If you give a man a plough and a bag of seeds instead of a loaf of bread he can feed himself for months. Give a man a fishing rod instead of a fish and he can catch his own food. Give a man a copy of Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon to review and he’ll wonder where several hours have gone. Not all of it was enjoyable, mind you.
Like the previous Harvest Moon games, tolling away on a patch of raggedy land to create a fertile farm full of fruit and fortune is rewarding. The town has plenty of shops to spend your sweat-covered cash on while the townsfolk themselves are a curious bunch, often mid-conversation as you enter their homes and happy to let you eavesdrop. If watering and sowing crops starts getting laborious then you can also pick up a rod and go fishing.
Now here’s where the fantasy element comes into play. Not content with being a dab hand with a watering can, the game’s amnesia suffering hero can equip himself with a sword and shield and venture into caves. Unfortunately, Zelda this is not. These underground sections play more like a merciless version of Gauntlet with foes re-spawning and swarming around you until you find and smash up their re-generator.
Produce grown on the farm can be taken into the caves with you to top up your health, which is fine in theory but they don’t actually restore a decent amount. Worse still is the fact that every time you take a swipe with your sword (or any farming equipment, for that matter) your RP (Rune Points) are drained and if not restored will start ebbing into your health bar. Collision detection is way off the mark too, and annoyingly when you die – which is often – you can’t just instantly load up your last save and continue. Instead the game abruptly throws you back to the developer logos, forcing you to skip past the intro again to load up your last save. Madness!
It’s a shame that these underground sections are so frustrating as on the surface Rune Factory provides plenty of pleasure, with smoothly rendered environments, a whimsical music score and a care-free vibe. When a game is made up of two parts, one good and one bad, it’s a bit hard to recommend.