Rune Factory 5 Interview: Director Shiro Maekawa on romance, influences, and hopes for the series

It's been nearly a decade since the Rune Factory series saw its last release, making Rune Factory 5 a high-stakes entry for fan hopes after a long stint stewing with anticipation. With the fifth game, Rune Factory again whisks you away for a fantasy farm-life adventure, but it looks quite different from what series veterans may expect.

Instead of its traditional 2D, static backgrounds, Rune Factory 5 has full embraced the transition to an open, 3D world with the series jump to Switch. Plenty of beloved pieces are still in place for the latest entry, but the changes there make the little village of Rigbarth a distinctly different experience than what you may be used to from the past. 

On the heels of its launch, we had a chance to ask Rune Factory 5 director Shiro Maekawa a few questions about his work on the series return. Our Q&A with Maekawa-san is available below, published alongside another interview with the game's localization team, and even our own review summarizing our time in Rigbarth.

Q: Games like Rune Factory 5 focused on life simulation, romance, and time management, often have a long list of daily or weekly chores - sometimes overwhelmingly so. Are there any design philosophies you find most important to balance task priorities and maintain player interest?

Shiro Maekawa: Players can spend their days doing whatever they want. We created a game that appeals to people who only like going on adventures, people who enjoy focusing on the romance elements, and people who just want to farm. You could say that giving players the freedom to play however they please is our core design philosophy.

Q: The Rune Factory series is well regarded as being a good blend of life and farming simulation, while also being a story focused action RPG. Often tying in together like adventuring to tame monsters. How does the team find balancing the two? Is there ever any desire to focus on one aspect more than the other?

Shiro Maekawa: Farming, romance, and adventure are Rune Factory’s major pillars. You wouldn’t have a Rune Factory game without all three.

We spend a lot of time balancing each element, but have no specific methodology for doing so. Still, when looking at the game as a whole, we create a big timeline based on how we expect players to progress, then determine their approximate level along with what they’ve probably grown and equipped. We set difficulty levels and make minor tweaks in response to that.

Q: Farming games in recent years have exploded in popularity with many entries on the indie scene, do these outside examples have any influence on your work?

Shiro Maekawa: Among other things, I play Stardew Valley, which I think is a wonderful game. Some members of our team are fans of Farming Simulator, so I’d say that all these titles have influenced us in some way.

Q: How does it feel to revive the series, so to speak? After the original release of Rune Factory 4 was thought to be the last game in the series.

Shiro Maekawa: I’m a big fan of the series myself, so I’m thrilled that we managed to revive it.
However, considering how well our earlier titles were received, I’m still a little worried about whether we can meet fans’ expectations.

Q: There’s a bit of a joke it seems with the fanbase that it’s a “bug” you can’t romance certain popular NPCs in the Rune Factory series. In 5, it seems like Misasagi and a couple of others are quite popular - were there any characters you would have liked to see added as a romanceable option? 

Shiro Maekawa: Yes. Terry is actually quite popular among the developers. His detective job makes him an interesting person, so he could’ve easily been a marriage candidate.

Q: In Bokujo Monogatari, which Rune Factory was born from, it is quite common to see some less serious marriage candidates as options. Is there any potential in the future to add "less serious" candidates?

Shiro Maekawa: Yes, I hope we can continue to surprise players by adding unique romanceable characters in the future.

Q: Often the Earthmates are part of the community but do a lot of the work themselves. Asides from their overall place in the story, was the Seed organisation seen as a way to make the player feel more involved with the other characters?

Shiro Maekawa: SEED is a peacekeeping organization that keeps rural communities safe and even helps them solve their problems. I hope that working as one of their rangers helps players feel like a Rigbarth local.

Q: Was there any feedback you saw from Rune Factory 5 that you would like to implement in future titles? 

Shiro Maekawa: We receive a lot of feedback from players, so we have plenty of ideas we’d like to try implementing. Please let us know your great ideas for future titles after playing Rune Factory 5!