Over the years there have been plenty of games in the so-called relaxing genre of farming simulators. Starting with Harvest Moon and branching off in many different directions since, this once niche market has expanded thanks to the help of indie developers and the success of games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which isn’t exactly the same thing, but sort of resides in a similar wheelhouse. Having played and greatly enjoyed Rune Factory 4 Special on the Nintendo Switch, I was excited to give Rune Factory 5 a shot. The good news is that fans of the series will undoubtedly be pleased for the most part. The bad news is there’s little innovation here to entice new players to the series.
For the uninitiated, the Rune Factory games are a sort of combination of the simulation aspects of Harvest Moon (or Story of Seasons if you prefer) and the hack and slash action found in games like The Legend of Zelda. There are tons of things to do, including finding new seeds to plant crops, learning new recipes to make various foods, and collecting raw materials to craft tools and weapons. On top of that there are numerous systems in place that are constantly rewarding you for accomplishing even the most mundane of tasks. You’ll be leveling up everything you do, whether that be exploring or even sleeping!
As is typical of the series, the game leans heavy into its Japanese roots with a highly stylized anime presentation. All of the townspeople you meet are bright and colorful and you’re often treated to short animation cutscenes that introduce you to the various main characters. You’ll have the choice at the beginning of your game to play as a boy or a girl and down the road you’ll be able to romance the various villagers and eventually even marry and potentially have kids. One improvement over the previous entries is that same-sex relationships are now allowed, which is a fantastic step forward for the series.
For a game to keep me hooked it needs to, above all else, have fun gameplay. While Rune Factory 5 doesn’t necessarily have bad controls, it is somewhat clunky with all of its menus and the combat just isn’t all that engaging. In fact, that’s really how I feel about the game as a whole — it just doesn’t feel like a fully polished experience. Everything works, but it’s just not that fun and it doesn’t excel in either the simulation aspects or the exploration or the combat. This is disappointing because this one was built from the ground up for the Switch and I was hoping for a brand new adventure, but everything here feels so similar to the last game.
Most of the criticisms of Rune Factory 4 Special were that it was an up-scaled version of a 3DS game, which were somewhat valid. Unfortunately the sequel has even more issues. Sure, it runs on a fully 3D engine now and you get to explore areas and towns with a more up to date engine, but the Switch simply can’t handle the polygons thrown at it. Various areas of the game often slow down and the framerate takes a hit quite often. The environments are mostly flat and boring, which takes some of the fun out of exploring. It’s almost like an early PS3 game when it comes to presentation and it just feels like you’re playing a port of an older title, when in fact this should be ushering in a whole new experience. This was the chance for the series to break out, but instead it feels tired. Perhaps the budget wasn’t there, but that’s a shame because I had really high hopes for this game.
That’s not to say the game is bad. If you liked prior games in the series, you’re sure to have a good time here. It’s more of the same and that’s not necessarily bad for fans clamoring for just that. It just seems like so many other series have taken risks on the Switch and benefitted greatly with increased sales and momentum. I just don’t see that happening here, but perhaps that’s not what the developers expected.
If you’re completely new to the franchise, Rune Factory 5 is welcoming enough. You’ll have plenty of tutorials to go through to teach you the ropes. There’s a lot of game here, and there is something to be said about how the game allows you to play how you want. You’re not usually forced to do one thing or another on any given day. If farming is more your speed, then you can spend your days in the fields. If you’d rather explore the world and fight some enemies and learn new spells, then that’s available to you as well. Just be prepared for a very Japanese game with the usual JRPG tropes, including some oddly clothed characters throughout. Veterans of the series will be right at home.
In the end, I had a pretty good time with Rune Factory 5, but I actually enjoyed part 4 more because it was my first one and it released at a time when there was a bit of a drought of games for me. Right now 2022 has already produced plenty of game vying for my attention and it doesn’t look like that’s going to stop anytime soon. As a result, my attention kept getting pulled away from this release and it failed to hold my attention. Had the game reinvented itself or introduced some really cool things or even had a stable framerate perhaps I wouldn’t have been so easily distracted. I can wholeheartedly recommend this game to fans of the series. Everyone else might want to wait for a price drop.
Rune Factory 5 Review
- Graphics - 5/105/10
- Sound - 6/106/10
- Gameplay - 6/106/10
- Lasting Appeal - 9/109/10
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
A lack of innovation, boring exploration, and disappointing graphics make Rune Factory 5 a game you could probably skip over unless you’re a super fan of the series. Newcomers might find enough to like here, but might be better served waiting for a price drop just to make sure.