Rune Factory 3 - Staff Review  

Catch The Wind
by Sam "Nyx" Marchello

20-40 Hours
+ Quirky cast of characters.
+ Numerous side quests to take on.
+ Combat is refined.
+ You can transform into a wooly!
- Dubious partner AI.
- Visuals are a little muddled.
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   Rune Factory has always been an uncertain series for me. I loathed Rune Factory 2 with every fiber of my being, and adored the original game, though I never completed it. I was hesitant about Rune Factory 3. With the changes the game had announced, I was weary, nervous, and downright confused. How could the gimmick of turning into a wooly change the dynamic of the already quirky Harvest Moon spin-off? It surprisingly works very well.

   Much like the previous games, players take on the role of an amnesiac hero who ends up stranded in a small town, attempting to find out who he once was. Micah, the game's protagonist, has an unusual secret: he is both half-human and half-monster. Micah is found by a young florist named Shana, and is introduced to the town of Sharance, which is canopied under a large tree that once bloomed with beautiful flowers. Unfortunately, the flowers no longer bloom due to a division between the humans and the horned Univir. Both races wish to see the Sharance tree blossom once more, but refuse to reconcile their differences. Since Micah can travel between the two races with his special talent, he attempts to reunite the two groups with the hope of blossoming the Sharance tree and restoring unity between the two races.

   There's something inherently romantic about the Rune Factory series. Although it is pegged as a fantasy-style Harvest Moon game with monster catching, its overall atmosphere is rustic, like a trip to a small country cottage. Rune Factory 3 furthers this romantic quality with how the storyline is built. Sure, it's a touch cheesy, but there's a maturity in the story that comes from Micah's desire to reconcile this age-old hostility between races. There's a reason to care about the connection between the two races, and Micah's will to help both sides is fairly admirable. This charming and mature quality also comes from the localization, which adds to the romanticism the game encompasses. It's not perfect by any means, but the story is cute fluff that goes beyond the plotlines that were accomplished in the previous games.

   The biggest and most positive change to appear in Rune Factory 3 is the combat system. It's true that the game is a simple action-RPG, but Neverland has made some nice improvements to refine older issues, particularly slowdown, as well as add newer features such as party members. First off, combat in Rune Factory 3 is fast, and players will expect to see little to no slowdown within battle. Characters can equip magic and special weapon abilities, allowing players to tailor Micah to their own personal playstyle. Micah can also enlist the support of the townspeople, though if players wish to request help from the univir, he must first transform into his wooly form, which also grants him additional strength depending on the type of enemies he encounters.

Whoa dude, check out my abs. You can grate cheese on them! Whoa dude, check out my abs. You can grate cheese on them!

   While combat is a more streamlined experience, it's not entirely perfect. The most noticeable issue comes from the subpar partner AI. Regardless of whether it's a townsperson or a captured monster, the AI tends to make a lot of questionable choices within combat, and companions serve more as punching bags than actual support. Often they aren't worth bringing along on requests, as they frequently fall unconscious. Still, despite the dubious partner AI, the combat system is an overall improvement compared to the previous games which had poor hit-detection as a main problem.

   One trend that was started in Rune Factory 2 that makes a return is the Request Bulletin. Much like the Harvest Moon series, it's important to raise friendship levels with the people in both Sharance and in the Univir tribe. By completing requests, it gives the player more of an opportunity to unravel the game's narrative and each character's individual story. There's over fifty requests to take on, ranging from the simple requests, such as finding an item or battling specific enemies, to more complex wishes which require players to make use of the game's easy-to-use crafting system. Completing requests allows players to get to know the townspeople more personally, and with the strong localization, players will want to get to know the residents of both communities.

   Another new feature is Micah's ability to transform, which he keeps a secret. The univir know Micah as a wooly, while the townspeople know him as a human. This feature is not only important to combat as previously mentioned, by also important to Rune Factory 3's plot. Micah must use this skill to travel between the two areas and complete requests to gain the trust of both sides. Micah's wooly form can be used to complete many of the character requests which either require him to persuade other monsters, or help support the Sharance townsfolk behind the scenes. The wooly form is also important to the marriage aspect in Rune Factory 3 because Micah's goal is to find someone who loves him and accepts him for who he is. Since this aspect is mostly for plot-related purposes, it doesn't have a lot of staying power in terms of using it outside of the narrative.

I wonder if there's candy inside? I wonder if there's candy inside?

   Farming once again takes a bit of a backseat in Rune Factory 3, though it's still an important skill to build throughout. Much like Rune Factory 2, the dungeons are based on the four seasons, and sometimes requests will ask players to farm a certain crop that may not grow within the current season. Thankfully, players can grow out-of-season crops in the dungeons, making it easier to complete farming requests. The only downside is that seeds must be sown one at a time, similar to Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar, making farming a slightly more tedious task. Another change is that the monster glove used to recruit creatures has been removed, and instead, once a barn is built, Micah can feed them food to gain their trust. This change is fairly noticeable, as Micah will take tons of damage in his attempts to befriend other monsters.

   One area that is disappointing in Rune Factory 3 is its graphics. While the aesthetic design of Sharance is stunning, the character models are a murky mess to look at. Characters look clunky and unrefined, which is depressing considering the amount of design and detail that went into the backgrounds and dungeons. There are also a few graphical blips throughout such as disappearing enemies and items slowly appearing and disappearing when there are too many of them in the same spot. While the graphics are not horrendous, they lack the polish of other 3D DS titles, which is disappointing considering how clean many of the Harvest Moon DS games look.

   A standout feature worth noting is the game's audio. The soundtrack is sweet, melodic and fits the tone of the game extremely well. It has a serene-like quality in its composition, making it easy to hum along to. Rune Factory 3's theme song, "Happiness," is also a lovely track, though the English rendition, while good, lacks the intensity of the Japanese version. Still, the tracks are stunning, catchy, and work well to capture the romantic atmosphere presented throughout the game. It's beautiful to listen to, and makes players feel very welcome within Rune Factory 3's world. There is also minimal voice acting which is competent at best, though it doesn't truly add or detract from the overall audio experience.

   Rune Factory 3's plot can likely be completed within twenty-five hours, though depending on the number of requests completed, or how much time is spent on other activities, this number can easily be pushed to forty hours or more. There's a lot of content within Rune Factory 3, so most players will easily push forty hours in one playthrough.

   Rune Factory 3 is by far my favourite Rune Factory title I've played. Heck, it's probably my favourite Harvest Moon game. Neverland continues to constantly improve on their tried and true formula, and always seems to be taking notes when creating new Rune Factory games. This sweet experience is one that can be enjoyed by newcomers and veterans of the Harvest Moon series, as Rune Factory 3's positives definitely outweigh the negatives. This is the best Harvest Moon experience you'll find this year, and should truly not be missed out on.

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