The original Harvest Moon was something of a surprise back when it came out. Who would have thought that an RPG without any combat would lead to a whole subgenre all its own? Since then, we’ve seen plenty of me-too games and spinoffs trying to carry the same torch. One of the best has been the Rune Factory series, a fantasy-oriented spin-off from the concept that went back a bit and incorporated combat to make things a bit more exciting.
With Rune Factory 4 Special on Switch, an updated version of the 2013 3DS original, we’ve got one of the best of those games on a platform that’s practically designed for this type of game. Love Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley or similar games where cute farming rules the roost? Then you’re guaranteed to love Rune Factory.
After a horrific airship accident – by which I mean you’re pushed off the ship by some bandits while it’s in the middle of a flight – you end up without your memory in the town of Selphia. It’s fortunate for you that the local matriarch, the dragon Ventuswill, is Ventus-willing to help you settle back down and resume a normal life. Turns out that “normal” is relative, of course, when a case of mistaken identity leads you to assuming the role of the local Prince or Princess. You’ll have to farm, fight, administrate the village and maybe even save the world as you struggle to learn more about yourself and the world around you.
This is a relatively simple game in terms of difficulty, so the large amount of content available in Rune Factory 4 Special may seem a bit like overkill. In particular, magic is almost absurdly overpowered when it comes to the combat side of the game, at least early on, so focusing on staves and casting is the way to go. Any skills that you rely on will improve over use, so you can do whatever you want (and should) in order to become more powerful, from farming to battle to…sleeping and walking.
Still, Rune Factory 4 Special has an absolutely enormous amount of post-game content, so you’ll have plenty to do – including a new set of episodes included with the Switch version – and later on the game does become significantly more difficult so you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time powering up.
Of course, work isn’t everything, regardless of whether that work is farming or fighting. You’ll want to get to know the various characters in Selphia as well. Chatting with pals and giving them gifts will allow you to grow their relationship with them, eventually receiving gifts of your own and even allowing them to join you on adventures. As you proceed through the game, new characters will join the town, so don’t worry if your ideal BFF, waifu or husbando isn’t around immediately – it’s possible that they just might show up later.
Rune Factory 4 Special is a remastered take on a DS game released back in 2012. Remastered is something of a stretch, really, as Special’s presentation isn’t significantly improved from the original release. Any information that was available on the bottom screen tends to pop up in a resizable info window, which isn’t ideal but also doesn’t keep you from keeping tack of what’s going on. If you’re looking for the latest and hottest graphical masterpiece, well…you’re not going to get that here, but the stylized look from the original game still mostly holds up.
Rune Factory 4 was a pretty solid game to begin with and this Special version – even if it doesn’t really change up the game’s look all that much – remains a fantastic choice for Switch owners. Even if you’ve already played (and loved) the 3DS original, which was released nearly a decade ago, there’s plenty of bonus content in this update so it might be a good time to give it another spin. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat. Rune Factory 4 Special makes for a great Stardew Valley-esque addition to the Switch’s library.