After Neverland filed for bankruptcy, I feared that Rune Factory 4 would never make a journey to Europe. Now, a year after it arrived in the States, XSEED Games and Marvelous AQL have posthumously treated us to the charming adventure courtesy of the Nintendo eShop.
Inadvertently thrown off the side of your airship after it is ambushed, you tumble through the skies to eventually crash into Divine Wind Dragon Ventuswill, who is more than shocked at your sudden arrival. With the weighty impact having caused the protagonist – either male or female, which is a first for the series – to lose any recollection of their own identity or where they were headed, you are invited to stay in the town of Selphia as a royal guest until you recover. As you are sent to investigate disturbances near the town, you will become entangled in a mystery where monstrous creatures turn into human form once defeated. It’s riddled with enough intrigue to drive you through, for those that invest themselves in the narrative.
Your natural ability to farm and harvest crops, as well as form friendships with the monstrous critters that roam the surrounding lands, sees Ventuswill identify that your talents make you an Earthmate. She, therefore, requests that you put such skills to use to bring prosperity to Selphia, befriending its people and helping to expand the town by luring more travellers from afar.
Such responsibility will see you wake at the crack of dawn every day, to tend to your field and prepare to ship any crops or materials to sell in the day ahead. That’s all part of your routine in Rune Factory 4, but the beauty is that it continues to be an experience that you can approach however you please.
If you prefer to spend your time farming, you can while away your days in-game by buying seeds to then plant, nurture and then harvest them for sale – allowing you to fill your coffers with money that will ease your quest. Befriending monsters will allow them to help you care for your field, automating many of your tasks so that you can concentrate your time elsewhere. Whereas those that enjoy the thrill of combat can stalk the lands surrounding Selphia to neutralise any monsters that cross their paths, selling the wares that they drop for lucrative profit.
Rune Factory 4 is a continual stream of reward, players levelling skills whether they’re quietly fishing, sowing seeds, cooking up a meal and even sleeping. While the benefits aren’t clear at first, delve into the game’s exhaustive menus and you’ll soon discover your answer – a higher sleeping skill raises your maximum HP, RP, strength, intelligence and vitality, for instance.
The combat system in Rune Factory 4 is multi-faceted, allowing players to choose whichever weaponry they prefer to use for any battle scenario that they face. There’s plenty to choose from too, whether that be spears, axes or dual blades, while Magic and Rune Abilities lend other attacks to draw upon. It’s largely one or two-button approach is still in danger of feeling monotonous, but there’s plenty on offer to allow you to play around with different tactics. There’s a commendably steady ramp in difficulty as well, with players able to enlist townsfolk to form parties to tackle the stronger bosses that you will face throughout the story.
On that note, your friendships remain just as important – completing requests for them boosting their trust in you. Conversations sprinkle much-needed personality to Selphia’s setting as the town bustles about their daily lives, and you will begin to memorise the movements of your favourites. Love interest returns with multiple marriage candidates waiting to be swooned, with conversations and gifts still being the best way to someone’s heart. Once the happy day eventually arrives – after the trials of your rollercoaster dating attempts – you can have a child together, which makes for a heartwarming tale.
The fantasy setting to Rune Factory 4 casts you into a visually appealing world, venturing outside the quaint town seeing you wander through Yokmir Forest, the crumbling Water Ruins, or the somewhat chilling Obsidian Mansion. There’s additional content awaiting you beyond the main storyline to lengthen your play time, although the game’s repetitive melodies fail to align with the rest of what is an otherwise spellbinding experience.
Part-farming simulator, RPG and relationship builder, Rune Factory 4 has many strings to its bow, but through cared and intricate design none ever threaten to snap. Neverland’s untimely swan song amounts to their finest effort yet, delivering the very best that Rune Factory has ever been.