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Rune Factory Frontier
Platform: Wii
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Neverland
Genre: Action RPG, Simulation RPG
Format: Wii Optical Disc
Release: US 03/17/09
Japan 11/27/08



Scorecard
Graphics: 85%
Sound: 83%
Gameplay: 90%
Control: 85%
Story: 85%
Overall: 88%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me.
 
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Yummy in my tummy? Guess we'll find out!
 
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We are all just bursting with joy to be at this lovely festival. Inside. Where it counts.
 
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Look at my cash crops: now do you want to marry me?
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Kimberley Wallace
Rune Factory Frontier
05/25/09
Kimberley Wallace

After two entries on the DS, the Rune Factory series has finally made its way to a home console. A transition to the big screen could have proved difficult for the series; however, Rune Factory Frontier is a worthy debut on the Wii. Thankfully, Neverland not only jam-packed this game with heaps of things to do, but also listened to fans' qualms about previous installments and made adjustments accordingly. Yes, not only will long time fans be pleased with the outcome, but Wii owners new to the series can also be delighted with the final product. I've played a lot of games in the Harvest Moon realm, and I can say with full confidence: Rune Factory Frontier is definitely the cream of the crop.

Déjà vu: Mist Only Leads to More Farming

While Neverland chose to use characters from the first Rune Factory game for its Wii installment, I wouldn't call Rune Factory Frontier a direct sequel as it's really not a continuation of the prior story. Instead, Rune Factory Frontier is set in a brand new locale featuring some familiar characters. Therefore, people who haven't played previous installments should not be hesitant to give this game a try.

The only thing newcomers may be missing out on is the thrill of squealing when you see the character you will be controlling appear on screen. It's none other than Raguna, the main character from the first DS game. In the beginning of the game, Raguna is on a quest to find his friend Mist. I'm sure some hardcore fans squealed again at the sighting of Mist, as she is also a recurring character. Raguna ends up in the town of Trampoli, where he finally finds Mist. She has started a new life, and wouldn't you know it? Conveniently, once again, the house right next to her is vacant.

Poor Raguna never really stood a chance. As expected, Mist ropes him into adopting the farming lifestyle. Not only is farming on Mist's agenda for Raguna, but she also urges him to explore the island and protect it by dueling with monsters at night. Additionally, Mist is concerned over her recent dreams. In these dreams, she claims something is calling out to her, and she is worried that trouble is brewing. She enlists Raguna to help her figure out this mystery.

Now, I've basically come to accept that Harvest Moon games, in general, will never hold any deep, complex stories. Honestly, Rune Factory Frontier's story isn't that bad, but it suffers from the same fate as previous games: it's a very slow progression without enough jaw-dropping scenes to keep the story afloat. However, since you spend a large amount of your time in this game interacting with characters in town, an interesting cast of characters is almost mandatory in Harvest Moon games to make up for the plot arc.

Thankfully, Rune Factory Frontier provides an eclectic group of characters who will make you want to leave your farm to socialize every day. Let's just say there's never a dull day in Trampoli. Whether it's the innkeeper who loves his alcohol, or the store clerk who could care less about his job, or the solemn lonely pessimist who's just waiting to rain on your parade, there's always someone worth expending the effort to befriend. The conversations will not only change with the season, but each day can bring fresh dialogue. The dialogue will progress based on your discoveries around the farm and in the dungeons. There are also special events, which will net new responses from characters.

I'd also like to note that Rune Factory Frontier can be a challenging game, since it doesn't spoon feed you on what direction to go next. There are mysteries surrounding Trampoli that are up to you to discover, and sometimes you may not know what the next step is. However, the game does offer a great benefit to befriending the townspeople: they will give you hints on how to advance in the game. Some townspeople may even give you gifts that help you progress in the story. I applaud the game for giving you these extra bonuses for taking the time to talk with the villagers.

Not only are the townspeople worth the effort, but so are the potential love interests that the game provides. Each girl has her own distinctive personality and quirk so that even the most selective player will find one to take an interest in. Harvest Moon has always put a heavy emphasis on marriage. I feel, however, that Rune Factory uses marriage as just a bonus and not an end-all-be-all for the game. If you can't find a girl who strikes your fancy, you can remain a life-long bachelor; it's always nice to have a choice in the matter. And while all this socializing and romanticizing is fun, I'm almost certain that the other aspects of the gameplay are the most attractive part of the game.

A License to Farm and Swing a Sword

Rune Factory Frontier has two main aspects to its gameplay: farming and fighting monsters. You'll need to find a working balance between the two to succeed. This can be quite difficult because Rune Factory Frontier offers a multitude of activities for Raguna to partake in. It's really a double-edged sword, because while it's nice to have the freedom to engage in such a wide slew of activities, it can also become quite overwhelming. At times, you may feel there's simply too much to do; however, that's part of the beauty of the game. You can decide what extra activities you want to really focus on, and it's refreshing to know that outside of farming and exploring dungeons you won't be punished for focusing on one aspect of the game more than others. Other hobbies you can explore in the game include: fishing, cooking, forging weapons, crafting items, and raising monsters.

The game also offers a wonderful solution to the burden that you may feel to get everything done in one day: whenever you enter a building of any sort, including your house, time stops. Therefore, you can spend time on forging weapons, cooking, mixing potions, and browsing stores for new items without feeling the intense pressure of the clock ticking. Another time saver is the addition of the "Return" button. Whenever you aren't in a building you can use the return button and arrive back at your farm. This is great for those times when you want to make a long trek out to the forest, since you no longer need to worry about taking the time to walk all the way back to your farm.

Another new aspect to the game is in the inclusion of Runeys. Runeys are spirits that appear around the land. There are four types of Runeys: Grass, Tree, Rock and Water. You can search around Trampoli and collect them for great bonuses. Runeys can be used to make wishes. These wishes can grant you things such as desirable weather, a strengthened bond with your animals, or having certain items and resources appear in abundance on your field. You'll especially want to collect Runeys because they can also be used to create Runey stones, which will unlock certain doors in dungeons. This is key to advancing in the game.

I don't want to give too much away, but while the Runey system was an interesting idea, it does have its drawbacks. They aren't something in the game you can ignore or leisurely collect; you really need Runeys to get by. This isn't always easy as they appear in limited quantities. Personally, I would have preferred less emphasis and necessity on them in the game. They would have been great for an occasional perk here and there, but their importance makes it one more thing you are forced to focus your time on.

The farming system hasn't changed much at all in the game. Don't get me wrong: It's still a vital part of gameplay. Money is not difficult to obtain, but there are quite a number of additions you need to make to your house to see success in the game. Therefore, you need to plan carefully in order to fully enjoy all the game has to offer. Planting certain crops in different areas will also net some story events, so farming is definitely not something that can take a back seat to exploring. Also, if you really want to get into the game, you can use the Wii remote to your advantage. The game allows you to swing it to use your tools and weapons. It's a nice option to have, but it's really not a make or break deal for the game.

I'm sure that the monster raising part of this game has also piqued your interest. I'll admit it's that extra something that adds a little spark to the game. No longer do you have to purchase animals, as once you collect monsters from the various dungeons you explore, they will help you on your farm. This includes animals that will net you eggs, milk, and wool. You can also use your monsters as a means of transportation to get around your farm faster. Monsters, though, aren't all fun and games. They require hard work; you'll have to build close relationships with various monsters if you want to reap the benefits of their help. You also have to make sure they are fed. Monsters are also vital because you can take them in dungeons with you. You can think of them as party members, because not only can you level them up, but they will also fight battles with you.

Speaking of using monsters in battle, you are definitely going to want to bring them along. For me, monsters became essential, thanks to the game using the same tired battle system from previous installments. For those who aren't familiar, Rune Factory bases everything around your HP (Hit points) and RP (Rune Points). Every time you use a tool or swing your sword, your RP is depleted. If you use up all your RP, then your HP is at stake. The game also offers the spa, so you can get back the HP/RP points you spent tending on your farm to fight.

Personally, I think the RP gets used up way too quickly. I felt like I couldn't properly explore places because as soon as I made progress I would be near passing out. If you pass out, you not only sleep through the morning, but you also usually get a cold. It's best to avoid it as much as possible, since time is everything in this game. Once I brought monsters to help, I wasn't doing all the work, which made my RP feel like less of a burden. The game progresses slowly, so for those who want to play through it a bit faster, this is definitely an obstacle.

Also, I wish there was a way to spice up the battle system. Yes, one can classify this as an Action RPG; however, there is very little action to it. You simply swing your sword by pushing a button or using the Wii remote to swing. There are some combos you can do, but they are so simplistic they, too, become boring fast. At least using different weapons enables you to perform different attacks: using a staff grants you magical power, for example. I feel that the developers thought these were solutions to the problem, but to me, they are only minor and I hope more thought goes into this if they do another installment. I had my fun with the battle system, but for something that I need to do day in and day out, I would have liked something a little more complex with some flavor.

Bringing Nature to Life

Will the graphics in Rune Factory Frontier blow your mind? Probably not, but the game looks decent on the Wii. I'd even go as far as to say it's a pretty game. The Harvest Moon games usually do a great job with scenery, adding great detail to make you feel like you're part of the atmosphere. Naturally, I feel like Rune Factory Frontier captures the essence of nature perfectly. It doesn't even use loud colors to make its emphasis; instead it's more a serene setting. I often felt like somebody had used watercolors to unleash the world before me. Additionally, the character portraits add some extra flair to the game along with the cut scenes that are all done in an anime style.

I must say, there's some much needed variety in the music. Each season has its own distinct melody, which does a really good job of matching the tone of the seasons. Certain houses and locations also have different music, so you don't have to worry about the same seasonal tunes creeping in and out of your ear all the time. Some of the music may come off rather plain, but it fits the scenery. The characters also come alive with the addition of voice acting. It's not always present, but when the voice actors are used it definitely adds personality to the characters. Some of the voices are more fitting than others, but I think it added some extra gusto to the game.

The End of the Day

While Rune Factory Frontier is not without its flaws, it's definitely a solid step in the right direction for the series. I really feel that this is the game that long time fans of the series have been waiting for. With its numerous options and outcomes, this is definitely a game you could not only log substantial hours into, but also replay. So, what are you waiting for? It's time to experience all that Rune Factory Frontier has to offer.



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© 2009 Neverland, Marvelous, Xseed Games. All rights reserved.


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