Rune Factory 4 Special

 

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Review by · February 15, 2022

Rune Factory 4 Special is the crockpot dinner of RPGs. Marvelous Inc. threw in a smorgasbord of RPG ingredients — town building, dungeon crawling, dating, fishing — and wrapped them up in a massive progression system that applies to almost any action you take (seriously, there are levels for walking, sleeping, and eating). Despite some of these ingredients coming out undercooked, Rune Factory 4 Special combines its mechanics into an overall experience that is much more than the sum of its parts.

At its core, Rune Factory 4 Special is a farming RPG. You spend at least a portion of almost every in-game day buying seeds, tilling fields, and watering crops. This is the main way you’ll make money, which funds all the other activities you’ll want to tackle. While it may sound tedious initially, managing your crops is a quick affair, and by the end of the game I enjoyed the sense of calm brought about by the routine farming. Players more interested in the other portions of the game shouldn’t fret too much, though, as a lot of the farming process can be automated by capturing monsters to sow and water seeds. Whether you take care of your farm yourself or recruit monsters to do it, farming will generally just take part your morning each day, leaving you all afternoon to explore everything else the game has to offer. The first thing I did was get to know the NPCs around the town.

All the NPCs in Rune Factory 4 Special have distinct personalities and loads of dialogue. Even at the end of the game, characters I regularly interacted with had new things to say. By offering gifts and befriending NPCs, it quickly becomes apparent that they have more to offer than just idle chatter. NPCs can give gifts back, offer new items at their store, or follow you on adventures. Depending on the gender you choose at the beginning of the game, you’ll also be able to date some of them.

Beyond interacting with NPCs, I spent a lot of time cooking, crafting armor and weapons, and fishing. All of these tasks produce items you can give as gifts, but for the most part, I did these activities in the service of dungeon crawling. Making use of the crafting system is essential if you want to tackle the harder dungeons without grinding.

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Screenshot From Rune Factory 4 Special
Each area has a different theme and unique monsters to match.

Outside of town, there are several dungeons, each associated with the events of the story. Typically, you get a request to clear out a dungeon, finish it up, and then spend a few days relaxing and farming until you are ushered to the next one. Dungeons are where Rune Factory 4 Special‘s action combat system is introduced. Combat plays out like a top-down hack and slash. You always control the main character, even if you bring party members with you. After the tutorials, you generally have access to a straightforward attack button, as well as a couple of spells and weapon abilities that you unlock as you play the game. Combat is simple, but new enemies can keep you on your toes with attack patterns you aren’t familiar with.

The dungeon crawling in Rune Factory 4 Special is nothing special. Most of the time it feels like you can get by with button mashing, and when you can’t it’s often because a room is loaded with environmental threats and enemies. The game offers limited recovery frames, so it’s easy for one or two stray hits to snowball into a death in crowded rooms. Frustrating encounters are made worse by each dungeon having a recommended level that can goad you into it before you’re ready. In many cases, your gear is going to be more important than your level; if you haven’t been keeping up with your crafting, you may have a lot of trouble with late-game dungeons even if you are above its recommended level.

Although there isn’t much depth to the dungeon crawling, it’s serviceable enough that the combat wasn’t a turn-off for me. The game also forces you to pace yourself between dungeons, so when you finish a difficult dungeon, you get a nice break before the next one advances the story. Like many other elements of the game, Rune Factory 4 Special‘s story is charming, but nothing to write home about. After a slightly contrived opening in which you become the prince and protector of a farming town, the game moves into three plot arcs which relate to the protagonist’s special powers and their friendship with the dragon that lives in the town’s center.

Screenshot From Rune Factory 4 Special
The story is carried by charming dialogue and characters.

I was surprised to see that Rune Factory 4 Special’s story covers some interesting themes, such as the impact self-sacrifice has on those around you, but the story moves a little too fast to really dig into the topic. Major events will often happen one after the other, so the emotional impact of the first event fails to sink in as you’re on to the next thing. There are also only a select few townsfolk who are highly involved in the story, which was disappointing for me as some of my favorites didn’t have much plot-relevant dialogue. The story is always charming and amusing, though, even if it isn’t particularly deep.

The plot does provide good background and motivation to continue farming and trekking into dungeons. Your character being a prince also provides narrative background for the game’s town-building system. As you fulfill requests for townsfolk, you earn Prince Points, which can be spent on town festivals, shop expansions, or enhancements like increased inventory slots. The festivals were my favorite thing to spend Prince Points on. Each one unlocks a new festival, which centers around a unique minigame. Some of these festivals are things you might expect, like cooking and fishing contests, but there are also some odd ones, like my favorite, the De-Fluffing Festival. In that event, you chase around a giant sheep and see how much fluff you can shear off in a short timeframe. Regardless of which minigame it is, you always compete against other townsfolk, and they can be hard to beat if you haven’t raised your skills enough!

I don’t love any particular element of Rune Factory 4 Special’s gameplay, but the game does a great job of making sure you are never doing something long enough to get tired of it. The game is full of things I like doing for about 30 minutes at a time, and it does a great job of making sure I’m only doing them for 30 minutes. Farming can be tedious, but it’s quick and there are tools for making it quicker. Dungeons can be frustrating, but the game makes sure they never overstay their welcome. While the game could easily feel like a slog, the pacing ensures it feels cozy and relaxing for its entire runtime.

Rune Factory 4 Special Farming
You can farm some comically large vegetables in Rune Factory.

The pacing of the gameplay is only harmed during the few occasions where progress is gated behind RNG. First, once you’ve befriended the character you want to romance, you can ask them on a date once per day. The issue is it’s almost entirely random if they agree, and you can’t do much to increase your chances. You might be trying for weeks or months in the game before you can progress the relationship at all. Additionally, the third arc of the story is gated behind an event that happens at random. After finishing act two, you could be waiting a while before you get more story content.

The presentation of the game also feels dated. This makes sense since Rune Factory 4 originally came out in 2012 on the Nintendo 3DS. There have been some improvements in Special, but most of the graphics haven’t aged well. The exceptions to this are the 2D portraits of each character, and the animated intro you see the first time you meet the love interests. These animations are short-lived, but they’re a lovely way to show you the best version of each character right off the bat.

Rune Factory 4 Special is a game that throws the kitchen sink of RPG mechanics at the player. Almost every RPG player will find elements they like and elements they don’t like or find tedious. Fortunately, Rune Factory 4 Special lets you play the way you want and makes sure you never spend long doing something you don’t like. Despite being a game where I didn’t love any particular element, by the time I was finished I had loved almost every minute of my time with Rune Factory 4 Special.


Pros

Great gameplay pacing, lovable cast of characters, widely varied gameplay.

Cons

No particular gameplay element shines, visuals do not impress, RNG gates some content.

Bottom Line

While no particular element of Rune Factory 4 Special stands out, the game sums to a better experience than its component parts.

Graphics
65
Sound
75
Gameplay
75
Control
75
Story
80
Overall Score 85
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Brian Mackenzie

Brian Mackenzie

Brian is a news editor at RPGFan with a minor addiction to Fire Emblem games. When he isn't obsessing over his unit's stats, or writing news, you can find Brian writing ideas for his Dungeons and Dragons game or hanging out with his pet lizard.