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October 2022

Rune Factory 5

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Marvelous (EU), XSEED Games (US)
Developer: Marvelous
Release Date: March 22, 2022


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Switch Review - 'Rune Factory 5'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 22, 2022 @ 12:01 a.m. PDT

Set off on a grand adventure in a fantasy world with the latest entry in the Rune Factory simulation RPG series.

Buy Rune Factory 5

Rune Factory is one of the more interesting Story of Seasons spin-offs. The franchise already had JRPG roots in the non-combat areas, so it made sense to add on some simple JRPG-style combat and exploration. It has been quite some time since the last real Rune Factory entry, with the franchise mostly consisting of re-releases since the 3DS release of Rune Factory 4. Thankfully, the dormant franchise has reawakened to give us Rune Factory 5, which is … pretty much the same game as Rune Factory 4 with some new shiny additions. For these types of games, sometimes that's all you need to have a fun time.

As is the case in many JRPGs, Rune Factory 5 starts with your protagonist waking up with a nasty case of amnesia. In this specific case, you wake up in a forest not far from a town named Rigbarth. You save a small girl from a monster and are promptly invited to stay until your memory comes back. In this case, you're invited to become part of SEED, a generic helper organization that solves mysteries, slays monsters, and occasionally does basic chores, like farming. We can't forget about the farming!

If you've ever played a Story of Seasons game, then you'll know how Rune Factory 5 plays. It sticks to all of the standard tropes. You're given a small house and a farm, and from there, you can do whatever you want. Grow crops, chop down trees and smash stones for materials, upgrade your equipment and house, and repeat all of the above until you've become a superfarmer who has more money than the rest of the town.

As always, there are options for making friends and love interests. You can talk to townspeople to gradually build a friendship with them, some of which unlock new items, storylines, or even the ability to ask them to join you in dungeons. A select group of characters can also be romanced. One extremely nice addition to the US version of RF5 is that there is no gender lock on romance. You can marry whoever you want, and the game lets it happen. It's a small but significant improvement that helps the game feel more cheerful and inclusive.

RF5 strikes a good balance between simplicity and complexity for farming and crafting. While you can do the bare minimum and survive, there are mechanics that allow you to improve the soil or craft more effective items, so you're rewarded with better items and more cash for taking the time to plan your actions. You can get new recipes by chomping down on bread, and new farmland comes in the form of flying "Farm Dragons," so you can more easily segment various types of crops. It's not realistic, but it makes it easy to find the correct task to complete.

What separates Rune Factory from Story of Seasons is the RPG element. When you go outside of town, you're effectively venturing into a JRPG world full of monsters and magic. The core combat system involves you choosing a weapon and some magic spells and hitting enemies until they fall over. There's some nice additional depth, such as timed dodges and charge attacks, but at most, it's about as complex as a Zelda game. Dying has minimal punishment, but any action you take uses up the same Rune Points that you use for farming, so you need to make sure that you're using your resources wisely.

Perhaps the only real issue with RF5's combat is that it is too easy for too long. There's nothing wrong with an easy game, but RF5 makes it extremely difficult to struggle against anything in a fight, which devalues some of the fun of creating strong armor or cool weapons. Even if you start the game on the Hard difficulty level, you'll probably have little trouble fighting anything, even above your intended level. This is a common issue with the Rune Factory series, but I wish that the Hard difficulty would provide a little more bite since it's an optional difficulty mode.

One thing that RF5 is great at is making anything and everything you do feel like it's contributing. There's the obvious interplay of crafting, farming and fighting, where you can use materials to create better weapons to face harder dungeons to get better materials for more effective crafting. Everything you do in the game has an associated leveling mechanic. Fighting and farming are obviously two, and when I say everything, I mean everything. You'll level up your Walking stat by walking, the Bathing stat by taking a bath, and the Sleeping stat by sleeping. Each stat builds your overall character stats. You also get SEED points, which can be used to start festivals or upgrade storage space, among other things.

This is a small thing, but it prevents you from feeling like you're doing something wrong if you don't play optimally. If you decide you want to spend a week doing nothing but farming, giving presents, and sleeping, you'll still end up with a bucketload of additional stat levels, which grant you extra benefits when going into a dungeon. There's just something undeniably satisfying about a constant stream of level-ups. It neatly pings the "make numbers go up" part of the brain that Story of Seasons is so good at scratching.

If there's one core problem with RF5, it doesn't feel particularly different. Aside from the obvious improvements in visuals one might expect a decade later, there isn't much to make it stand out from RF4. If you've played RF4 to death, then some new characters, dungeons and settings are enough to give RF5 some value, but otherwise, it's about as safe of a sequel as you can get. That doesn't necessarily make it bad, but ultimately, I found that I'm a touch fonder of RF4.

While RF5 looks better than the 3DS port, it isn't exactly great. The graphics are cheerful and bright, but they felt like something from an older console generation. Games like the Atelier franchise show that the Switch can output some nicer-looking, anime-style graphics, and RF5 settles for bare basics. Again, it's not a crippling problem because the Story of Seasons franchise has never been a graphical powerhouse, but it's disappointing nonetheless. The music and voice acting are by the numbers, which gives the overall presentation an average feeling.

Rune Factory 5 is about as safe and unambitious of a sequel as you can get. It feels and plays a lot like Rune Factory 4, with a different camera angle and new characters. It still contains all of the fun, addictive farming-and-fighting action that the franchise is known for. It's a solid and enjoyable game, and it absolutely scratches the Story of Seasons itch in a very satisfying way. But don't expect Rune Factory 5 to be anything more than a new Rune Factory game.

Score: 8.0/10

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