer bin to place weeds and other plants in to help your crops go healthy and more bountiful as well. There’s a good handful of different crops, flowers and more to grow, some simply used for selling, while others can be used for ingredients in cooking recipes if you go down that route as well.

If you’d rather play Rune Factory 4 Special as a light hearted take on an RPG, you can do that as well, swinging a handful of different weapon types and magic spells at your enemies. Different weapons allow you to find one that suits your playstyle, either having a heavy slow high damage weapon, or a quick slashing low damage one instead. Magic is another viable option, but you need to keep in mind that almost everything you do utilizes stamina, so you’ll need to rest or eat food if you want to refill your meter. Having a local resident fight alongside you in a dungeon is fun to have some company, but don’t expect them to do much other than the odd attack. The combat itself is quite basic as well, but can be fun when you start to unlock and upgrade your weapons to higher tiers. Bosses aren’t incredibly difficult, but make sure you have some healing food or items just in case.

Cooking is quite simple given you’ve learned recipes and have the corresponding ingredients. If you have the right components you can simply choose how many to make and that’s it. Super simple. Dishes can be a great source of income, as they generally sell for much more than the base components, or can be used as health food and more when adventuring, it’s up to you. Forage enough materials and you’re also able to craft items and upgrade as well, even adding effects based on which materials you fuse with it. It’s also a simple system, but quite fun to play around with, making some unique items along the way for your dungeon adventures.

Seeing the graphical differences from the original 3DS version compared to this one is more subtle than drastic. While the artwork and everything looks cleaner overall, especially the character drawings, the game itself as a whole still looks and plays like a dated 3DS title though. Being able to play however you want, focusing on farming, cooking, relationships or adventuring is really its best strength, never forcing you down a singular path. This results in many hours of gameplay if you want to see and experience everything Rune Factory 4 Special has to offer.

With a new version in the works and coming out shortly, Rune Factory 4 Special is a great introduction to the series for newcomers and a great trip down memory lane for returning players, complete with a few new things to experience. It may feel dated at times, but it can be quite relaxing to farm one day and dungeon delve the next, all while giving gifts to your love interest.

**Rune Factory 4 Special was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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