Farming. They'll turn anything to a video game, but the Harvest Moon series proved that it could definitely be fun as well as addicting. The dozen or so sequels have certainly shown that. The first two Rune Factory games, a more action-inspired spin-off series of the Harvest Moon franchise, appeared on the Nintendo DS to decent reviews. Now for the first time ever, the Rune Factory series hits a home console, the Wii to be exact. Is it a bumper crop for fun, or will you want to plow this game over?
You play as Raguna, a young man entering the town of Trampoli to search for a girl named Mist. Of course, we need a stereotype right away, so here goes: Raguna has amnesia. Once he finds Mist, she tells our hero that she would like to help the town grow. Raguna, who can't return home without Mist, decides to stay and help, too. Raguna and Mist may be familiar characters to series veterans, but there's no worries as this story is separate from the rest. Trampoli starts out as a rather empty town, but as you meet new characters who will put up residence in your humble little abode, Trampoli will be full with life. The town is split up across numerous screens and houses meaning each time you leave one area, it takes 3-5 seconds to load the next.
Rune Factory: Frontier uses a seasonal cycle which last thirty days. Each day lasts twenty minutes while each week last six days: Monday through Friday and Holiday. Each day, each character has a different schedule, so tracking down an individual towns-person can be difficult. There's also your four traditional seasons each with their own crops that can only be grown during a specific season. Of course, there's several areas in the game where it's constantly spring or forever winter. Then again there's crops that grow only after 120 game days meaning you have to trek all the way to the site you planted the crops, water them, go to bed, rinse and repeat ad nauseum. Now that's fun!
With that said, Rune Factory is a spin-off series of the Harvest Moon franchise, so the tilling, the watering, the farming, the planting, the growing, and the wonderful life on the farm is here and accounted for as evidenced by all the crops you'll have. Your field starts out covered in debris, but as you upgrade your equipment through item forging, your tools will be strong enough to clear your field to plant more crops. Then summer comes, a storm or two blows over your farm, and you have to do all the work all over again. Hey, no one said the life of a farmer was easy. You can sell your crops for cold hard cash, or you can give your home-grown goodness to one of your neighbors. I'm talking crops, you sicko!
It's not a good sign though that a constant theme of Rune Factory: Frontier is having no idea on how to progress the story. There's an incredible lack of direction in this game leaving the player to wonder if they're wasting their time or not. I have to go talk to the nun to pick up an axe? What is this-- an episode of Tales from the Crypt? Oh, and I can only do so after I use my tilling tool ten times? I'm so glad I have a walkthrough to help me since no one in town gave anything resembling a hint. This doesn't end throughout the duration of the game either. Dear developers, if a person has to constantly use a guide just to progress in your game, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG.
This goes back to the art of farming which is almost broken by the use of a new Runey system-- something incredibly convoluted taking upwards of ten hours to perfect. The first problem here is that the game explains this process very poorly. There's a batch of magical Runey creatures, colorful beings, that float around each area of Trampoli. The idea is to keep a balance of the four colors in each area because they can become extinct. What happens when your town Runey total becomes extinct? Your crops won't grow. When a game is half-farming, half-everything else this becomes a problem of sorts, wouldn't you agree? Regardless, this whole process of collecting and distributing these Runeys across town is highly time-consuming and obnoxious, and it ruins trying to farm.
Speaking of time-consuming and obnoxious, there's a wide variety of gals that Raguna can court. Some are as simple as giving a plethora of gifts to while others will be happy with Raguna for doing specific things for them such as not passing out from working too hard, visiting their shop on a daily basis, and so forth. It's somewhat creepy, however, as some of these girls are just too young for marriage. You crazy Japanese developers are at it again! It takes a while to actually see progress which makes this process feel like yet another long grind.
What sets Rune Factory apart from Harvest Moon is battling. Raguna can enter several dungeons, take down enemies, plunder treasure chests that restock themselves after each day, and navigate through multiple floors of dungeon-crawling action. If you're thinking there's a problem or two here, you earn a gold star! The first of which is that enemies on each floor have a significant jump in experience levels. This means grinding levels to stand a chance is a must. Another problem is that you'll have to grind your equipment high enough to destroy barriers. This takes a lot of work and is a lot of time wasted doing repetitive tasks. Third: growing crops in dungeons is pretty much mandatory if you want to succeed. However, you have to return to the same dungeon, trek all the way to the same room, all to water the crops each day. More repetitive fun for all! Finally, for every task you do such as forge, till, fish, attack, and so on your rune point meter goes down. And it goes down very quickly, too. Once it goes all the way to zero, your HP is used instead until you die. It's archaic game design for sure seeing as your only real choice to heal is from your grown crops in the dungeon.
From a technical standpoint, Frontier shines on Wii. The scenery is gorgeous, and everything chugs along a smooth rate. The soundtrack is nice and mellow-- some of which actually feeling like something from the original Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. High marks indeed. At special scenes, the game shows off animated cut-scenes that are a sight to behold. Additionally there's some voice acting spread out. Sometimes it feels like the devs randomly picked and chose what lines to have spoken and what lines to stay silent.
So I guess I'm conflicted with this game. At one point it's addicting, and I don't understand why with all of these problems. Dare I say it? It's... it's... fun! However, Rune Factory: Frontier very much feels like one long, continuous grind. A grind to level up, a grind to farm, a grind to marry a girl, a grind to explore dungeons, a grind to upgrade your equipment, a grind to keep my town's Runey supply high, et cetera. For those who don't mind considerable work-- yep, work in a video game, then have it. I must say that even with these problems, I really did enjoy some of my time with Rune Factory: Frontier, but with maddening design decisions, it was definitely a love/hate relationship.
[SuperPhillip Says: 5.5/10]