Get ready to farm, craft, adventure, and more in the town of Selphia, as Rune Factory 4 returns in its beautiful enhanced form on the Nintendo Switch, eight years after its initial release on 3DS.
The game begins as your character is knocked out from the sky and falls into the town, losing their memory in the process. There, they meet the Native Dragon, Ventuswill, and through a series of minor mishaps, are appointed as the new prince or princess. As newly designated royalty, it’s the player’s task to earn the trust of the people living in the town, earning ‘prince’ or ‘princess points’ in the process. They can then spend these points on various ‘orders’, which vary from putting on a festival, to expanding the town shops.
There’s a lot that makes up the overall gameplay experience of Rune Factory 4 Special, though a lot of it can be compared to the likes of Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley. You have a farm in which you can grow crops and flowers, and raise friendly monsters such as Woolies and Cluckadoodles. Some monsters may give you produce such as eggs, milk or fur, and some you can also ride around on – my personal favourite being the apple monster, Pomme Pomme, that rolls around everywhere with you on top.
You’ve also got the classic fishing and cooking skills, as well as mixing medicine, forging weapons, and making armour. All of these are skills that you build up over time through practice; learning ‘recipes’ through sheer luck or eating ‘recipe bread’. Then, it’s a case of having the right ingredients, pressing ‘go’, and profit. Even though it’s nice being able to make all these things yourself, the actual process feels like it could have been fleshed out a bit more. Cooking is the more interesting one of these ‘crafting’ skills, as you have to get different equipment such as a frying pan, knife and oven to make different recipes. Even then though, it still feels rather basic; they all could have done with a bit of a mini-game of sorts, in my opinion, to feel more like you were actually doing something.
Of course, there’s the whole relationship building aspect here too. Talking to the villagers every day and giving them gifts will raise their friendship, and doing this enough with certain romance-able characters will lead to relationships and eventually marriage, if you wish. Speaking of which, a new addition to Rune Factory 4 Special is ‘Newlywed Mode’, in which all of the marriage candidates have a special additional side-episode, which unlock when you marry them in the main story. Even if you’ve played the original game, if you just couldn’t get enough of your spouse before, maybe this will be all the justification you need to jump back in again. Unfortunately, despite my relentless onslaught of milk delivery to my favourite bachelor, Dylas, he’s still yet to pop the question, but I won’t be stopping until he does.
It’s also worth noting here that, unfortunately, there are no same-sex marriage options available in the game. This is definitely a missed opportunity, especially after there were already a number of fans upset at the lack of any LGBT+ options in the original release. Hopefully, the series will address this when Rune Factory 5 releases, though it’s still disappointing that it was neglected here.
What really sets Rune Factory 4 Special apart from other similar games though is the combat and adventure element of the game. As well as a wide variety of weapons, such as dual blades, staffs, and lances, which all have unlockable skill-based attacks, you can equip various different ‘Rune Abilities’, which take the form of special attacks, magic, and healing spells. The story progresses through traversing the numerous dangerous dungeons and taking out the bosses that lurk within, rather than being tied to set points in the in-game calendar. Personally, I’m a big fan of this; you can choose to progress the plot at whatever pace you want, whenever you want, and it felt like I always had something to be doing rather than having to wait around for something to happen. The dungeoning itself is really fun too; you can bring along a couple of allies, either villagers, your monsters, or a mix of the two. Special has also introduced a new ‘Hell’ difficulty mode, giving veterans of the series a new challenge to try.
Overall, I love Rune Factory 4 Special, though I say this as a newcomer to both Rune Factory 4 and the series in general. For people who played the original, there isn’t really that much new added that’s going to give you a completely fresh experience, though the new difficulty option and Newlywed Mode will at least give you something different. As a standalone game though, there really isn’t much to fault, though I wish there was a quicker way to switch between your tools and weapons, as you have to go all the way into your menu or bag to do so. Also, a six character name limit always pains me. Despite this though, especially if you’ve not played the original, Rune Factory 4 Special is a perfect addition to anyone’s Switch game library.