Rune Factory 5 Preview
You might not have played a Rune Factory game before, but trust me, a lot of Rune Factory 5 will be familiar to you. There’s the usual JRPG tropes. You play as either a male or female who has awakened with no memory of who they are or what happened to them before the game started. There’s the Stardew Valley life sim elements. You farm, craft items, make friendships and sell your produce by putting it into a bin every day. And there’s even some Pokemon thrown in for good measure, as you catch monsters and tame them to do your bidding.
Rune Factory 5 takes all of its many influences and presents them in a pleasant and enjoyable package. This could have easily been a disjointed affair, with so much going on at once. But a well-integrated Tutorial teaches you the ropes in the form of some simple tasks picked up via a bulletin board. You begin the social aspects by wandering the town and meeting everyone. Then you learn to plant seeds, and sell vegetables. You grow your relationship meter with some NPCs in town. Eventually, you even venture out into the forest for some real time combat to save one of the town’s denizens.
Your hub in Rune Factory 5 is the town of Rigbarth. Spread over a big area, it’s got all the shops you’ll need — a General Store, a Bakery, a Blacksmith, an Inn and Bathhouse and more. It’s a bit too big. One of the downsides of playing Rune Factory 5 for me has been the long sojourns to get to various places I needed to visit. I didn’t see a Fast Travel option in my playtime, and I missed it. The HUD is also small, so if I wanted to get somewhere without wasting time, I had to open up the main map fairly often.
Romance Is In the Air
It’s a colorful and inviting town, though, with some interesting NPCs to meet and greet, befriend, and apparently romance. I didn’t make enough of a connection with anyone to trigger a romance dialogue option yet, but I got pretty close with Lucy. I invited her to “have an adventure together” several times and she politely rebuffed me each time; but I swear the last couple of times she was really close to accepting my offer. I can feel I’m just a few well-timed turnip gifts from a “yes.”
Romance is part of the deep life sim that Rune Factory 5 offers. Successfully romance a character, and you can eventually marry them and even have children (who apparently will inherit your physical traits and everything). Each time you interact with someone, your relationship meter fills up a bit more. Just as with Stardew Valley and other games like My Time at Portia, you can accelerate the process by doing Tasks for them or giving them cool stuff.
The JRPG part comes in the Story, when you fulfill your role as one of the SEED Rangers who are tasked with defending Rigbarth from monsters who come through portals surrounding the town. With your crafted weapons, you engage in real-time combat. Dungeons and forest mazes offer extended combat culminating in Boss battles. Rune Factory 5’s combat mechanics are surprisingly deep. Defensive moves like Dodges even come into play, especially during the tougher Boss encounters.
Many Games in One
Leveling up your skills and character levels is simplified, and done automatically as you gain experience. It’s one area where I was hoping for a little more control. For example, the ability to allot points to certain skill areas. Save points are also scarce, and they’re not clearly marked on the HUD. So if you want to avoid losing progress in Rune Factory 5, you’ll have to learn where they are and visit them periodically.
There’s a lot going on in Rune Factory 5 and considering all that’s crammed in, developers Marvelous do a good job integrating it all. But even so, it’s not seamless. Equipping an item and using it felt awkward for me. It required that I go into the menu, select the item and place it into the proper slot. Then if I wanted to switch items, I had to do that all over again. I spent way more time fiddling with the menu in Rune Factory 5 than I’d like. And if there was a faster way to do all this, the game didn’t explain it during my time playing.
Rune Factory 5 offers a lot of content and so many fun things to do. You could play it as almost three separate games if you wished — farming sim, story-rich JRPG, or dating sim — and any of them would provide hours of enjoyment. There are some rough edges that slow down the experience. But overall this is an addictive and fun game that looks to be one of the better Switch titles when the full version releases on March 22nd, 2022.
** Switch game code provided by the publisher **