|System: PS3, Wii|
|Dev: Neverland Co.|
|Release: October 11, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p||Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol /td>|
by Becky Cunningham
Sucker-punching gigantic sea monsters with an oversized plant golem isn't exactly the first activity that comes to mind when one thinks of Japanese farming simulation games. That's the beauty of Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny, the second home console game in the Rune Factory series: it's a farming sim for people who don't like farming sims, although it will appeal to most fans of the genre as well. Set in a small town on an island, there's a maritime theme to this game that works surprisingly well.
Let's not beat around the bush; Tides of Destiny has a rocky beginning that unfortunately showcases the game's shortcomings. The introduction, in which best friends Aden and Sonja find themselves trapped in the same body and magically transported to a different version of their home island, is awkward and hindered by stilted voice acting. The game's main features are introduced fairly slowly and the player will need to pay very close attention to all on-screen instructions. The manual is patently unhelpful and the tutorials that can be consulted in-game are incomplete. The player may feel a bit lost in this little fantasy-themed village, searching for a way to move the storyline along. My tips? Talk to everyone in town and examine every interesting-looking object, and eventually you'll be back on track again.
Once it gets going, however, the game has some of the best gameplay in the history of farming simulations, or more correctly in this case, fantasy life simulations. Tides of Destiny includes farming, to be sure, but it's a pared-down version with most of the micromanagement and attendant tedium removed. Instead, the game quickly presents the player with its two main focuses: befriending/helping out villagers and exploring the ocean on top of a gigantic friendly golem named Ymir.
Like Rune Factory 3 before it, Tides of Destiny features a quest board that helps to guide the player through the game's many tasks. Although there are a few simple fetch or monster-slaying quests, most quests involve at least some story that helps the player get to know the game's townsfolk better. I can't overstate how nice it is to be able to spice up the endless rounds of gift-giving that usually rule social interactions in farming sims. We'll cover the cast of characters later, but for now I'll say that the social system in Rune Factory continues to be more multifaceted and interesting than that of its sister series, Harvest Moon.
Quests also lead the way to advancing the game's storyline, which involves Aden and Sonja's quest to separate back into two people by riding Ymir the golem around the ocean and discovering what's out there. Does it make sense, particularly at first? Not really. Is it fun? You bet! The townsfolk relay legends and rumors about surrounding sea to the main characters, who plot a destination on a sea chart and can either put the golem on auto-pilot or control it manually. Ymir stomps satisfyingly through the waters and lifts islands, shrines, and shipwrecks out from the murky depths. The player can then disembark and explore Ymir's finds, usually fighting plenty of monsters along the way.
The Rune Factory series has been slowly improving its action combat system, and this is probably the best one yet. For the first time, the main character can jump, and Aden's acrobatic, flipping double-jump gives the player a lot more control over battles than previous games have had. No longer will the Rune Factory protagonist become stuck in a corner, surrounded by monsters that constantly interrupt attempts to chug a healing potion. Instead, Aden can use his jumps to get out of corners, dodge enemy attacks, and even attack and change direction in mid-air. Beyond the jumping, Tides of Destiny's combat is swift and fluid, even providing special moves that are learned as Aden becomes more proficient with particular weapons. It's still a fairly simple combat system, and fast weapons continue to beat slow weapons due to a lack of defensive moves, but it's more fun and interesting than ever before in the Rune Factory series.
Sometimes the player will also need to fight while controlling Ymir, who sometimes lifts giant kraken, sea serpents, and the like from the ocean floor. Ymir can block and punch with his huge fists, making sea battles reminiscent of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. There's something quite appealing about these fights, especially since many of the sea monsters have a nice visual design.
Beyond socializing and exploration, there are plenty of other things to do in Tides of Destiny. Crafts practiced in the game include forging, cooking, medicine-making, crafts, and carpentry. Of these, forging, cooking, and crafts are particularly important, as they are the main ways to improve Aden's equipment and keep him healthy. The basic ingredients for these crafts are gathered in various ways. Many items drop off of monsters when they're defeated or can be bought in shops. Fish are caught from various bodies of water in a simple timed button press mini-game, similar to the one that is used while crafting. Farm products and ores are collected through the game's new farming system, which is quite different from the system in any previous Rune Factory or Harvest Moon games.
Farming sim games traditionally have had the player plow, plant seeds, water crops daily, then harvest the goods. Previous Rune Factory games have allowed the player to tame monsters to help with watering and harvesting, but there was still a fair bit of micromanagement involved. Tides of Destiny does away with almost all of that farming system. Instead, once the player uncovers a fertile island, monsters will need to be hired in order to grow any crops whatsoever. Aden has a magic wand that he waves over tillable land, producing generic plant or tree sprouts. To turn those sprouts into produce, the player will need to tame wild monsters that specialize in the desired kind of crop. This makes great use of the game's menagerie, as the player will want to tame all the different kinds of monsters in the game in order to see what they produce. Obtaining ore works similarly, with a winter-themed island on which certain types of monsters "grow" ore deposits. Other than waving the magic wand and possibly harvesting items, (though some monsters are harvesters as well) there's no player crop management involved. Control freaks may miss the ability to choose exactly which seeds are planted in which plot, but personally, I found it refreshing to take a management level stance on farming, training my monsters to produce a crop selection of my choosing and letting them do the day-to-day work.