Rune Factory 5 Review
It’s been almost a decade since I spent an entire summer holed up in my bedroom with a copy of Rune Factory 4. I was happy, curled up with my falling-apart-at-the-hinges 3DS and the will to eschew all of my responsibilities for a little cheesy romance. I’d gotten through the second and third games in a slow and steady drift, absolutely charmed by them both but in no real rush to see things through to the end. The fourth game, and what I reckon most of us thought was the last, wound up with several hundred hours clocked in over an alarmingly short time. Now, even years later, RF4, its delightful cast, and the enchanting little town of Selphia still hold that spot as my number one among games like it.
All of that serves as a bit of required reading on understanding my hopes going into Rune Factory 5. It’s a strange mixture of feeling like my RF4-comparison bar is too high to reach while reckoning with how much I adore something so distant from its prime. After a few weeks in Rigbarth, I can say Rune Factory 5 doesn’t quite feel like the jump I expected when graduating from 3DS to Nintendo Switch, but I still find so much about the little town that’s endearing. Adventuring through Rigbarth is messy, sometimes painfully so, but I find myself hopelessly in love with all its pieces—rough edges and all.
Developer Hakama Inc. carries on a series tradition by saddling you with an amnesiac protagonist, Alice or Ares, while also celebrating a Rune Factory first from the get-go. I picked Alice, and instead of living a quaint village life aggressively heterosexual, I knew Rune Factory 5 would let Alice smooch whoever. From there, Alice stumbles into Rigbarth after saving a strange little dog girl, clueless about her past and suddenly taken in by the local security organization, SEED. It’s a little silly, delightfully so, but the Rune Factory games share plenty of cheeky patterns and familiar beats.
In those moments after, when Rune Factory 5 handed Alice over to me and let the exploring begin, I did feel a slight tinge of disappointment hit before course-correcting. The cast is full of precious and loveable personalities, some more so than others, but it couldn’t compete with old favorites. At first, I thought it might be due to fewer events, but if anything, there’s more, and the new event system even forgoes some of its predecessor’s ugly random mechanics. Ultimately, it seems to come down to a stronger distaste for the more grating personalities among the bunch—like aforementioned dog girl, Fuuka, and pesky little brother-type Cecil, who I forgot was a romance option until I accidentally triggered a scene with him.
However, I can, somehow, forgive those scenes where I scrunch my nose up because Fuuka is barking and growling at me through her monologue. Rune Factory 5 makes genuinely great changes to how we interact with the cast. In my Rigbarth stay, the map felt endlessly helpful and took a lot of the obnoxious guesswork out of triggering events and figuring out who was ready to share a moment. Now, villagers signal they’re ready to go with helpful, color-coded markers. If you experienced the nightmare of trying to marry someone in RF4, this change is a pretty big deal. Those older romances could take hours of trying to trigger one random town event, with most of it wasted watching the map and panic-running in the same direction any time two event NPCs got remotely close.
There are also cute quirks with the villagers tied to your skill level. Flirting gets a little easier when someone is impressed by the traits you level, and every NPC has their own thing they admire. I was able to woo two of Rune Factory 5’s love interests in my marathon, with emotionally-distant Martin into my Mining prowess while local royalty, Beatrice, dug my Leadership skills.
I love those little bits and how you learn about them—things like villager likes, dislikes, birthdays, and skills valued come out in day-to-day conversations. Sometimes you hear those details directly from the person, and other times these little bread crumbs are dropped by another villager. It’s thoughtful. After getting to know everyone and seeing at least most of the dating events, I’m still left pretty endeared to the villagers and new ways to interact, especially with all of the event guesswork removed.
With all of those changes, I’m far more eager to try and romance everyone in Rigbarth, too. That includes the folks I don’t like. On more than one occasion now, I’ve found myself initially turned off by early interactions with a potential partner for Alice, only to have them grow on me through tender exchanges.
I’ll try to keep it vague, but there are small moments when Rune Factory 5’s localization handles gendered dialogue in a way that felt so authentic and tender it caught me off guard. In a moment bearing my soul, a precious back-and-forth from one event sent me into a fit of smiles and screenshot snapping when one of Rigbarth’s bachelorettes referred to Alice as a prince. In context, the whole scene was darling, and I’m still smitten by a few paragraphs giving me my femme protagonist playing the part of a prince—not a princess.
In the midst of getting to know the locals, I made pretty quick work of Rune Factory 5’s story quests. The big beats fleshing out mysterious evils, Rigbarth newcomers, and the happenings with SEED were mostly predictable, but the charming dialogue and sub-events kept things interesting. The appeal lies within getting to know those personalities and growing your community back home—Rigbarth is wonderful, and whatever happens outside of my day-to-day in the town is a bonus.
Yet, right on the heels of rambling praises for the town, I’d be remiss not to mention the view (or lack thereof). The sting faded with time, but this completely 3D Rune Factory doesn’t always look its best. As we lose those old static backgrounds cluttered with tiny details, things feel more barren. There are gulfs of empty space that feel lifeless, devoid of the intimacy and personality from Rune Factory titles past. It’s the typical problem you run into with any series as it boasts fancy, newer “open” worlds with no plans for the space; I often wish we’d forget the checklist of modern design ideas like this one. Rigbarth is darling in its own ways, but I can’t help but feel dropping the 3D would’ve given us a city that makes meaningful use of its space.
That 3D choice isn’t doing Rune Factory 5 any technical favors, either. I don’t find myself often bothered by the same graphical woes or performance hiccups that my peers complain of, but RF5 is rough. Transitioning between zones can take a bit, and some areas suffer more than others. Any time I left one of my giant Farm Dragons, loading back into Rigbarth felt like a whole process with the world slowly piecing itself back together. The hitching grew worse when taking a full party into battle, and stumbling into larger mobs felt frustrating when lag affected audio.
Technical issues are the biggest flaw here. I had one instance where Rune Factory 5 froze, which forced me to restart, and another where it crashed. These moments felt like a minor nuisance compared to how often the framerate tanked and slowed things down to a crawl. The problem spills over worse into some festivals, where big gatherings of villagers leave can render them awkwardly popping in and out. Sometimes, I’d approach an NPC to talk to them, and they’d just disappear, so I was left talking to their arrow icon indicating someone was there.
Ugliness here aside, I’m hopeful and crossing my fingers that further patching and day one updates help as Rune Factory 5 is a legitimately lovely ride for series or farm sim fans. There’s a constantly packed schedule of tending crops, dating, story progression, sub-events, monster taming, and battle. These are the parts I delight in—the moments when I think on how to divvy up a day between farming more shop expansion materials and roaming through dungeons for loot.
As someone miserably over-prepared for every RPG encounter, Rune Factory’s dungeon bits have never really felt challenging, but it’s worth noting this one is quite a breeze. Cranking the difficulty up doesn’t change things much, so I spent most of my time playing on normal and chopping foes down in single-button combat. That may disappoint some folks, but I still found joy meandering about for new monsters to tame or farming other creatures for upgrade materials. The best parts about Rune Factory don’t come from its simple combat; its satisfaction lies more in micro-managing and collecting. Exploring and enjoying the world as Alice is a delight because of how many small, special elements work together. There’s not just one piece here that holds soul responsibility for making or breaking Rune Factory 5.
Just as you’d expect from the series, I’m still going even after finishing up story threads, and I probably won’t stop playing Rune Factory 5 anytime soon. There’s so much heart there, and it’s still easy to love through its mess. I’m at that endgame stage that feels wildly satisfying, the point when you’ve upgraded damn near everything and have your spouse, kids, and farm. Now it’s all about getting better equipment and playing through again to see more marriage sequences.
Anyway, as I reminiscence on nearly a decade of waiting and hoping, I can still say I’ve adored my time in Rigbarth. Hopefully, we see the journey find its way to PC, like R4 Special, to improve some of those technical failings, but I'm satisfied even if it doesn’t make that leap.
For all of its good and bad, Rune Factory 5 still manages to capture bits from the series that keep it enchanting. It’s rough around the edges in ways that are hard to ignore, but for those who can push through the occasional chugging, there’s a lot to love. Hakama’s latest vision for the series bodes well for future iterations, offering some much-needed change while remembering the pieces that make the series so beloved.