Rune Factory 5 (Switch) REVIEW – A Well-Made Hybrid
March 25, 2022
When it comes to RPG/farming simulators, it’s hard to touch the creators of the Rune Factory franchise. Marvelous Entertainment is most famous for their Story of Seasons franchise, formerly known in the west as Harvest Moon, a series that dates all the way back to the SNES in 1996. While Story of Seasons set the tone for the gameplay loop of the genre, Rune Factory added a fantasy twist to it all with dungeon crawling and robust RPG elements. Hot off the heels of a re-release of Rune Factory 4 in 2020, Rune Factory 5 on the Switch brings the formula from a top-down 2.5D into a fully 3D world.
You play as a wayward male or female amnesiac, who wakes up after collapsing in the wilderness. After wandering a bit, you’ll encounter a child fleeing from some dangerous insects. This scenario will introduce the basic controls and shortly after, you’re swept up into the town of Rigbarth after the child tells her uncle of your heroism. You’ll then meet a cast of colorful characters with unique personalities who are always wondering what you’re up to. The heroic deeds that led you here nets you a job at the local expeditionary force, and you’re soon given free access to facilities which you can upgrade and expand as the game goes on. The world around the town then opens up to you, if you can defeat or capture the enemies that dwell within the wilds.
Combat in Rune Factory 5 may seem slow at first, but offers a surprising amount of depth and freedom over time. There are many different weapon types, each with their own mastery stats that unlock new techniques when leveling up. In addition, you’re able to utilize extra attack slots after leveling up your character to add extra magic attacks and spells with the R button. While movement can be a bit slippery, once you learn to control your momentum using the dodge system, you can utilize it to create deadly combos thanks to the lock-on targeting. This also makes it easy to charge up your capture device and snag an enemy, Pokémon-style, who can fight by your side and later be used for additional jobs around your farm.
When you’re not out exploring the world or dungeon delving, the farm back at your base will almost always need tending to. Here, you can plant tons of crops, from the conventional fruits and veggies such as corn or peppers, to more fantastic vegetation, such as plants that grow into swords or armor. This doesn’t come without its own work, however, and you’ll need to water, till, and tend to the crops on a daily basis. Weather can make this easier or tougher, since farming in the rainy season means you won’t need to water that day but the summer may not be as kind. You’re also able to sell your crops and anything else you don’t need via a dropbox, which is conveniently located right next to your farmstead, or store them within your living quarters.
All of this gameplay is complemented by a convenient and robust quick-swap system that lets you seamlessly swap between items, tools, weapons and anything else you may need. This makes farming and combat feel breezy and intuitive, in spite of persistently slippery controls, which can get in the way of the more delicate aspects of the game, such as farming or item gathering. This slipperiness can make for some costly mistakes, such as tilling a crop that was a day away from harvest.
Crafting also can feel a bit touch and go. While saving up the money for the various crafting stations and licenses to use them is straightforward and rewarding in most cases, after mastering the basics, it can get a bit confusing. You primarily learn recipes from eating special loaves of bread, with a loaf for everything from cooking to weapon crafting. These are extremely limited, however, and can sometimes not even be consumed if they are too high a level. This leaves aimless experimentation as your most consistent method of recipe discovery, which is unlocked immediately after graduating the beginner tie. This can be fun for a period and upgrading items you’ve made or picked up is much easier, but you’ll soon find bread you can’t eat a frustrating space-taker as you attempt to grind away for precious experience points.
Farming and combat are easily the most engaging forms of gameplay, but the citizens of Rigbarth are anything but lifeless. There are many notable people to meet within the town, with more introduced over the course of the story, and each has their own life and personality. Their character models are also lovingly crafted and match the artwork during dialogue exchanges. The main story of Rune Factory 5 plays out day-by-in-game day and it’s important to keep up with your neighbors as their lives unfold as well. You can befriend nearly everyone and even form romantic relationships with a handful of them, with this entry being the first time you can engage in same-sex relationships.
While romance is absolutely on the table, even your friendships can be built upon to form deep bonds with nearly any character. Though the game isn’t fully voiced, there is a surprising amount of voiced dialogue that always hits the right story beats to bring you into the narrative. By giving characters gifts, inviting them to adventure with you, or engaging in their important life events, you’ll form bonds with them that reveal more about their lives and the games’ overarching story and world. With a select few other denizens also suffering from a similar amnesia to your character, building these bonds feels rewarding and makes the games’ cast a memorable one.
Though Rune Factory 5 offers a ton of engaging gameplay and side quests with a huge stat spread that covers everything from walking, to combat, to cooking, its presentation leaves a lot to be desired. As with other huge Switch RPGs, the graphics in the overworld are bland and archaic. Even though the various creatures and characters look great, the world they inhabit is empty and lifeless. The audio mixing is also a bit off, with the background music being incredibly loud by default. Enemies in the overworld can also be surprisingly passive and be simply avoided in most cases which adds to the blandness. Thankfully, the fast travel system cuts travel time significantly and unlocking key locations makes it easy to get to where you need to without running through the world.
The presentation isn’t the same when dungeon delving or exploring the interiors of buildings, however. Many of these environments are nicely detailed and dungeons are a ton of fun to fight through. A few even have fun shortcuts and resources that utilize farming tools, which makes building a well-rounded character feel extra rewarding. Unfortunately, each dungeon and every monster in the world only spawns once per day, which makes farming for specific drops feel like a slog and adds to the archaic feel of the design. Rune Factory 5 also doesn’t do much to add to the formula of the franchise beyond aesthetics, which is a shame when the jump to 3D feels cheap.
All of these complaints, however, do nothing to detract from the addictive nature of the game. With a deep and lengthy narrative that rewards save files from the previous entry, tons of varied gameplay, and characters with personalities that bring life to the lackluster world, Rune Factory 5 has a lot to love. Whether it’s the combat, relationships, farming, or the wild nature of crafting, the amount of progression here is tremendous and certainly has something for everyone. Even though grinding can feel repetitive, the amount of variety offered in the game allows you to mix things up and keep them feeling fresh. This feeling might not be for everyone, but those who find their niche in Rune Factory 5’s offerings will also find themselves hooked.
A Switch key was provided by PR for the purposes of this review
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Though far from perfect, Rune Factory 5 offers a ton of fun and varied gameplay options supported by a cast of colorful characters and satisfying progression that’s deceptively easy to get lost in.
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