Impression of Rune Factory 5: A farming sim that spreads thin

On the surface, Rune factory 5 has it all: giant dragons for you to ride, dungeon crawling, farming, a butterfly boy who bewitches you if you give him candy bars. The game aims to be the next big farming simulator – and as it should be, it’s a full 3D third-person role-playing game with a huge list of activities. But in trying to do that much, the systems get stretched thin and end up feeling half-baked, resulting in a game that doesn’t feel great.

Developed by Hakama Inc. and published by Marvelous (Xseed), Rune factory 5 is the latest installment in the 15-year-old RPG franchise and is available now for Nintendo Switch. You play as an earth companion, part of a group of humans who have a special connection to the earth and to the giant dragons that inhabit the world of Rune Factory. The story begins when the protagonist saves a young girl named Hina from monsters and passes out after the rescue. You wake up in the city of Rigbarth to find you have been taken in by SEED, an organization that protects the city from monsters – but you’ve lost your memory.

Players must make a living in the quaint town of Rigbarth and help SEED protect the town. That entails a lot of tasks. You can befriend and romance townspeople, crawl through dungeons in different environments, fight monsters, catch and tame them, cook, craft, fish and farm. The days have a similar rhythm as Stardew Valley, where you play through a set time of day and use up stamina to fight and farm. Often you’ll need to fight and complete a dungeon to advance the story, but food and potions are plentiful from the start – making it easy to balance combat while getting the harvest.

a top view of one of my lots in rune factory 5

I shake my fist at the world as I attempt to place this chest.
Image: Hakama/Xseed Games

The game’s visual aesthetics and camera perspective are a departure from previous titles. Unlike its 2012 predecessor Rune factory 4, this game features a floating camera that you can control yourself or use to capture targets. His art style charmingly resembles a sort of cartoonyness similar to that of Dragon quest 11, except that it also adds filters that give the world a dewy look. Unfortunately, the game also has some immediately noticeable visual issues. Every time I walked from a house to town, the game’s framerate dropped significantly.

Rune factory 5‘s intricate execution often made farming and other activities seem like a chore rather than a more enjoyable pastime. I had constant problems with daily life in Rigbarth. This included stacking objects: objects don’t shift each other, they just layer on top of each other, so I’d often misplace one object and watch it being absorbed by another large one. The stringing together of storage bins in my field also felt surprisingly sensitive. Containers wouldn’t auto-align, so my crops are now lined with chests that are a little off-parallel to the field. As in previous Rune Factory games, you can remotely throw items into the sell and storage bin. It’s nice in theory, but the game lets you use an automatic locking system that has a frustrating tendency to lock onto the myriad of other objects surrounding your farm. Individual points often ran through my head because it was simply easier than doing it “right” and optimally.

Beatice gets nice and close to the protagonist as the protagonist blushes.

An example of the drawing art used to illustrate conversations.
Image: Hakama/Xseed Games

Dungeon crawling similarly felt held back by counter-intuitive systems. Early in the game, dungeon crawling becomes an important way to unlock characters and complete quests like catching monsters and earning new airbale land. But the game made a mistake when trying to create a full-fledged combat system where players could engage and combine enemies. Ditching the hack-and-slash of previous titles left me with a combat system and shot that felt like I was floating across the battlefield, with no real boost behind my actions. The lock-on system often misdirected my blows when bouncing between targets in a monster-filled field.

Despite these mechanical issues, the game’s characters made sure that this world was still fun to spend time in. Each character had a distinctive, charming personality, like the feisty and sprightly were-person Murakumo or the grumpy Ryker. When speaking to each character, their character art and expression made the conversation feel like playing an interactive novel or dating sim. I spent most of my playing time talking to people and screening each character for possible romance.

I felt seriously at odds about who I would date – I started with an interest in Martin the Loner Blacksmith, but was then won over by Murakumo’s jovial temperament. The game creates delightful romantic moments, and at one point while he was talking to Martin, his on-screen character art “bounced” against mine to show him running into me when he was lost in thought. Little flourishes like that got me deeper into these conversations and characters. You can also romance same-sex characters, which is a welcome touch.

A fighter racing in Rune Factory 5

Image: Hakama/Xseed Games

There are some additional positive quality of life changes in this game. Your articles don’t take days to update; there are teleportation points on maps that are accessed relatively early; and you can unlock bag upgrades pretty quickly and easily. However, general nervousness and ongoing frustration prevented me from enjoying these flourishes to the fullest.

Rune factory 5 finally overwhelmed by the modernization efforts. The design of the older titles, constrained by old hardware, helped narrow the focus for gameplay. Switching from a top-down to a 3D interface with execution issues made the game feel clunky and difficult to play in the end. In the end, it cannot compare with modern farming simulations Stardew Valleyy, or even the previous Rune Factory games. And as I played, instead of enjoying this new attempt at modernity, I looked back. Impression of Rune Factory 5: A farming sim that spreads thin


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