Rune Factory is a perfect example of never, ever judging a book by its cover. When the game arrived I questioned why this apparent farming management and simulation game was sent through to us at RPG Site - the box proudly boasts that it's a 'part of the Harvest Moon Family' and there's a young anime-styled chap on the front holding an axe. Surely, I thought, this can't be an RPG.
Rune Factory definitely bears a huge resemblance to the game series it's been spun off from, featuring the same cutesy anime characters living and working on a tiny little farm which has plenty of room to grow into a sprawling, impressive business.
While you're still working your farm and building relationships with simple dating-sim style options, where Rune Factory differs is where it becomes an RPG - dungeon crawling. Heading into dungeons works like many other dungeon-crawler RPGs, but it's all turned on its head by many of the qualities bought to Rune Factory by the Harvest Moon formula.
The game clock is always ticking except when you're inside shops and other non-dungeon buildings, so dungeon visits will have to be timed in such a way that you don't leave your farm unattended for too long.
Monsters from dungeons can also be bought back to your farm and put to work, so further progression in early dungeons will grant you the help you'll need to head deeper into other dungeons for longer periods of time. These monsters can also tag along in dungeons, and can be leveled up and improved in the traditional RPG way, becoming better farmhands or more combat-hardy over time.
Timing and multitasking is vital in Rune Factory - you'll have to be juggling dates with potential wives, tending to the farm, heading into dungeons, shopping and even cooking for your family and farm hands all to be fit into a 24 hour day that amounts to 24 real-life minutes.
Sometimes the game feels a little needy - begging you to tend to this crop or go and see your family while you're more interested in dungeon crawling, but on the whole Rune Factory is a relaxing, simplistic title that is part RPG, part The Sims and finally an awful lot of Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon - and it's a strangely addictive proposition.
It's not all as simple as described above, with the game offering depth in the form of the titular runes which can be gained and managed to help certain types of crops prosper in certain areas, while extra weapons and items can be forged and created to make dungeon crawling a little bit easier.
In fact, Rune Factory is a game that's jam packed full of options of things to do - so much so that it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming, and much like real life I found myself stressing that were just weren't enough hours in this virtual day. The fact that time freezes inside all non-dungeon buildings is handy, but the days will still fly by very quickly indeed.
Dungeon action is Action-RPG styled, with you swinging your sword in real time with the press of a button or the flick of a wrist. It's simplistic, but different weapon types and helpful monsters tagging along make all the difference in how battles play out. It's competent but simple, with the depth of this game hidden in managing the actual farm.
Rune Factory Frontier features pretty standard Wii visuals, offering up some pretty environments and plenty of detail for a standard definition game. It's a pretty, colorful game, full of the vibrant blues and greens that one would associate with farm life - with the visual aesthetic adding to the relaxing feeling of the game.
Voice acting is intermittent but decent and the music provides a welcome amount of variety, with different ditties for each season, matching the visual style and mood of each season of farm life perfectly - it all works rather well.
Rune Factory Frontier is flawed in places, but the sheer amount of depth offered in this title is stunning. It's without a doubt one of the deepest RPGs on the Wii, and that depth offers up months of gameplay that'll keep you enthralled.
Freedom is the name of the game here, and in an age when many RPGs are forcing players further and further onto an on-rails path, Rune Factory Frontier's open-ended gameplay is a breath of fresh air.