On the surface, Rune Factory 5 has it all: giant dragons that let you ride, crawling in dungeons, farming, a butterfly boy that pampers you when you hand him chocolates. The game aims to be the next big farming simulator – and true to form, it’s a fully 3D, third-person RPG with a wide range of activities. But when trying to do too much, the systems are spread thin and end up feeling half-baked, adding to a game that doesn’t feel great to play.
Developed by Hakama Inc. and published by Marvelous (Xseed), Rune Factory 5 is the latest installment in the 15-year-old RPG series and is available now on Nintendo Switch. You play as an Earth friend, part of a group of people with a special connection to Earth and to the giant dragons that inhabit the world of Rune Factory. The story begins when the protagonist rescues a young girl named Hina from a monster, and then loses consciousness after the rescue. You wake up in the town of Rigbarth to find that you’ve been taken in by SEED, an organization that protects the town from monsters – but you’ve lost your memory.
Players must earn a living in the ancient town of Rigbarth and help SEED protect the town. This involves a multitude of tasks. You can make friends and romance with the townsfolk, get into dungeons in various environments, fight monsters, capture and tame them, cook, craft, fish and farm. The days have a similar rhythm to Stardew Valley, where you play over the course of a given day and use up all your stamina to fight and farm. Normally, you need to fight and complete a dungeon to start the story, but food and medicine have been abundantly supplied before that – allowing you to easily balance combat while maintaining crops .
The game’s visual aesthetic and camera angle is a departure from previous titles. Unlike its predecessor, 2012 Rune Factory 4, this game has a floating camera that you can control yourself or use to lock the target. Its art style is charmingly like a kind of cartoon similar to the style of Dragon Quest 11, except it also creates layers on top of filters that give the world a fuzzy look. Unfortunately, the game also has some immediately noticeable visual issues. Every time I leave a house for town, the game’s frame rate drops dramatically.
Rune Factory 5Their odd execution often made farming and other activities more of a chore than a more enjoyable pastime. I experienced consistency issues with everyday life in Rigbarth. This includes object stacking: Objects don’t teleport each other, they just stack, so I often misplace one and watch it get absorbed into another big chunk. The stacking of storage bins in my field feels surprisingly sensitive as well. Bins won’t align automatically, so my crops are now stacked with chests that aren’t parallel to the field. As in previous Rune Factory games, you can throw items from a distance into the sale and storage crate. It’s great in theory, but the game makes you use an auto-locking system that makes it annoying to lock loads of other objects around your farm. Usually, I flip through individual items in my head because it’s just easier than doing it the “right” and most optimal way.
Dungeon crawling also feels constrained by counter-intuitive systems. Early in the game, dungeon crawling becomes an important way to unlock characters, as well as complete quests like catching monsters and earning new flying lands. But the game erred in trying to build a complete combat system where the player could lock down enemies and combine them. In abandoning the hack-and-slash feature of previous titles, I was left with a combat system and a running track that felt like it was floating on the battlefield, with no real thrust behind the actions. my move. The locking system often misdirects my slashes as it jumps between targets in a field full of monsters.
Despite the mechanical problems, the game’s characters still make this world interesting to pass through time. Each character has a distinct, charming personality, like the bubbly and agile Murakumo or the moody Ryker. When talking to each character, their character art and expressions make the conversation feel like playing an interactive novel or a dating sim. I spent most of my playing time talking to people and looking at each character for possible romance.
I was really conflicted about who I was going to date – I became interested in Martin, the lone blacksmith, but was ultimately won over by Murakumo’s cheerful spirit. The game produces lovely romantic moments, and at one point, while talking to Martin, his character art “touches” me on the screen to show he’s walking into me when he is lost in thought. Little flourishes like that took me deeper into those conversations and characters. You can also romance characters of the same sex, which is a welcome touch.
There are some additional, positive quality of life changes to this game. Your items won’t take days to be upgraded; there are teleports on the map that are accessed at a relatively early stage; and you can unlock bag upgrades pretty quickly and easily. However, the overall irritation and occasional frustration prevented me from fully enjoying these flourishes.
Rune Factory 5 ended up feeling bowed down by the modernization effort. The design of older titles, constrained by older hardware, helped narrow the focus to gameplay. By moving from the top down to the 3D interface, with performance issues, the game ends up feeling messy and hard to play. In the end it’s not comparable to modern farming sims like Stardew Valley, or even previous Rune Factory games. And when I play, I find myself looking back, instead of enjoying this new endeavor in modern times.