For many years there has been a gaming franchise that boasts one of the most dedicated fan bases in the history of games, yet in general it seems to fly under the radar for most folks. Most people are skeptical about any game that can be described as ?farming simulation,? but it would be a crime to write off Harvest Moon with such a simple description, for such a phrase can never hope to sum up the true merit that the longstanding series has displayed. Other than a few attempts along the way, HM has remained virtually unchanged, notably slow to take full advantage of the powers that new hardware has to offer, as was the case in Harvest Moon: DS. Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, however, aims to change that, not only evolving to suit the DS, but incorporating RPG elements into the tried and true HM farming experience. This change in theme, coupled with numerous alterations to basic elements, does have a very visible influence upon the game as a whole, providing a new atmosphere where we can grow radishes to our hearts? content. Despite these changes, the game remains very similar to the previous installments in the franchise, but depending on one?s point of view, this can be the game?s greatest strength or its most significant flaw.
In terms of objectionable content, Rune Factory performs admirably. There is no profanity, nor vulgarity to speak of, and the dialog itself is written in a very simple and easily accessible manner that proves to be very child friendly. While a major portion of the game does involve violence, the way in which it is incorporated should prove to be minimally offensive. While your character fights with a variety of adversaries, battles are mild and involve no blood at all. Characters rarely flinch in combat, with some attacks occasionally knocking either the player or a monster to the ground, and after a certain amount of hits monsters are rendered temporarily invincible, signified in classical manner by a flashing character model. Defeated enemies are never killed and the game makes a point of informing the player that when defeated they are returned safely to their original world and, indeed, it is to save the monsters that the player fights them, toning down the violence a bit.
In terms of RF?s social message, it hits one possible stumbling block in that the character is permitted to purchase and consume wine from the local pub. While doing this actually proves harmful, decreasing the available stamina for the day, even more disturbing is a later reference where the character implies that he is not old enough to drink, though this line may well be due to a translation or localization error. Other characters are portrayed as ?regulars,? with at least two making comments on their drinking habits, one even saying ?my friend?s say that I drink too much. They?re probably right.? On a more positive note, the game hints that there may be some general racism in the population among humans, elves, and dwarves, but at least one character is said to have been trained by a dwarf and he proudly proclaims this fact if given the chance, showing that not everyone buys into the racism. Another character muses on the possibility of a city in which all races could live in peace, and one major character is also an elf.
Sexuality in Rune Factory is just as limited as in all other Harvest Moon games. While a primary goal of the game is marriage, the topic is approached in a very family-friendly manner. ?Courting? is pursued in exactly the same manner as befriending another character: ?Love points? are earned by talking to a girl, giving her gifts, and participating in festivals with her. Eventually she will reach a point where the player may propose to her, at which point the scene will shift to the church where the marriage is taking place. Following that point the girl will live in the player?s house and will have slightly different responses when talking, but sex is not mentioned at all. It should be noted that in order to get married one must purchase a double bed, but the character and his spouse are never shown sleeping together in it, as when choosing to sleep for the night the screen just goes black and then fades back in the next morning.
Other than the game?s social message, the only other problem some might have with the game is the magic that is used. While previous Harvest Moon games have usually included some manner of ?mystical? characters, such as fairies, fortune tellers, and enchanted stones, Rune Factory has a moderate level of fantasy magic worked into the combat system. Spells are obtained by purchasing spell books and they provide advantages and abilities in combat that are usually related to an elemental power. The game features no chanting or rituals with regard to this magic, but monsters and weapons often exhibit certain innate ?elemental? power and magical items can be obtained through mining and from defeated enemies. Monsters themselves are said to have been summoned from another world and brought into the current one through magical devices that fill the caverns.
Rune Factory does a good job translating the beloved Harvest Moon mechanics into a new environment that finds excellent ground between High Fantasy and rural farm life. The game is generally polished and well designed, taking few risks, but at the same time making several advancements and refusing to simply march in step with previous games in the series. New additions make pleasing diversions, but cannot ultimately change the face of the game as many may have been expecting. RF is a great game that combines solid Harvest Moon mechanics and a new world with minor changes to effectively recycle the game into a fresh experience. Combining these alterations with its child-friendly content and simple yet addictive gameplay, Rune Factory is sure to please people from many different age groups. Anyone not familiar with the Harvest Moon series will find Rune Factory a great introduction and may well find a brilliant series that they had missed before. Though certainly not without its flaws, Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon is a solid game that deserves more acclaim than it will likely ever get.
» By Jesse Porch, Plain Games. Published 3/6/2008 1:27:28 AM.