Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Look Back - Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon

I know I said this would be next week, and last week I said it would be this week, but that was all because I hadn't quite beaten the story yet, and that's really what I wanted to do before I passed judgment.  My latest file gave me reason to think I wouldn't quite make it anytime soon, and then I remembered my first file was rather far, so I checked, and it was just beyond the roadblock I had in front of me.  Perfect, really.  I didn't manage to beat it on the file I was playing the past couple weeks, but it's not like much changed.  Only difference was that I was married to Rosetta instead of Felicity, and I had a better selection of weapons.

So now that I beat it and now that I'm posting about it, I'm not quite sure where to start, as there is quite a lot of ground to cover.  I guess I can start at the story, since that's what I was focused on completing for this exact article.  I have to say, while I'm not impressed (as it's hard to be really 'impressed' with a game story these days outside of the notables, rather, especially after the notables) it's a good attempt.  It's not too deep, not too shallow, things don't necessarily come out of nowhere and it has a proper (if long) build to the final conclusion.  The dungeons each provide a little more and a little more insight as to what's going on until you finally get it.

I guess the weak point would be that, without curiosity on the part of the main character, the game (and the overall plot of it, honestly) would be at a standstill in more ways than just the obvious.  Of course saying why would be spoiling, but suffice to say that the MC is supposed to do it, and not doing it would mean a lot of people sitting on a lot of thumbs waiting for him to do so.  (Obviously it's not that important to keep from spoiling it, but, eh.)  And then the story is done, it's done.  No post-game things outside of, well, just continuing to play the game as is.  You can still mine, still farm, still chat up the girls, get married (if you're not already, and beating the game unlocks one last girl) and do festivals, just live the day-to-day, all that.  Basically, it just turns into a Harvest Moon game with monsters and crafting.  Though, less "turn into" and more, "Shows for sure".  Which, hey, is a-okay, clearly.

The characters offer a nice variety of personalities, as per expected and luckily, none of them really grate on the nerves too badly.  Perhaps a few of them approach it, for me Mist is a bit too ditzy, the resident rich foodie is entirely too one-track-minded, and Camus gets annoying with his "I'm leaving here some day!" talk.  The large amount of characters that can be your character's wife is nice and new and I personally had a hard time figuring out which one I wanted to go for in this latest playthrough.  I actually just threw it out to a couple friends for a vote and it came back Felicity, the Mayor's daughter, so that's how I went.  Though it easily could have been Bianca, the spoiled rich girl, Lara, the nurse, or I could have just waited for the last girl to get unlocked.  Though that would have made for an extra long play that I don't think I could have stuck out.

That would be one of the many, many advantages Rune Factory has over Innocent Life; not only by the sheer fact that there are people you can actually form relationships with that mean something, but the fact that there's so many options and they all need such varied things that you'll inevitably change your play-style just to get where you want to be.  A few of the girls require you to have a lot of Monsters as pets, so you'll have to play a real live-stock heavy game, meaning buying lots of feed, collecting lots of wood for the shacks and building up so you can take the inevitable few hits you'll take between shots with the Friendship Glove.  On the other hand, trying to woo Mei means you'll have to take quite a liking to Fishing and make sure you get a fridge early to store what you catch since only one gift a day raises affection.

Of course, I make it out to be more than it is; you can over-plan anything after all.  But depending on how you play, you might find yourself considering the same things if getting your Amnesiac Hero hitched is important to you.  And the other characters are interesting enough as well, though they are nearly outnumbered by the women you're able to marry, which leaves a lot of room for them to be overshadowed.

It's not all good, as well, as Rune Factory's dungeons turn from fairly interesting, easy to enjoy little jaunts to chores in the very very worst ways.  The fifth one in the game, Misty Bloom Cave, is literally an opening in the middle of a tiny chunk of land surrounded by maybe two feet wide of water.  Suspension of disbelief, naturally skewed sense of scale in a game and all aside, there's absolutely no reason you could not throw a bridge to it or something rather than what the game tells you to do:  Wait til Winter.  Yes.  The fifth dungeon in the game, you have to wait til Winter (when the game begins on the first day of Spring) to get into it when there's absolutely no conceivable reason for you to wait for the moat to freeze over.  Just for a point of reference, in my playthrough that I started with the intention on comparing it to Innocent Life and such, I 'unlocked' Misty Bloom Cave on Spring 28th.

That's right.  I had to piss away two months just to get into the next dungeon.  And when I finally got in, I beat it in under 3 game hours.  Though I wouldn't say that's the most egregious of unnecessary bullshit requirements for a single dungeon.  The very next one, the Kasimir Ruins, just to get in, you have to A)  Farm up 100 Tiles in Misty Bloom Caves (Which would really fucking suck if you waited til Spring to try an get a permit for the ruins) B) Be good friends with Sharron, resident spooky girl who hangs around the Ruins all day (which you likely have done in the three months since the game has started) and C) Befriended (read:  Captured) 10 Monsters.

Only then are you allowed to set foot into Kasimir Ruins.  And then it gets worse.  After about two screens, you're confronted with a locked door and a vague clue about Rune Sprites.  Rune Sprites show up when you plant 3x3 squares of crops (the default size in a bag) and grow them to fruition.  Long story short, is that you have to grow plants in every single plot provided in that room.  There are eight plots.  So not only have you just wasted a ton of time just trying to get -in- here, now you have to wait more to unlock a door.  And then, because you apparently haven't suffered enough, about halfway through, you're confronted with another locked door that needs a key.  After conferring with Sharron about it (which means leaving the ruins, which means resetting all the goddamn monster spawners in the ruins) she tells you that a Golem has it.  Then you have to find it, smash it, get back to the door and open it.

Now, I've left something out here, which I should get to now.  To fully explore a dungeon, as in, reach the end of it, you have to destroy all the monster spawners in it in a single go-through.  It's hard to tell why, and thinking on it, the story doesn't really explain why, so let's just ignore that.  There's always at least one in a section, if not two.  And sometimes they're tricky to find, being hidden behind tiles of poison that you have to walk over or behind walls of flame that you have to put out.  So you'll understand if having to leave a cave in the middle to get a goddamn key is a little frustrating.

The dungeon following that is nearly the exact same set up, except the locked door is, of course, at the end, and the key is, again, of course, at the very beginning.  But at least you don't have to go outside of the cave and reset everything.  Still, it's annoying.  And this was the point I made it to in my game; the part where I realized I would have to farm once again just to open a goddamn door.

"Fuck that," I exclaimed.  And, on a whim, I decided to take a gander at my other save file to see if I had made it to that point there as well and surpassed it.  And, in fact, I had.  So it was just a simple matter of finishing up that dungeon and doing the last one to get the game finished.

It's hard to really state that this is, in fact, a Harvest Moon game after spending four paragraphs explaining about the spelunking and combat that proliferates the game as you get more and more into it, but honestly, that's just one side of it.  A brand new side with more depth than one would expect, but only one side nonetheless.  And while there's other goodies, like the crafting system shown above, added, it's still just a Harvest Moon game, which is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your tastes and likes.  For me, that's a good thing, especially because the game is very good at being a Harvest Moon game.  So, in lieu of having something more 'to-the-roots' available, it's a fantastic substitute.

So, for its flaws, which are little more than kinks to be worked out in the grand scheme of things, Rune Factory proves to be a fantastic game for those of the type to enjoy it, and while it's existence includes elements that may force the 'Simple Farmer' approach to take a back seat for a while, the depth that's put in place offers a lot in terms of enjoyment.  And though the story provides something of a feeling of 'finality' to the game, which is not what you want from a Harvest Moon game, the story can be completely ignored for those that just want to relive the Harvest Moon 64, Harvest Moon:  Back to Nature, and Harvest Moon:  Friends of Mineral Town days of farming, owning livestock and chatting up the locals.

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