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Rune Factory 3 is the third DS installment of the Rune Factory series, which is a spin-off of the series Harvest Moon. While I don't really feel that a game should be harshly judged based on what it improves on from its earlier installments in most cases, Rune Factory 3 is an exception. It is recommended that a player should play Rune Factory 1 and Rune Factory 2 before playing Rune Factory 3 (not necessarily start to finish, but at least so that one has a good feel for the two games) for two major reasons. The first of the aforementioned reasons is that Rune Factory 3 makes a plethora of improvements to pretty much every mechanic in the Rune Factory franchise, and because of this it will be difficult for one who has played Rune Factory 3 to go back to the previous installments. The second reason being that Rune Factory veterans (that is, those who have played the previous installments) will have a much greater appreciation for the game than those who jump into the series at Rune Factory 3, and that appreciation makes the experience FAR more enjoyable.
The story in Rune Factory 3 follows the standard Rune Factory formula: boy arrives in town with amnesia, mascot girl (in this case, her name is Shara) finds boy, mascot girl gives boy lodging and farm. However, the twist in this game is that the main character (officially named Micah is part wooly (basically, a wooly is a lamb), and his job is not only to regain his memory, but also to unite the people that are the Univirs (a group of horned people living in the desert) and the locals of the town of Sharance, who have been angry at each other for years due to a feud that occurred. Along the way, the player must play through four dungeons to regain his memory, and he must also do various tasks along the way to progress the story, thus the methodic act of completing one dungeon and going to the next is thwarted by non-methodic tasks. The story is rather short, and is not as complex or as lengthy as its predecessors, but it doesn't hinder the game that much as its story is still executed well and does its job to match the games mood and tone.
Rune Factory 3, being a Harvest Moon Spin-off, exhibits farming as one of its major features. Granted, while there are points in the game where you need to farm (not too many, though) and side missions that do as well, the game doesn't try to push the feature on those that don't want to use it too much. In fact, you can go a large amount of the game without ever touching the field. Farming is done in a grid-based system, each panel of the field allows for one plant, and one must till, plant, and water the plant to allow it to grow. However, farming isn't as boring as it sounds. In previous installments, farming was slow and tedious, and could take a lot of time. In Rune Factory 3, however, this has been fixed. In previous iterations, clearing and tilling the field was a chore because using farm tools was slow (even when charged). Now, not only has using farm tools sped up significantly, but the player can also string together combos with the tools to care to their field even faster, and ultimately, more enjoyable. What's more, as the player gains stronger and more efficient farm tools, they can charge their attacks (one uses the attack function to use the farm tools) to cover larger and larger groups of panels, thus making farming much faster. Because of these improvements, one can essentially tend to their entire field in a matter of seconds or minutes. Also, probably the biggest enhancement is that if one puts an object down it won't disappear. This has led to incredible frustrations in the past for Rune Factory veterans, and it is a welcome change.
This particular installment places a larger emphasis on its fighting mechanics. One thing to note is that the player's running speed has increased since the previous games, as have the enemies' (though on a much lower scale, but their speed various based on the type of enemy); this helps to make the action feel faster and more fluid. Combos also feel fast, fluid, and powerful, and they have also improved in the games transition from 2 to 3. The player can also dash to quickly evade attacks, which is very helpful and in many cases life saving. This game uses points called Rune Points (often shortened to RP). Rune Points are expended whenever a player attacks (this includes farming), cooks, forges, or uses a spell. While this may seem cumbersome, it is actually a clever system. RP will give the player incentives to make and buy food, as well as prepare before going on long expeditions, grinding runs, or intense training. It also pushes the player to learn their surroundings so that they may be able to find RP recovering catalysts such as food or crystals (breaking a crystal reveals a small orb of energy that renews RP). Realistically, the RP system emulates a Fatigue system. So one must then ask, "Why should I care about this? What would happen if I let my RP all go away?" Well, that's where the push comes in. Once one depletes their RP, the player starts to deplete their health in its place. If one is careless, one might send themselves to an early grave via suicide- or rather, that would have been the case in Rune Factory 1 or 2, but not now. Another change (and a major improvement, in this reviewer's opinion) is that one can no longer get "Game Over". Instead, the player is sent back to the clinic in town and pays a fee. Be warned, though, as that fee grows larger each time the player dies (which makes playing on Hard Mode expensive). Also, if one wants a challenge, they can go tackle the dungeon that lies under their house. It has several floors, strong enemies, and is multiplayer compatible.
The skill system in is deceptively large and expansive, when in reality it's pretty simply. Almost everything you do, except talking and shopping, is a skill. This is no exaggeration. Simply eating is a skill. Now, this isn't to say that one gets better at eating the more they eat. Instead, the more one builds up the skill the stronger their stats become. Several skills simply raise stats such as strength, health, and RP to strengthen them. This is useful, as one can simply take pleasure in the Life Simulator or Farming aspect of the game rather than training to become stronger, and because of this the game's appeal broadens so that those who want to embrace various parts of the game more than other aspects can do so without being punished for it. That said, it is much faster to fight to become stronger, as when one fights they not only improve their strength, but it also increases the amount of damage the player does with that weapon or spell element. This system makes RP become less and less of a problem as the game progresses.
One can buy another and make a living making potions, accessories, and weapons (or use them for themselves). The forging system is very in depth, yet it also maintains simplicity. One simply needs the right materials to create an item. Simple, right? It really doesn't get more complicated than that, other than the fact that your forging level (or your medicine level) determines whether you can make said item. Where the complexity comes in is the upgrading portion. Just like the player, weapons and accessories have stats, and to improve those stats they need to be upgraded on the forge. One can upgrade them by using an item as a catalyst to make them stronger. Different items make the weapon/accessory stronger in different ways. For instance, one item can make an it's host stronger and also give it the ability to drain health, while another can raise defense and give the host the ability to poison enemies.
Finally, there is the Life Simulator aspect. In addition to all of the aforementioned, the player can go In town, make friends, go on side-missions, fall in love, get married, and have children. This is a staple of the Harvest Moon series, and is not lost in this series. The characters are all diverse and unique and have eccentric personalities, as well as backstories that the player can learn through side missions or just by talking to them. The characters even have their own lives, going to meet with friends, doing their jobs, eating, fishing, going to the beach; all of these things make for a very immersive world. The characters also have a ton of dialog, so the player won't keep hearing the same lines over and over again. Probably the most disappointing things about this life simulator is that the children do not grow up and don't do anything and the wife doesn't do much, either, which is a unfortunate as it has been shown that the marriage and childbearing aspects of the Harvest Moon franchise can be rather expansive.
The player can also invest their time other activities. One can buy appliances for a kitchen and learn to cook using various ingredients that can either be bought or found in different places. There's also fishing, which can be done in many different places, and depending on the season and location, different fish appear. Fish can be used on various appliances to cook, and they can also be used in contests. There are also festivals on various days of the year; these festivals can be crop festivals, where you submit a crop you grew to win a prize, or minigame festivals, where you play a minigame for a prize. There's also mining, which goes hand-in-hand with forging. One can also tame monsters (some of which they can ride on), and there are plenty of other things to do as well.
I'll be honest, going the moment I got this game I immediately undubbed it (undubbing is the act of replacing the dub, which is the translated audio of a game, show, etc., and replacing it with the original audio); I had no faith that this game would have a good dub after playing Rune Factories one and two. Despite the fact that the Japanese voice actors are very good, that was careless of me. The voice acting in this installment ranges from okay to very well done. While not all of the lines are delivered in the best manner and not all of the voices are best fit to the characters, the voice acting is still a large step up from the previous games. The characters lines are written well and the voice actors themselves are very confident and expressive (generally cheesy lines are a testament to the characters' personalities, specifically Sherman and Sofia, and they are most likely written that way on purpose), thus they do a very good job of bringing the characters and the environments to life. This is important to note, because when around others (specifically, when in town), the townsfolk will shout and talk occasionally in real-time, thus making the world feel more lively while still not reaching a level of noise that would annoy the player...in most cases. There are exceptions, for instance, in when one teams up with another character for an outing, the character's battle shouts and reactions can become cluttered and very frequent, both of which may result in the player's irritation (while the Elf character Daria's traits may be endearing, hearing her yell "Rainbow" and "Wowzers!" as frequently as she does can be a little jarring).
In regards to the music, it is also well done. The songs don't try too hard to grab the player's attention or to put them in awe, but they are still good enough to be considered memorable (and they need to be, as the player will be hearing them often. The theme song is slightly melancholic, and while a little hard to understand, it's rather well done for a translated from Japanese. The songs also do well to drive the mood of the situation as well as to cover several styles (from Old Western to Casual Folk…just a couple examples), and these really help to create the atmosphere that the rural town of Sharance tries to give off.
Rune Factory 3 is a mixed bag in the Graphics category. Probably Rune Factory's weakest area is its models and textures. The models and textures themselves are rather low in quality (as they have been in the previous DS titles), but having said that, there will be a noticeable increase in texture quality for Rune Factory veterans. The environments and backgrounds mostly seem to be drawn (yet due to the game's camera angle not being directly top down, the backgrounds have a sort of 3D feel about them) rather than being actual 3D objects or models. That being said, the environments are both detailed and well done. Objects and weapons (unless equipped) are 2D, and they are also detailed and well done. In terms of character sprites, Rune Factory 3's sprites are some of the highest quality that can be seen on the DS. The character sprites are colorful, vibrant, crisp, and sharp; they are a great testament to the characters, and really do well to drive their emotions, personalities, and eccentricies.
Then, there are the characters themselves. The characters are very diverse and unique in appearance, which blends well with their actual personalities. The designs are detailed, and those details are reflected in the characters 3D models, in spite of the models' low quality. One thing that players might notice is that some of the male characters seem be have androgynous appearances, not all of them, but a few of them (most noticeably the main character). While this reviewer can't actually critique that specific aspect, it is one particular aspect of the game's art style that is worth noting.
Rune Factory 3 has an incredible amount of content to offer. It stays true to its genre, and offers a lot in the way non-story dependent content and activity. The game boasts a skill system, crafting system, and a gigantic dungeon, all of which will leave the player with an incentive to keep going into the postgame. The characters are creative and interesting, and so are the several systems held within Rune Factory 3. In terms of story, it's pretty much what one comes to expect from Rune Factory, and while the story is slightly short and doesn't necessarily meet the standards of those of earlier installments, it is by no means bad. Even still, the game is a great addition to the DS and to gaming as a whole, and it has certainly set the bar high for the series.
I have a quick question so I just need your opinion. If one has played the First Rune Factory what are the Major Improvements?
It would be difficult to name them all. The graphics are better (as in the 3D textures and the 2D art, the latter of which is a huge step up), the voice acting is much better, fighting is made faster, more seamless, and simply more enjoyable, the game itself is just plain faster, and farming is takes much less time. There are also tons upon tons of other improvements, it's a little difficult to pick out which one are major, but those are probably the most noticeable of the changes.