It has been some time since there were whisperings of a new Rune Factory game, let alone a port of previous installments. But here we are, in 2020, with Rune Factory 4 Special on the Switch. Originally released on the Nintendo 3DS in 2013, Rune Factory 4 is the best selling title in the franchise to date. Does Rune Factory 4 Special live up to that legacy and is it accessible for those who are unfamiliar with this special type of Farming Simulator/Dungeon Crawler hybrid? I think so.
Rune Factory 4 Special puts you in the place of a traveler on their way to deliver a gift to a “god,” however on your way you get into a fight with a few soldiers and awaken without your memories. Mistaken for royalty upon your untimely landing (quite literally as you get thrown out of an airship at the start of the game), you are tasked with managing all of the happenings in the charming village of Selphia. The premise is pretty simple as far as narratives go, and while it does briefly introduce more complex elements when you progress through the subsequent chapters and get to know characters better, it’s easy to follow.
All activities to the player are introduced right away. Since you’re a stand-in for royalty, it is your duty to manage all of the activities in the village. This includes setting the dates for festivals and events like fishing competitions, opening up new shops, or expanding the inventory of what local merchants can sell in your shops. It might sound a bit overwhelming, but the way that Rune Factory 4 - Special handles this mechanic is quite simple. You gain points based on shipping items or fulfilling requests for villagers and with these points you can “order” new shops to open or even get licenses to purchase your own kitchen equipment or forge. This works in tandem with raising the amount of tourists that visit Selphia, so it always helps keep the player active in responding to tutorialized requests in the early game or encourage them to always ship produce.
The farming in Rune Factory 4 Special is the same as all previous Marvelous titles. You purchase seeds, till the land, water your crops and eventually something will grow and yield the harvest you’ve been toiling over. The one unique feature to Rune Factory is monster taming. Once you can cook items you can present them to monsters you meet in the forest outside of Selphia or in dungeons. If the monster likes what you’ve given them, they can return to your farm and give you items like milk, eggs, feathers, and whatnot. And if you raise the affection of your monsters high enough you can even have them help with chores like planting seeds. This does come at a cost, as you’ll need to pay your monsters, but it is especially worthwhile if you don’t want to deal with the farmwork yourself.
Rune Factory 4 Special allows the player to pick an avatar of their choice - the Prince or Princess option, and while some cosmetic options are available, you really can’t customize either beyond a handful of costumes. Costumes are also specifically limited to your wardrobe (which you need to unlock and purchase, similarly to costumes) so things like hair or skin color cannot be changed, which was somewhat disappointing. Regardless of this the only limitations of the avatar, outside of obvious customization, are the marriage options. Rune Factory 4 Special does not include same-sex marriage or even the “friendship marriages” that have appeared in other Marvelous titles like Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town. In the end, I opted for the Princess option and lived my days with a boss-turned-bachelor on my farm.
The relationships in Rune Factory 4 are cute, though a bit simplistic. I ended up courting a character that had originally presented themselves as a boss I encountered while progressing the main story. After he joined my village, I wooed him with gifts every day (as one naturally does in any Harvest Moon/Story of Season or Rune Factory game) in order to raise his affection for me so I could get to know him. Raising your affection for characters through Friendship Points or Love Points by giving them gifts allows you to trigger events that allow you to get to know the citizens of Selphia. These are similar to the short cutscenes in Stardew Valley, or other similar games. While not necessary to progress the main story of Rune Factory 4, these small details only added to the already charming presentation of the game.
Raising your relationships with villagers can be beneficial, however. Once you’ve gained enough Friendship points with someone you can ask them to accompany you - and should they accept they’ll go just about anywhere with you! I did this for harder dungeon encounters and took advantage of having another party member with me for some challenging boss fights. There are some citizens that have obvious advantages. Boss characters that accompany you will have their movesets from when they were monsters intact, which oftentimes puts them a step above the average villager. That being said, Rune Factory 4 Special’s difficulty can be adjusted at any time. If you’re like me and you mash through dialogue without abandon you might accidentally select the wrong setting. Thankfully you can go into your basement and change this at any time.
I ended up changing my difficulty a few times to make some encounters easier and others more challenging depending on whether or not I was trying out a new weapon. Unlike other Farming Simulator/Dungeon Crawling hybrids currently on the market, Rune Factory 4 has a unique level-up system where you individually level up your proficiency with a handful of weapons and spells. Leveling up your weapons allows for a larger moveset which can be beneficial for weapons like the Dual Blades or Hammers. While the system itself isn’t extremely complex, it does allow for some welcome variety. By the end of my playthrough, I was alternating between Spears and Dual Blades, throwing the occasional fireball at my enemies while my boss-turned-husband accompanied me through dungeons for valuable materials and monsters.
Rune Factory 4 Special runs perfectly well in both docked and handheld modes. I had absolutely no performance issues with the game and loved being able to take it on the go. The Switch version also has some neat touch screen features when in handheld mode. I didn’t use this all too much, but it was a pleasant surprise to see them included.
All in all, it was a great time. Playing Rune Factory 4 Special reminded me of why I was so attracted to these games as a kid and reinvigorated my love for the franchise again. While it does lack some features that other games of a similar genre have added, such as the much needed same-sex marriage or further character customization, it was still a great play. I had so much fun engaging in community events and festivals, exploring wonderful bite-sized dungeons, and getting to know the citizens of Selphia that it’s hard not to recommend this game. There is so much to do and so many different ways to engage with the game that it truly became my favorite time sink of the month.
Versions tested: Nintendo Switch
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.