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Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Natsume
Developer: Neverland
Genre: Action RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 11/09/10
Japan 10/22/09



Scorecard
Graphics: 75%
Sound: 85%
Gameplay: 90%
Control: 82%
Story: 83%
Overall: 89%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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She loooves you, she wants to cloooothe you.
 
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Faster-paced combat.
 
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Festivals are still alive and kickin'.
 
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So manly!
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Kimberley Wallace
Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon
12/11/10
Kimberley Wallace

I'm going to be bold and just come out say it: Rune Factory 3 is easily the best game in the series. It's everything Neverland and Natsume promised fans, and its execution is done so well that it's hard to find much to complain about. Rune Factory Frontier was my favorite game in the Harvest Moon realm, however, as good as I thought it was, Rune Factory 3 blew it out of the water. I'll always give a series kudos if it's able to improve upon each entry, and here is no different – Rune Factory 3 deserves not only a round of applause, but a standing ovation.

Amnesia with a Twist

Fans of the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory games know that the lure is not in its story. Honestly, there have always been recycled stories without any sort of depth. Does it ever make fans turn their backs on the franchise? No, because we all know these games are about the gameplay. However, I'll admit my pulse did quicken a bit when I heard that Rune Factory 3 was trying something new, plot-wise. The narrative is still focused around the "amnesiac main character" story element, but instead of just being about that, you're also trying to unite two villages – one human, one monster – who have been told to stay away from each other for ages. The bigger kicker? Your character, Micah, is half human and half monster, so throughout the game you are changing between both of these forms to interact with members of each village.

The amnesia plot device has always worked well for the Rune Factory games because it allows players to feel as if they are piecing together a great mystery as they play. Rune Factory 3 is no different, as it really makes the players wonder how their character came to be a human/monster hybrid and exactly where he came from. Not only is there that mystery going on throughout the game, but there is also the enigma of why the villages can't get along. The two villages don't know exactly why they dislike each other, it has just always been that way. Rune Factory 3 is constantly making your character question if two opposite species can live together in harmony, and most importantly, how on earth your character can help make that happen. Rune Factory 3 does improve significantly in the storyline department; however, it still isn't to the point where it will win any awards or leave you in awe. And as fun as piecing together amnesiac memories is, the amnesia plot element has been recycled and played out at this point. There has to be something else that can be a fun mystery to solve.

So, while the story has a few faults, there is one thing that never fails in Rune Factory: the quirky characters it has to offer. From the household that speaks the opposite of whatís on their mind to the witch in training whose experiments always go wrong to the little girl who is always screaming that she's going to bite you, there's no denying that this cast of characters truly surpasses all the other Rune Factory entries. Their banter will give you a laugh or two and there's even such a wide variety of personalities in your potential mates to choose from that I'm sure there's one that will strike your fancy. There's also a greater variety of dialogue in this game, as you won't get the same responses constantly spewed at you from villagers. Dialogue changes on a daily basis, and depending on the events going on or your own discoveries, the dialogue will alter accordingly. Villagers are also more realistic and interactive; they don't just do the same thing day in and day out, and they also will respond to your presence with a "hello" as you walk past them. All-in-all, the characters are top-notch and they'll make your journey that much more fun to partake in, but the real lure of Rune Factory 3 is obviously its gameplay.

Watch Those Crops Grow and Draw Your Sword – Monsters Are Coming!

The Rune Factory games are focused on two things: farming and dungeon crawling. The great part of this is that you have the luxury of choosing how much time you want to devote to either cause. If you hate farming, it's not the end of the world: you can put in minimal effort and still succeed in the game. The only thing that may disappoint Rune Factory veterans is that it's fairly easy to get money. You can plant a minimal number of crops and still have enough money to buy new weapons and upgrade your farm. So, while Rune Factory 3 is an adequate game to get that farming fix, it will not entirely please those looking for a challenging simulation. Thatís not to say that there arenít positives to the farming system; I did enjoy that, when you pick your crops you have a chance of getting seeds. It happens randomly, but it's just a little fun bonus that makes it so you can enhance your finances. As well, if you put more care you put into your crops, they gain a higher level and price for the extra effort.

Another holdover from previous games is the ability to befriend monsters and have them work on your farm. The monsters aren't quite as easy to befriend as in Rune Factory Frontier, but the extra challenge isn't too much of a detriment to your success in the game. There is, however, a lot of trial and error in figuring out what the monsters want in exchange for friendship. And, of course, just because the monsters become a part of your farm doesn't mean the work is over – you need to make sure they are fed and that you pay attention to them everyday by brushing them. As in previous entries, raising monsters also means you can bring them into battle with you as party members. Rune Factory 3 also has a wider variety of monsters than in previous games, I've been used to the series recycling monsters, but in this entry they put in the effort to add a few new ones. Though while, yes, you can now raise an elephant, let's get down to the nitty gritty of the battle system.

In line with the other titles in the series, Rune Factory 3 uses an action oriented battle system. These battle systems have never been the smoothest out there, but I must say Rune Factory 3 has improved significantly on its predecessors. With this iteration, the battles play out a lot more smoothly; there's no slow down during combat and the battle system as a whole just feels a lot deeper. There's an auto target system that allows you to lock on and face an enemy, and this is handy when there's a cluster coming at you. With that said, my biggest hope is for the Rune Factory series to adopt a more complicated and quicker battle system akin to the Kingdom Hearts series because, as it stands, it still has a long ways to go to get close to perfect.

Still, Rune Factory 3 has the best battle system in the series. Neverland added a lot of new features to keep the battle system fresh, such as introducing a new type of weapon – the dual blade – which is a purely offensive weapon. If used, it can unleash a nasty fury on enemies, but with a price: you will have no shield to protect you, if you decide to use it.

There are new additions to the magic system, as well. On top of those changes, the main character also transforms into a wooley (a sheep-like monster). When in his Wooley form, he fights differently than in human form, losing access to human weapons and fighting like an animal. It adds a bit of a change and extra challenge to the game, since at certain points you have no choice but to use your monster form. Also, as you get your skill level higher in both forms it opens up new attacks for you to use in battle. It works well to spice up the battle system, and it also encourages you to use both forms to unlock all that you can to help in battle.

The dungeons themselves probably won't satisfy the hardcore dungeon crawler fan, but they are adequate enough. There are a total of five main dungeons in the game, though there are bonus dungeons you're able to unlock to take on solo or with a friend in mutliplayer mode. Many of the dungeons were shorter than I would have liked them to be: it seemed like I had them all figured out in a trip or two. Still, it didnít bother me too much, as I felt there was a good variety in the scenery of each dungeon. I also enjoyed how it seemed I would always stumble upon a secret fishing spot while exploring. As for multiplayer mode, I wasn't able to explore it, but I did defeat some of the bonus dungeons solo. I must say, if the dungeons were as fun in multiplayer as they were solo, then they're worth having friends to play with. None of the dungeons take too long to complete and it's great to finally have a Rune Factory game not entirely be a solo quest. Also, the dungeons net enough cool bonus items that carry over into your single player game that it's worth completing them.

One great new addition while exploring dungeons is the ability to bring villagers into battle with you. Once you get your friendship level high enough or complete certain quests, they'll join you in your dungeon crawling. The villagers all have special skills and different weapons, so it's fun to try them all in your party. I must say though, almost all of them started awful, at least until you put the time into leveling them up. The AI isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and often times villagers would run head first into an enemy to fight even when low on health. To be honest, keeping your battle party alive was one of the more challenging aspects of the game, and I'm not sure that's a good thing. The game also offers magic seeds, which you throw down and immediately sprouts a monster-like plant creature (of different varieties, of course) that fights alongside you. They shared the same problem as the villagers, though: dying much too quickly.

The rest of the game is spent doing quests for the myriad villagers. This was great, because it gave me something to do each day; however, you can only complete one quest per in-game day, so it does keep the game at a steady pace. The problem I had wasn't so much with the human quests (they were quite easy), but the ones in the monster village where the requests were more obscure. However, if you ever partake in a request that you're just not up to snuff for, you can always cancel it and go back to it later. There are plenty of quests to choose from, so that was a nice change of pace.

Also, a big hallelujah goes out to Neverland for making the festivals so much more entertaining than ever before. The changes began in Rune Factory Frontier, where these celebrations were more interactive, but in Rune Factory 3, every festival has something new and different. At one festival, I had to get hit by beans that the villagers were throwing at me, and if I got hit by the most beans, I won a prize. None of the mini-games are too easy; I found them to have the right amount of challenge while still being more fun than frustrating. Festivals are no longer simply days with different dialogue, they are days to look forward to. With these changes, thereís more interaction with other characters and the thrill of competition. Festivals were easily one of my favorite aspects of the game, as it was a breath of fresh air for those times when things felt repetitive.

The workshop, pharmacy, and kitchen also return for you to create battle items, mix potions and cook, respectively. What's more, the kitchen is upgradeable, making cooking deeper than ever before. While these are all great aspects, however, much of item synthesis is littered with pointless trial and error and it's not as obvious to make certain items as you think it would be. It's fun to experiment, but I find it hard to believe that it's possible to know the right combinations for everything without using a guide or buying the cooking recipes from the clerk.

The core controls work well but do take some time getting used to. I think a lot of people around here know the "B" button is the universal cancel action button, but in Rune Factory 3 it's actually used to equip items. I stumbled a bit with the controls at first, and the menus, while easy to navigate for the most part, have the same awkward feeling the controls did initially. After playing a few days in the game, I got used to them and they didn't feel obtrusive at all. The controls function well, they just take time to get used to.

Look and Listen – It's All Wonderful

The scenery is beautiful and pleasing to look at in Rune Factory 3. Even the dungeon layouts have more detail and just look a lot better than they have in previous iterations. There's just the right amount of variety, which is always a good thing in a game that focuses around you having a routine. However, the character models are simply ugly. At first, I thought maybe it was my DSi XL that was making the character models seem so awful, so I loaded the game up in my DS Lite only to suffer the same disappointment. Now, the 2D character portraits that come up when you're conversing look quite good, but the 3D character sprites that are moving on the screen look horrendous. So, the game gets an A for its watercolor-like backdrops, but a D for the characters, and that's only because I'm too kind to give out an F as long as there appears to be some effort there.

The music, on the other hand, shined through in the game. My ears liked what they were hearing and they liked it a lot; they had to listen to some similar tunes for an in-game month, and not once did they start to hate what they were hearing. The Rune Factory and Harvest Moon games carry a stigma of having annoying music, but Rune Factory 3 has by far the best I've heard from the series.

The Best Rune Factory Game Yet

It's impossible to deny that Rune Factory 3 is the best entry in the series. It has improved in just about every area it possibly could: the battles are more dynamic, the farming isn't monotonous, the characters are deeper and more intriguing, and the dialogue is full of variety. This is the entry of the Rune Factory series that fans have been waiting for, so stop waiting, and pick up your copy. Even those who have never played the series are sure to find delight in this entry. I'm not sure how Neverland is going to top this game, but I can't wait to see them try with Rune Factory Oceans. This is definitely on my list for one of the best DS games of the year.



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© 2010 Natsume, Neverland. All rights reserved.


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