RPGFan: The Rune Factory series is now hitting its third DS iteration; how difficult is it to try to make each game fresh and new when dealing with such a formulaic franchise? What makes Rune Factory 3 stand out from the previous two entries?
Graham Markay: Well, every DS entry in the series has its own fresh storyline and a new cast of characters to get to know. Rune Factory 3 also introduces a number of exciting new features. Befriended villagers will now join you in battle, and the game's new multiplayer mode lets up to three players work together to conquer special dungeons packed with treasure and monsters. The main character, Micah, can also transform into a monster, which comes into play both in combat and in the game's story; he's the only one with a hope of bridging the gap between the human town and monster settlement and getting them to work together.
RPGFan: The Rune Factory games always seem to have a quirky cast of characters. How does this brand new cast measure up to previous entries and what separates them from their predecessors?
GM: It's hard to pick a favorite between the three games, but Rune Factory 3's cast is definitely packed with entertaining personalities. You've got a vain dwarf, a lazy shopgirl with a hardworking, exasperated mother, an eccentric artist who's dying to paint just about everything in all the colors of the rainbow, and plenty of other characters, some wacky and some more serious. Players are definitely going to have a great time getting to know them all!
RPGFan: Does this entry offer more interaction in your dialogue choices? Also, are there more random scenes that you can trigger with villagers throughout the game?
GM: This game has more random events than any Rune Factory before, and there's a huge variety in the things that characters say as you talk to them throughout the day. You can talk to a character five times in a day and you won't see the same text twice.
RPGFan: We're usually dealing with amnesia when it comes to the Rune Factory games, but this time the main character is half monster, half human - what can we expect from the story? Humor? Drama? A little bit of everything?
GM: The plot revolves around the division between the town of Sharance and the intelligent monsters that inhabit the Univir settlement. A feud divided the two towns generations ago, and the prejudices between humans and monsters now run deep. Micah's ability to transform between his human and monster form allows him to move between the two towns, but it's also a dangerous secret that he has to hide carefully; each town would be horrified to learn that he can transform into the enemy.
Of course, it's not all drama and danger. The quirky and eccentric cast provides plenty of moments of levity, and some villagers are more accepting of monsters than others. Since Micah's monster form is a wooly (a sheep-like creature), some villagers find him adorable rather than frightening. But this can be just as dangerous, like when the aforementioned artist decides Micah would look even cuter painted in rainbow colors!
RPGFan: Was it fun to localize a story where the main character is playing both sides of the coin?
GM: The story has a lot of wrinkles that haven't been seen in a Rune Factory game before, so that was a lot of fun to work with. Certainly, the conflict between the two villages leads to a lot of dramatic and exciting moments.
RPGFan: The goal of each new entry in a series is to strengthen upon previous entries. As such, what has been done to strengthen the dungeons and combat aspects of this iteration? More specifically, has anything been done to spice up combat a bit?
GM: A new type of weapon–the dual blade–has been introduced to the game, along with a slew of new weapons and spells. Micah also fights quite differently in his monster form: he forgoes weapons entirely and fights entirely hand-to-hand. Once you knock an enemy down, you can pick it up and throw it around, swing it into other enemies, or slam it down into the ground for an area-of-effect attack.
And you don't have to go into battle solo. As before, you can tame monsters and they'll fight alongside you. Villagers can now also join you in combat, and each has unique weapons and special abilities. It's a lot of fun to experiment with the various villagers and figure out who complements your fighting style best; it might even influence who you wind up choosing as your wife!
Magic seeds are another new addition to combat. Put one down, and it immediately sprouts into a walking plant that will help you fight. You can get a sword plant that'll slice through enemies, a muscular mobile cactus that will hurl monsters across the screen, and many others. Your party can include a magic seed along with either a villager or a tamed monster, so that gives you a lot of different combinations to experiment with in combat.
RPGFan: Speaking of dungeons, how many are there in the main game and what can players expect in terms of variety?
GM: There are five main dungeons that you'll encounter through the course of the game's story. Each has paths that you'll unlock as you progress through the game, and they'll yield new surprises when you revisit them later.
Then you have the bonus dungeons that you unlock early in the game. You can take these on with friends in multiplayer mode, or choose to tackle them solo. These are randomly generated, and can accommodate characters anywhere from level 15 to 150, so they offer virtually endless replayability. They're great to check out when you're just looking to fight some monsters and score some rare loot for your character.
RPGFan: Besides combat, what do you think separates the Rune Factory series from the Harvest Moon games? Would you call it a stand-alone series? Has it been difficult to carve out an identity for Rune Factory that is separate from Harvest Moon or do you always think there will there will always be an association there?
GM: It's been our experience that both series benefit a lot from their association with each other. Harvest Moon attracts a lot of more casual gamers who normally wouldn't pay much attention to an action RPG, but the farming and relationship building of Harvest Moon draws them into Rune Factory. Then they find themselves really enjoying the combat and more action-oriented elements as well. Likewise, Rune Factory appeals to more of a core audience, but a lot of players who pick it up find the farming aspect really engrossing; they then go on to check out other Harvest Moon titles.
It's our hope that the two series can keep developing in parallel, learning and drawing inspiration from each other.
RPGFan: Let's talk a little bit about the online/multiplayer aspects about Rune Factory 3 and how they will function in this entry–what has been done to make them feel fresh and necessary and not tacked on just be there?
GM: Once the bonus dungeons have been unlocked, you can access them at any time by going to a special room in your house. Then up to two other players can join you to take on the dungeons. Any items and experience you pick up there carry over to your single-player game, so they're definitely rewarding to complete. Their integration with the single-player game is also seamless; the dungeons are quick to access, and each should only take 15 or so minutes to complete, so you can play as much or as little as you want.
The leaderboards are a fun way to check out your accomplishments and see how you're measuring up to other players. It gives you a lot of motivation to improve your farm, and to give one of those minigames just one more try to see if you can best your last score. And regardless of how other players are doing, you'll get rewarded for achieving certain scores, so there's a reason for everyone to get online with the game and upload their scores.
RPGFan: There are some Harvest Moon titles that seem to be more newbie friendly. What does this entry provide to keep newcomers from being overwhelmed, but keeping veterans engaged?
GM: For all their depth, the Rune Factory games have always had a very gentle learning curve. There are plenty of tutorials to help you get used to each activity you can do. And of course, the game is totally open ended, so you never have to rush into a new activity until you're ready to try it. If you want to spend your first season in the game farming and not set foot in a dungeon, that's fine. On the other hand, if you just want to bash monsters, you can let your fields grow fallow and make a living on the items you scavenge from dungeons. You can even devote yourself to fishing if you want. Of course, you'll eventually need a well-rounded set of skills if you want to conquer every aspect of the game, but the game never rushes you to try something until you want to.
RPGFan would like to thank Graham Markay and Natsume for taking the time to interview with us. Keep your eyes peeled to RPGFan for an upcoming review on Rune Factory 3!