Rune Factory 3 Special Review
With remasters and remakes more important and more prevalent than ever before, we’ve been seeing more and more companies bring back beloved games from their catalogues to present and preserve them in the form of HD remasters. For the Rune Factory series, Rune Factory 3 is an entry particularly beloved for its cast of characters. After the success of Rune Factory 4 Special, it looks like Neverland and Marvelous are going to work their way backwards through the numbered series. Released just under 15 years ago, this DS entry gets new life on the Switch, but how well does it hold up?
In traditional Rune Factory fashion, you play as an amnesiac boy who is dropped into town and suddenly given a farm. Monsters that are normally calm around town have been growing restless, and against the wishes of the town's mayor, you decide to explore outside of town. Along the way, you discover that you're half-monster, and you decide to figure out what happened in your past. A settlement of univirs (humanoid race of monsters) also lives on the outskirts of town, and the history between the univirs and the townsfolk might be the key to your mystery.
Rune Factory games are generally pretty light on the front-to-back narrative. You'll usually have some kind of overarching crisis affecting the town's populace that you'll lead the townspeople through. Rune Factory 3 gives you the ability to turn into a monster, which will affect how you interact with the townsfolk and the univirs. While Rune Factory 3’s narrative itself is thin, it makes up for it with plentiful interaction with the townsfolk, which is what actually ends up being the meat of the game. Alongside this, running your farm is a way to earn money to advance further along with earning the townspeople's affection.
Rune Factory 3 does require you to find a spouse in order to beat the story, so you'll need to be looking into who you want to spend the rest of the game with. To start, I have to mention that Rune Factory 3 only features a male protagonist and you can only enter romantic relationships with the younger female cast members. Speaking of the bachelorettes, there's a grand total of eleven that you can take your pick of. Each girl has their own unique personality, so there's sure to be someone that strikes your fancy. From the opposite meaning Sofia, the cheerful and boisterous Carmen, to the eccentric elf artist Daria, I had a tough time deciding who to show my affection to. I found myself more drawn to the sarcastic sleepyhead Karina over time. Perhaps it's due to my current situation of not being able to get enough sleep over the past couple of months, but her apathy towards pretty much everything was a mood I was surprisingly into.
While the town doesn't feel as alive as it did in subsequent games like Rune Factory 4 and Rune Factory 5, there's still a decent amount of interaction between the various townspeople. The townspeople have their favourite hangout spots outside of their own homes (which usually have shops), so while their schedules are supposed to be dynamic, it's easy to find specific people if you need to. You can usually find the younger townspeople running the shops in place of their parents during most of the week, with them hanging out with their friends on their days off. The elderly usually wander around town if they're not running their shops, and some of the townspeople occasionally wander into the early part of certain dungeon areas where monsters stay away from.
Dungeons are what differentiate Rune Factory games from Story of Seasons, and what makes this series more RPG than other farming sim games. At the start, you can choose your initial weapon, with the ability to forge different ones later in the game. There's the standard short sword, broadsword, dual blades, etc. Weapon use drains your Rune Points, and Rune Point management is key in this series. Rune Points are used for everything from combat to farming. A day spent working on your farm, especially early on, will likely drain you of most of your RP leaving only a small amount left for combat. If you run out of RP, you use HP instead but at an exponential cost. Once you're out of RP, just consider yourself done for the day unless you consume items to recover it. Running out of HP sends you back to the town clinic where you must literally pay for your mistakes.
Rune Factory 3 has fewer "skills" for you to level up compared to subsequent games. Skills like eating, using farming tools or weapons, magic, or simply taking damage will grant you increases to certain stats and an increase in HP and RP. This, in addition to issues with level scaling, leads to some early demises and difficulty spikes immediately upon entering a new dungeon/area. A few days of grinding are usually required to survive new areas unless you get deep into forging good equipment or bring lots of food.
Inventory space is another aspect of Rune Factory 3 that's been a problem since the original game. In the Rune Factory series, every item in the game has a 'level' that affects its stats and sell price. Items can be carried up to stacks of 9 each, and each stack takes up an inventory slot in your bag or in your storage box and fridge. Unlike most other games in the series, Rune Factory 3 has a separate stack for each different level item. While this can be useful by saving time separating individual items if you wish to keep or sell items at a certain level, it also takes up extra unnecessary space. Storing items also becomes a chore, since expanding your storage and fridge can get expensive quickly. Whether or not to store seeds from season to season was a conscious choice I had to make due to limited fridge space. Rune Factory 3 Special did include a new option for more storage space but these expansions still have to be purchased.
Despite my issues with some of the gameplay elements, the gameplay loop is still as rewarding as ever. The routine of spending mornings tending to your farm, early afternoons chatting up the townsfolk, and then dungeon explorations until nightfall is a pattern I've grown to love from the series over the years. Rune Factory's combat is relatively simple; it's mostly button-mashing with your preferred weapon and mixing in some magic skills here and there. The more diverse combat option is using your monster form to beat down enemies. Punching an enemy while in your monster form will allow you to grab them and then unleash a wrestling move on them. Spinning them around for some AoE damage, piledriving them, or jumping into the air to finish them off with a corkscrew. This was my preferred method of combat after a while, just to help out with combat variety.
Rune Factory 3 Special like its "predecessor", Rune Factory 4 Special, has a "Newlywed" mode, a brand-new side story featuring you and your spouse. These are short episodes, only about an hour and a half each of simple fanservice. Other changes to Rune Factory 3 Special include the ability to throw items into your fridge and storage box like in Rune Factory 4. You used to have to walk up to the fridge/storage box to put items away, but that was changed in Rune Factory 4 to throwing items if you were moving.
Rune Factory 3 Special is mostly just an HD mask thrown onto a beloved entry in the series, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's been over a decade since Rune Factory 3 hit store shelves on the DS. Returning fans of the series will be delighted to play the game on upgraded hardware, and it does make a good entry point for anyone looking to experience this series for the first time. Longtime fans will likely prefer the Switch version for its original control scheme as the PC version has a couple of buttons swapped from the DS controls. For fans of farming sims or those looking for a relaxing RPG, Rune Factory 3 Special has you covered.