While we wait for the promised Rune Factory 5 to release, here's the fantastic Archival Edition of Rune Factory 4 Special for Switch.
I've been a big fan of Harvest Moon, Story of Seasons, and Rune Factory games for quite some time and I still own the original Rune Factory 4 on 3DS. After spending dozens of hours with this Special version, I realise what makes it so great. In short, it's a culmination of all of the fun gameplay and features available in similar farming sim games and it's still a joy to play years after its initial launch.
What's in the Archival Edition?
For starters, it's awesome to see a physical release of Rune Factory 4 Special which includes a comprehensive package called the Archival Edition. It comes in a large box with some goodies to celebrate the game as well as the history of the Rune Factory franchise. First, the soundtrack contains 36 tracks from Rune Factory 4 Special in a cute cardboard case with pretty scenery.
Next, the physical Switch game and case is equally as delightful complete with a physical instruction manual which is hard to come by nowadays. By the way, the digital version is also accessible in-game. The case includes a DLC code for swimsuit costumes as is customary for many JRPGs nowadays for some reason. Finally, the best piece of physical media is the book which contains tons of character art and descriptions from each and every Rune Factory game. It also includes favourite items for some of the characters which makes it somewhat of a guide, too. You can even read through interviews with the staff at the back of the book. Any Rune Factory fan will have a blast with these pieces of memorabilia while reminiscing but have a look at what's included for yourself with these photos that I took:
- Archival Edition contents (box, soundtrack, book, and game)
- Switch game case with instruction manual and Swimsuit Day DLC card
- Back of Archival Edition box
- Rune Factory 4 Special Original Soundtrack CD and tracklisting
- Sample Monsters page from the Archival Book
An introduction to Rune Factory 4
Now that I've discussed the physical content, let's take a look at the game itself. At the beginning of Rune Factory 4, you find yourself on an airship posed with the task of exclaiming how you feel. You get to choose between a response that's excited and one that's more timid. The one that you decide upon determines which gender your character will be for the duration of the game. Personalities aren't usually gender-specific so I found this to be a very odd introduction to the game but after having read up on it, it's clear that it's merely a translation issue rather than the developers making some sort of out-of-place commentary in such a cute and established game.
Anyway, at the beginning of the tale, your character falls out of the airship, landing on top of a dragon that's chilling in a palace. The dragon's name is Ventuswill and you'll soon form a bond with her unlike any other villager could. The story of Rune Factory 4 is long with 3 arcs total. As you progress, you unlock new areas outside of the village for you to explore. However, unlike in Harvest Moon games, Rune Factory puts a big emphasis on RPG elements that will have you spending most of your time outside the farm while fighting and recruiting monsters and I found this variety in gameplay to be an absolute pleasure.
What makes this version so Special?
As you unlock new areas, you come across characters who join the storyline, some of which become marriage candidates. The cast has a fantastic variety in its personalities such as the con artist blacksmith Bado, the wannabe detective Illuminata, and the princely Arthur who seems too happy about having you step in to fulfill his princely duties. There's a wide variety of marriage candidates, too; all of which can be wooed with chats, gifts, and random events. It's the standard Rune Factory formula only once you've successfully married someone, you can go back to the main menu and unlock the Newlywed mode for that partner to experience a new storyline which is unique to this Special edition. Along with this new mode, you also unlock a short comic with Ventuswill known as Another Episode. Other comics are available with different characters but must be purchased separately which is something only avid Rune Factory 4 fans would do.
Considering the original Rune Factory 4 was developed for 3DS, much had to be updated to make the experience work well on Switch. For starters, the graphics are definitely updated here but overall, they come across as a little too airbrushed and slightly blurry at times, lacking detail in some of the scenery and items. The opening cutscene has been redone and for fans of its anime style, it can be a lot of fun to watch. Meanwhile, there's a superb variety in the music and it changes depending on the events of the day and where you're exploring. Speaking of audio, there's a bunch of new voice actor recordings that help bring the characters to life.
For the most part, the controls are handled well, especially given the vast amount of items you'll be carrying and interacting with at any given moment and swapping weapons is easy assuming you keep your inventory organised. The only thing that bugged me was how I couldn't easily split stacks of items. It's possible to do by pressing A to remove one item at a time but that's far too time-consuming and it's handled better in similar games. Oh, and this Special edition unlocks a new difficulty setting that wasn't available in the original.
The nitty-gritty of Rune Factory 4
Let's dive deeper into the farming and RPG elements of Rune Factory 4. The farming is actually quite in-depth and enjoyable, especially considering you can spend as much time on it as you'd like. You can spend all of your time planting seeds in each of the available farms while watering, fertilizing, cutting, and improving its overall quality but on the other hand, you can simply recruit a bunch of monsters and have them do all your work for you as long as you're not trying to quickly grow the best quality crops. I typically did a bit of both depending on how I was feeling that day and if there was a festival coming up that I might want a certain high quality crop for.
There's a great selection of seeds to plant that are unlocked by completing formal requests. You can take on a few requests per day and they basically act as a way of guiding you to learn all of the ins and outs of the gameplay, starting with simple tasks and expanding to more complex ones that take days to complete. I thoroughly enjoyed this system although I wish the option to cancel was more obvious because it took me almost a full game year before I realised it was possible and had spent days locked into one long-winded task.
Completing requests grants you Princess Points that you use to expand your town. Specifically, you could choose to spend them on increasing your storage and inventory size or improving the bedroom at the palace, fields, and selection of vendors. Alternatively, one of your goals is to increase tourism to the village which is done by spending points to run festivals or advertise the village. The more tourists you get, the more people there will be to buy your wares that you sell out of a cute little window on the side of the palace. This system is really quite comprehensive and adds another layer to the already varied and rewarding gameplay.
When you want to take a break from tilling the fields and talking to villagers, you can improve one of dozens of skills by forging new weapons, armor, and accessories, fishing, cooking, mining, and many other tasks. Almost everything you do in Rune Factory 4 has a skill level that is increased as you do more of it; even walking and sleeping! The constant reward of levelling up a skill gives me a fuzzy feeling as a gamer even if it doesn't seem to make much of a difference in the gameplay.
Once you've got yourself kitted up with the best duds, you'll go out and explore the surrounding overworld and dungeons. There are large areas to check out which are themed around the 4 seasons where you can collect items, mine, uncover hidden treasures, and fight and recruit monsters. Off each main area, there are also multiple dungeons where you'll spend time advancing the storyline as you solve puzzles to reach the end goal which usually involves fighting at least 1 or 2 difficult bosses.
Simply put, Rune Factory 4 Special is the best game in the series so far and a great showcase for how many different gameplay elements can be combined to create an addictive farming sim RPG formula that's exceptionally difficult to put down.
- + Vast variety of gameplay elements to master
- + Lengthy story that unlocks new areas and keeps things interesting for hours
- + Tons of items to find and create
- - Although improved, the graphics are sometimes too airbrushed and blurry
- - Some useful controls aren't obvious