Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
I wonder…when I made the post last week about cancelling the FFVII project, did no one react because they knew I was doing an April Fool’s joke…or because no one really cared?
Yesterday I (predictably) caved in and purchased a DSi. I told myself I didn’t need one, as my DS Lite was still performing wonderfully, and that I had little use for a new model with two cameras and a lack of a GBA slot. But something about Nintendo’s portable releases always manage to hook me in. I was offered $70 for trading in my DSL, and I had $100 of spare change I’ve been meaning to cash, so I figured what the hell.
So far, I don’t regret the purchase. The DSi has a real slick interface, the camera works very well, and Nintendo has a way of turning mundane things like listening to music or editing photos into a game in itself; the music visualizer is a lot of fun, and the sound recording is a pointless but novel distraction. The photo editing is also pretty neat, as anyone can a bunch of silly effects without requring a master’s degree in photoshop.
If I have one complaint, other than the GBA slot removal, it’s that the actual handheld doesn’t feel as “nice” to hold as the DSL. Maybe it’s because the system is fresh and requires a few days of sweaty palms to mold itself, but the texture doesn’t feel as durable, making me a bit more careful in how I’m handling it. I also can’t stand the little edge bumps they added, since I can’t stand edge bumps in general.
Anyway, I’ve got a new review for you. As was the case with Skate 2, I was quite cautious of how to approach this game, as it was my first experience with a long running series. I told myself that I wouldn’t let other reviews influence me, but seeing people praise it so much, whereas I found numerous flaws, left me a bit concerned. Was I not “getting” it?
Regardless, that’s why we have multiple reviewers out there in the world. Don’t just listen to one or two guys, unless their opinions tend to mirror yours at all times. I wish I had someone like that…
In the opening of Rune Factory, main protagonist Raguna is on his last legs, ready to collapse from exhaustion and starvation, when at his most critical moment he stops in front of young Mist’s house. In his final breaths, he pleads with the sweet young girl to give him some food and water. Mist responds by giving Raguna a hoe and water bucket; either Mist is a firm believer of the old Chinese proverb, or she’s some sort of sadist.
In any event, Mist quickly realizes that Raguna needs food, badly, and nourishes him back to the world of the living. After a brief introduction, we learn that Raguna suffers from amnesia (an unprecedented plot device for RPGs), and that he needs a place to stay and do some remembering. Taking some lessons from Tom Nook in opportunism, Mist eagerly offers to let Raguna stay at her spare house…provided he does some chores around the farm.
So begins the main premise of Rune Factory, an RPG-enhanced spin-off of the long running Harvest Moon series by developer Natsume. Adding a dungeon-crawling, monster battling mechanic to a slower-paced, farming and harvesting mechanic should make for a great combination, but this shaky marriage might end up dividing gamers who either prefer fast paced battles, or relaxing, stress-free agriculture.
Indeed, it’s the RPG veterans who might feel the most cheated; While most games begin with the protagonist carrying little more than a wooden sword (if even that), Rune Factory starts Raguna off with a hoe, a water bucket, and a barren, unattended field. Mist may seem attuned with nature, but that hasn’t stopped her from neglecting her garden, and it’s up to you to dust the crops, pull the weeds, and water the plants until you can manage some profitable produce.
Want to take a break from the farming and go explore some caves? Too bad, because you won’t get access unless permitted by the Mayor of the town, and he’d rather have you sweating it in the field rather than take care of his growing monster problem. Once you’ve fulfilled a certain quota, you’ll be allowed to explore the caves, but don’t expect to get real far without a proper weapon, armor, and supplies. And guess what: that stuff isn’t free.
Water and seeds may make your garden grow, but without a steady supply of gold, Raguna won’t survive the enemy-filled dungeons. Pulling weeds and watering seeds is an easy enough task, but as you continue working, and you’ll quickly drain your RP (rune points), the equivalent of stamina. Once the RP bar is empty, your HP drains next, and once it reaches zero you’ll pass out on the spot. This isn’t a problem as long as you’re outside (the money-grubbing villagers are at least nice enough to drop off your weary body at your house, where you’ll always regain consciousness), but lose your HP in a cave and it’s an instant game over.
After several hours of hoe-grinding, you should acquire enough money for weapons and armor so you can explore the cave for some actual grinding. Littered around each area are machines that continuously spawn creatures for players to dispatch; standing near a machine and defeating each monster that pops out is a good way to raise those levels, but in order to advance to the boss, all the machines must be destroyed. Since leaving the cave will reset all the destroyed machines, it becomes necessary to have enough supplies to traverse the whole area in one go. Fortunately, farming can be done inside the cave as well, so as long as you’re planting crops in-between the monster mashing, you can grow the crops needed to replenish your RP.
The rest of the game involves getting to know the quaint villagers in town, who are nice enough to start Raguna off with the basic tools to grow a decent garden. Weapons and items, however, don’t fall under the new neighbor promotion, not even the curing of status ailments in the local hospital (although if you’re flat broke, the doctor will cure you “just this once”, indefinitely).
The visuals are solid enough, with everything rendered in 3D, although it may prove difficult to discern one townsperson from another without bringing up their portrait during conversations. The controls are also adequate, allowing for a quick swap between farming and combat items, but the touch-screen features are pretty rubbish; you can use the stylus to lay down a path for your character to follow, but if there’s an object obscuring the way, he’ll get stuck, but he won’t stop. You’ll have to touch the part of the road that’s cutting him off. It’s a poor use of the DS touch-screen, ultimately making the standard controls the only one that works.
Make no mistake, Rune Factory requires a big commitment, but with enough patience and playtime, players will be able to raise several crops leading to profitable produce, as well as raising monsters of various shapes and uses to aid Raguna in battle (all enemies are, in fact, creatures taken out of their habitat and thus fighting out of fear, and every monster defeated battle is instantly sent back to their own home. Mist even congratulates Raguna for every boss he defeats, as he is in fact “saving” said creature…how very Nintendo friendly). And speaking of commitment, courting the womenfolk enough times can lead to an eventual marriage, although considering how young some of these Japanimated girls appear, you can’t help but wonder just how liberal this farming community is.
Ultimately, this farming/RPG hybrid is an acquired taste, but players choosing to roll up their sleeves and put enough hard work on the farm will enjoy the taste of their juicy vegetables and milk fresh off the cow’s teat.
Final Score: 73%