Your gender is decided by a simple dialogue choice (which you can change before confirmation):
- I’m flyin’ high, baby! (Male, default name Lest)
- Goodness, I’m so high up! (Female, default name Frey)
It’s… just a little strange considering how Lest doesn’t seem to behave in any way that might make him exclaim as such, but whatever. This is anime farming plus JRPG, spun off the Harvest Moon branch. Maybe it’s because Lest starts the game proper with amnesia, so this initial impression is totally off-base from the general Good Boy vibe than his apparently originally vaguely daredevil (?) personality.
Yes, your player character does start off with amnesia, kicked off an airship by an incompetent pirate/kidnapper/whoever subordinate, to land onto the back of town’s guardian dragon, Ventuswill. Assuming you are the prince – you are not by the way; the prince himself shows up early into the opening – you are then thrust into royal duties anyway. Don’t forget the farming!
Welcome to Rune Factory 4 Special, an updated version of the original 3DS title now finding its home on the Nintendo Switch, featuring various new additions, cutscenes, and improved artwork. If you’re a fan of Stardew Valley, you might want to snap this up immediately.
For starters, the 2D sprites are higher resolution, and the 3D models are smooth enough for upscaled ones. The areas like the town and the castle, and the wild lands beyond are fairly distinct from each other, with their own colour palettes and terrain. Most interactible objects that you can read up for more flavour text have their own arrows hovering over them so you can check them out. Since you can opt to sleep in just about anyone’s bed for whatever reason, kudos to the localization team for also having a surprising variety of lines to accept or refuse to cozy up.
Some tracks have been overhauled, with fans reporting on Autumn Road as a prime example. This would be a subjective point, so depending on how fond you are of certain tracks, then do keep this in mind. You have both the English dub and original Japanese available off the bat, so just pick the track you prefer.
It being a console game, there are unfortunately no buttons you can remap. I found some of them a little awkward, wanting A to be the general Use button, but it won’t plant the seeds (it’s B, instead). The inventory system can feel a little clunky on the Switch. As someone who hasn’t played the original, I’m not sure how much different it would be with a secondary touch screen.
Other than not being used to those buttons, your player character does control well enough, even if it can sometimes seem like you’re sliding around just a bit. Farming actions like tilling, watering and planting are clearly marked with a highlighted square so that you know where you’re aiming.
The combat is fine, with simple weapon combos and spells you can utilize. Just mash that button! The arc of weapons are generally where you’d assume they are, so no major problems there.
- Wake up at 6AM
- Water the crops
- Till land if needed
- Sell whatever you want to sell
- Cook something from your harvest where applicable
- Check requests
- Fill requests
- Use Points to host festivals, upgrade certain things
- Buy seeds to replace any harvested crops
- Buy things you forgot to buy the other day or when the shop was closed
- Chat up the villagers
- Gift them things, especially the one you want to romance
- Maybe fish
- Maybe go into the wilds/dungeons
- Advance plot (?)
- Celebrate festival
- Anything else goes here
If you imagine a whole string of “if and only if” statements, you can grasp the general core gameplay loop of Rune Factory 4 Special, with the whole dungeoning element, action RPG thrown in. The combat serves more as something else to do between the farming, and not necessarily the biggest draw. If you bring an AI partner along, I honestly can’t tell if it’s just completely dumb or I need to get them closer to the monster for them to actually attack. There’s Hell Mode difficulty for the fanatics, but if you’re in only for the whole farming, I’d recommend to stick to easy.
If you were wanting to have a “Best Friends” relationship/effectively-a-marriage with a character of the same gender, it is not present here. It’s easy to tell if a character is a marriage candidate to begin with, because they get animated cutscenes when you talk to them. Some characters do have certain requirements, so it may not be immediately obvious you can try to woo them.
With Newlywed Mode, you can unlock a new story with your chosen spouse of that run, and learn a little bit more of life after marriage. Another Story is DLC with even more snippets of married life. Somewhat oddly to me, you can read Another Story without starting up a game – or at least, that was the case for the first one – and could be considered spoilers for those who want to go in blind.
Keeping the core gameplay loop in mind, you get better at your various tasks by… pretty much just continuously doing whatever you do, a lot. The early game will see you gain plenty of levels from anything including tilling the land, watering, or simply running around town. It’s not especially distracting, and you’re already doing the tasks anyway, so no matter what, you will be getting something out of it.
Festivals are a bit more flexible in this game, as you decree them through your royal orders as part of your job to bring more tourists in. Choose what festival you want to happen, so you can plan ahead of time when you’re actually ready. Upgrades like backpack space can be done through your orders, so be sure to fill those requests!
Perhaps one of its greatest weaknesses is a certain lack of customization. While you are able to obtain some outfits, hair, eye, skin colour are not possible to change. It’s a shame that there isn’t the same-gender marriage, as I would’ve been curious to see how it would be added into this refresh of an older title. Regardless, there is a certain relaxing quality to the rhythm and routine of the whole farming setup, even if it’s not precisely my kind of game. The characters all have their own charm, and the localization does add to it.
Perhaps this will pave the way for the next game in the series after the original developer of Rune Factory folded. We’ll see if that happens, and what changes they’ll make!