Rune Factory 5

Rune Factory 5 is a game so incredibly disappointing that I have come out of retirement to complain about it.

The way I would describe this game is: It’s like no one at the developer was familiar with crafting games other than Atelier, and then they crammed RF4 to see what the series was like, and then half-assed the production of the game.

For those who don’t know, back in 2013, the developer of the Rune Factory series, Neverland, went out of business. 2012’s Rune Factory 4 was their final game, a masterpiece, and it was assumed that the series was dead. But Marvelous picked up some of the people from Neverland, and finally a couple of years ago they announced a sequel. This game, ten years in the making, was made by people who don’t seem to have any idea at all why Rune Factory was such a beloved series.

First, from just a performance perspective, this game is absolute shit. I would often leave my room in the morning, go stand by the field, and have to wait for the field and crops to populate because the game struggled to load the 8 x 8 field. On more than one occasion fast-travelling would cause a crash. You can clip through everything. It’s a mess. It’s honestly shameful. The Switch isn’t the king of processing power, yeah, but you look at a game like fellow Switch-exclusive New Pokemon Snap, which was absolutely gorgeous, and you wonder wtf was going on.

But then the question of what the performance issues are merges with what’s just terrible game design. The switch from top-down to full 3D seems to have been done just because they could. At no point did anyone on the dev seem to consider that the mainline series was always top-down because that provided a superior experience. The guiding principle seems to have been, “They only reason this wasn’t a full 3D open world was because it wasn’t technically possible in 2012,” instead of “the old team did this for a reason.”

But then questions of performance and bad game design merge with questions of sequel laziness. This game copies and pastes mechanics, ideas, and even characters from Rune Factory 4 without ever once considering if they work with the full 3D world, or the story, or the aesthetic. It just does things RF4 did, presumably because the team was told RF4 was loved by the fanbase and did no other research into the series. It never considers that things RF4 did might have been good things in the context of RF4 and they might not work in a game so wildly different, or that fans of RF might not just want the same things over again.

Because now all of these merges with questions of diegesis, and whether there’s any narrative cohesion in any way, shape or form.

The end result of this huge giant mess. I don’t even know where to start.

Like, in moving the game to full 3D, they removed the game from a grid system, but kept grid-based mechanics, but didn’t program in any compensatory mechanics. So just properly aiming farm tools has become a living nightmare. I’ve never accidentally destroyed my own farm as much as I have in this game. I keep accidentally destroying plants with the hammer and missing watering attempts and chopping the empty spaces next to twigs.

And they kept throwing mechanics which only made sense because the top-down, grid nature meant accuracy was simple, whereas in RF5 I consistently throw items over the shipping bin because the character is taller than the shipping bin and no one at any point considered how adding a third fucking dimension to the game would affect throwing.

And like, the fact that the game was gridded is what made the dungeons work. It meant that you could mentally keep track of exploration, since there could only ever be four exists from a room. It’s why the mechanic where sometimes treasure can spawn in a room worked. Like, I can’t believe I have to explain that, but that mechanic existed because there were gridded rooms. Without distinct rooms, you can’t have treasure chests randomly spawning in “rooms” because there are no rooms, but for some reason this mechanic is left in the game. Similarly, the thing where the exits would be blocked until you cleared rooms cannot exist in an open dungeon without discreet rooms, but somehow they do it anyway, and one of the ways they came up with to do this was to make long, thin hallways between open areas to like, artificially create “rooms” to then block off, resulting in dungeons where most of your time is spent running through narrow, empty hallways. Like, surely — surely — it would have been simpler to just… remove the blocked-door mechanic? Do something different? Because you changed the entire basis of the game?

And this is a larger issue. This “too much space” things is endemic to the game. Most of the game is empty space connecting small populated areas. The game is a wasteland. And this includes the giant, empty town. The overall effect is depressing. For a series that has consistently been about community-building, it’s just weird. There’s never anyone walking around. No one interacts with each other. The characters don’t seem to have meaningful relationships with each other. The buildings are all ridiculously far apart, and to compensate they’ve slowed down the clock immensely — this may be the slowest a clock has ever been in any Harvest Moon game. Of course, this also means that when you beat the clock somewhere, you just have to stand and wait… and wait… and wait, until a shop opens or whatever.

And then there’s the issue of just how much is copied wholesale from RF4. Like, remember how Illuminata’s whole character quirk was being a detective? For some reason they decided that this was like, an integral part of what made RF4 a good game, and there are, I shit you not, now two characters whose whole thing is pretending to be detectives. WHY. Why??? Why two? Like, even one would have been fucking stupid, find a new thing, but why are there TWO?! And then there’s the townie who is just Frey. He’s just male Frey. He looks identical to her, for no reason.

They also included the “Order” mechanic, which in RF4 was a diegetic element that existed because your character was royalty assigned to manage the town. In RF5, they include it anyway, and then lampshade how little goddamn sense it makes for the player character to be doing town management. There’s two conversations about how it makes no sense and you just need to roll with it because it’s how the game works, okay?? And, why?? Why is this here?? If it doesn’t make sense, don’t do it! You didn’t have to do it!

Every story beat is like this. The game barely bothers to offer justifications for why the main character stays in town, and there’s absolutely no reason for why they farm. “This is what you want from a Rune Factory game, right?” it seems to say, “No one actually cares why. Just do it!”

And “no one actually cares why” might as well be the tagline for this game. There is absolutely nothing here that indicates the developer thought even a little bit about why this series is as loved as it is. The RF4 copypasta is the nadir of that. From its very start, RF has been a series about doing something different. The very first game was about trying something new with the Harvest Moon series, and each subsequent game has had its own unique form of gameplay, from being a monster to the multiple generations to a giant golem. And even when those experiments didn’t go over stellarly — Tides of Destiny was weird but not bad, fite me — they were always interesting.

This game has nothing. It has absolutely nothing. It has what was there already, implemented badly, without any rhyme or reason. What makes this series great is the charm, the relationships, the unique takes on a simple, well-worn premise. The characters in this game are all just versions of other RF and HM characters. The mechanics are all just hollow versions of old mechanics. This is only even a RF game in name — it lacks the absolute core of what this series was.

This is an Atelier game.

The Atelier series is on the up-and-up, in terms of fanbase, especially international fanbase. Part of that is because it has made the choice to go full softcore porn, something it’s spent its entire run waffling on but post-Sofie seems to have fully committed to. And I see Atelier everywhere in this game. The maps (“maps”) look just like Atelier maps. The very movement of the characters and monsters is Atelier-like. The colors. And above all, the character and costume design.

I’m baffled that I haven’t seen reviewers point this out (otherwise my above complains are pretty well-treaded in the reviews), but the characters don’t look anything like Rune Factory characters. The aesthetic is all wrong. The colors are wrong. RF has consistently a rustic, almost medieval vibe, and the costuming in this game is garish, illogical, and more suited for sci-fi than fantasy. This is especially obvious if you have the option to change into the costumes of the characters from old games — they look so, so wrong next to the RF5 designs. The garish, mismatched colors, are particularly noticeable.

They’re Atelier costumes.

Costume dimorphism has always existed in RF, but it’s so much worse here, and I’ve never been more sure of anything than I am that this is Atelier’s influence. The very character models are laughable — Elsje in particular has cartoonish large breasts (Misasagi is also absurd), to the point that I laughed out loud when I first saw her on screen. It just absolutely smashes suspension of disbelief. It’s so over-the-top ugly, and so obviously there for the audience, it’s impossible to take seriously. Is that why the developer thinks people love this game? Is that really how RF fans deserve to be thought of, to be treated, by the people making this series from now on? That we’re just here to fake-fondle waifus and be done with it? Because that’s the thesis behind this game. It’s why the characters are so awful, the mechanics so barely justified. It’s because they didn’t bother to check if the fans actually cared. And they certainly didn’t care themselves.

And that leads into the next point, which is that this is the most obvious it has ever felt to me, in either a Rune Factory or Harvest Moon game, that the player is assumed to be a man, and I’m including the games where you couldn’t play as a woman in that. Every little bit, every character interaction, is written as if the player were a man. From the way the player character is absurdly pigeon-toed at all times, the super creepy way the little girl you save fawns over you, to the way the woman ranger’s plot is about learning you’re better than her, to the deeply disturbing plotline about a little boy being so jealous that his crush might like someone else that he starts screaming at her and demanding to be told who she really loves.

This game was not made for Rune Factory players. It was made for Atelier players, and whether that’s because that’s the audience they’re trying to get or just the one they thought they were getting, the end result is insulting, from top to bottom.

And while that’s the worst, it doesn’t even scratch the surface. Why is this game so easy that even on hard mode, I’m level 50 on Spring 28 of Year 1? Why can the main plot be cleared in just two seasons? Why are we introduced to a male love interest by hearing him call a dark elf racial slurs? Why do crops no longer have certain growing seasons? Why are randomly-generated townie requests gone? Why is Eliza a) back and b) an absolute prick? Did Rune Factory really need a “little girl that’s actually 500 years old” character? Why doesn’t anyone mention the giant dragons you bring to town? Why is the main character so stupid she doesn’t realize that the item that makes people lose their memories might have caused someone memory loss? Why are there giant sparkles there to demarcate the weeds that spawn on your farm every day? Why doesn’t the auto-item-pickup work unless you run away from the items and then come back to them? Why did they make literally zero change to RF4’s cumbersome menu system? Why can’t furniture be placed on a grid — why does it have to float in the middle of the room? Why can I get recipes for silver and gold armaments at crafting level 15 but they can’t be found in the level 15 dungeons?

I could go on forever. But instead, I’m going to hook up my Wii, play Rune Factory Frontier, and hope that they either find a team who cares for next time or let the series die with some dignity.

4 Comments

  1. Roarke says:

    I just saw an ad for RF5, and it just looked like the most boring, generic JRPG-style thing. I would have guessed that someone saw Genshin Impact/Atelier and basically tried to ape that.

    1. Act says:

      That’s a good point, I haven’t played Genshin so I didn’t think of it, but that has to be a factor here as well.

  2. Seed of Bismuth says:

    I’ve missed you, and your epic rants.

    1. Act says:

      <3

      I miss it sometimes, but I mostly prefer my life without all the hate mail.

      1

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