As I’ve mentioned many times in my writing, I’ve always loved Bokujō Monogatari or Harvest Moon as it was called in the West, before all kinds of licensing craziness. So naturally, when I saw the first Rune Factory—subtitled, A Fantasy Harvest Moon—I was immediately interested. Funny enough, I actually didn’t get into the first Rune Factory, put off by its rough graphics and somewhat restrictive gameplay.
It wasn’t until I played Rune Factory 2 that I really fell in love with the franchise—fixing almost every problem I had with the first, while also being an expansive and enjoyable farming sim/fantasy RPG hybrid, with an incredibly deep story. And while I mostly enjoyed the Rune Factory games I played—sticking mostly to the DS/3DS versions—I always longed for something more; missing Rune Factory Frontier on the Wii and Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny on the PSP/PS3, which looked closer to what I wanted from the series.
When I saw the announcement for Rune Factory 5 back in 2019, I was genuinely excited. Here was what looked like a competent game, on a system that I had truly fallen in love with—it was certain to be a slam dunk. After playing it, I am left not mad, just disappointed—Rune Factory 5 is an unappealing mess that was in no way ready for market.
Rune Factory 5 begins in the Kingdom of Norad, as a young girl wanders into a forest only to be beset upon by monsters. The player quickly rushes in to save her, only to be knocked unconscious in the fight. When they wake up, they discover they’ve lost all their memories—as is standard in the Rune Factory franchise—and are quickly put to work as a ranger for the SEED organization, which protects the local town.
Throughout their initial trials, it’s discovered that the player is an Earthmate—unique beings with the ability to connect to the world’s natural magic, and commune with monsters. The player must work the field, battle monsters, and connect with the town as they work to recover their lost memories.
In my time playing, I’ve only scratched the surface of the story, but I can tell there’s a ton of depth to it—even in the beginning hours of the game, every new day brings a new piece of information, or some new story element that it’s constantly kept fresh and interesting. The story has always been the strongest element of Rune Factory, and even with my debatably short time with it, I can tell there’s going to be a lot to it.
Backing the story is a fairly decent collection of characters, who are all more-or-less your typical anime archetypes, and while none of them are particularly bad; none of them have immediately stuck out to me in the way certain characters do in the Bokujō Monogatari series.
Gameplay for Rune Factory 5 is about what you’d expect from the series. Players engage in their day-to-day chores, tending to their farm, interacting with townsfolk and potential love interests, and delving into dungeons and dungeon-like areas to battle ferocious monsters. It maintains the unique charm the series had with interesting stat elements like “sleeping” and “eating,” affecting how much health/stamina you recover from sleep, or the effectiveness of food.
Players will also gain access to a smithing and cooking table fairly early on, and I forgot how much I kind of enjoyed the unique simplicity of these things—as recipes are learned from consuming special types of bread, and crafting success is a percentage dependent on your level and other governing stats.
Combat, however, is a bit of an underwhelming affair, being fairly brainless and monotonous. It’s a mostly one-button affair as you hack away at enemies that barely put up a fight. There is a dash mechanic that is fairly ineffective, and the whole thing just feels a bit tacked on, as opposed to fleshed out—especially for something on the Switch. Obviously, after weeks of playing Elden Ring, no Fantasy RPG’s combat is going to stir feelings in me the same way, but I genuinely expected more from this game.
“For all the things Rune Factory 5 gets right, it cannot make up for the rest of the game’s problems, and there are a lot.”
However, for all the things Rune Factory 5 gets right, it cannot make up for the rest of the game’s problems, and there are a lot. Plainly put, Rune Factory 5 is a mess on the Nintendo Switch, and it’s not Biomutant levels of broken, it is pretty unacceptable for a game of this genre. I’ve read online that the Japanese version of the game has been patched to 1.1.1; but at the time of writing, after borderline obsessive checking, the NA version is still 1.0.1—and it is rough.
Performance on the Switch a joke, with constant frame-dropping and graphical glitches. At one point, when I booted up the game, it froze on the XSeed logo screen—which was particularly hilarious. Another odd time, when booting up the game, for whatever reason, the game’s title—which is read aloud depending on your language option—was announced in Spanish, despite there being no Spanish language options. The effects that accompany swinging your weapon or tool often play a few frames after the animation—which might not seem like an issue, but it really bothers me when effects and animations aren’t lined up. This extends to dialouge as well; as character portraits slide in from off-screen a second after the dialouge box.
During a cutscene, all the character’s heads began twitching like Lisa from PT. Other times, while running with a tool in, the tool will begin to snap to stationary animation frames. If you’re holding an item, and you put it in your bag while moving, you’ll slide across the ground for a good foot like every surface is coated in butter, and—if this may be a very technical thing that only bothers nerds like me—but during festivals, there’s a strange confetti animation that is placed on a separate layer in front of everything else, which is very noticeably bad as things just spawn onto screen regardless of how you’re moving the camera.
But there’s a genuine laziness to the whole thing that makes Rune Factory 5 just feel amateurish. You can see it in the way there’s no smooth transition into cutscenes, so the screen will just snap to black in an instant—which is especially jarring when specific events happen around the town. New to Rune Factory 5, players can choose which festivals to impliment based of points they acquire from completing SEED quests. As part of the tutorial for festivals, players are given the option to decide on one right away. So naturally, I went with the Cooking Contest, as it is one of my favourites, even to just participate in. However, upon going to the festival grounds on the day, there were no booths set up, with dishes laid out on them, or any kind of fanfare—just a big empty space, with some people standing around.
What was worse, was there was no way to start the festival early, since I had no dish to enter, and I guess the game expected me to wait around all day for something to happen? But I certainly wasn’t I had better things to do with my time, both in and out of the game. Even something simple like using a hot spring to recover your stamina has no animation, or effect—just your character standing in ankle high water, as your stamina comes back at a glacial pace.
These all might sound like minor complaints, but they begin to compound in a game that, relatively speaking; isn’t all that complex or grand. In a game like this, with a pretty clear precedent set, and pretty humble ambitions, you really need to get everything right; and the fact that not only does it feel like a lot is missing, but this game runs worse than it did on the DS, it starts to make the minor stuff feel a lot bigger.
That isn’t to say that Rune Factory 5 doesn’t have some things I like. The overall visual design is really solid, with a lot of bright colours and interesting environments. Character and monster design has definitely improved since the Rune Factory’s days on the DS, and there’s a pretty fair amount of voice acting for the dialogue—there’s even a section in the main menu for VA commentary which I found particularly sweet.
And while I think it’s become increasingly lazy criticism to say “there’s a good game in here,” because the potential good game that’s there isn’t what I experienced; I do think the foundation has been laid, and if perhaps Rune Factory 5’s North American release featured all the patched the Japanese version apparently got, then I would be more inclined to give it a higher score.
However, the fact that this game needed as many patches as it got—and I still question whether that would truly fix a lot of the issues that are present—is a testament to how slapdash Rune Factory 5 was upon it’s initial Japanese release. I’ve long sung the praises of Marvelous and XSeed in the past, but this is genuinely unacceptable.