Getting the Formula Right…
This year has definitely seen its share of Harvest Moon titles. From the cute, female-centric Harvest Moon DS remake to the Harvest Moon Island of Happiness and Tree of Tranquility double shot, fans of the series have definitely had a lot to chew on this year.
However, even though the release list was rather large, one lingering issue all these different releases shared was a lack of innovation. For all their storyline and character differences, at their heart, all these games were painfully similar and didn’t seem to deliver on the innovation so many were expecting. However, Rune: Facrtory 2: A Fantasy Harvest Moon adds some much-needed new elements to the Harvest Moon formula, despite being eerily similar to last year’s Rune Factory.
The story in Rune Factory 2 follows a young man who seems to have lost his memory. He wakes up in a cherry blossom garden where a young girl explains his location to him and offers him some basic tools and a farm to live on. The story is very sparse at first, and you’ll have to wait five or six hours before the action really begins. Even though it’s a slow start, the story spans two generations, and there are plenty of memorable moments along the way. Although some aspects of the story, such as your love interest and children, will be determined by your actions in-game, many of the story elements are quite rigid. Although this title does not carry the signature “farm to save the world” storyline that has been the hallmark of many Harvest Moon titles.
The gameplay is almost identical to last year’s Rune Factory and has an optimum mix of RPG-style battles and tried and true farming. The battle aspect of the game allows you to go into various dungeon-like areas where you can find monsters, rare plants, and special items, and then fight them with equipped weapons like swords and battle axes. There is also a battle magic component that allows you to learn and level up different spells. The various dungeons you can visit all have a fair amount of depth, and your character can even camp out in the dungeons during long expeditions.
The agriculture in this title is very similar to the regular Harvest Moon titles, but with an RPG twist. Different farming activities can be “leveled up” to make them more efficient. For example, when you increase your watering can abilities, you can water more crops at the same time. Although there isn’t much that separates the agricultural component of this game from previous Harvest Moon titles, this aspect is what keeps fans clamoring for more, so it best left unchanged.
The game is not set up in a linear fashion, which allows you to take on farming projects as well as battle quests at your own pace. The game’s progression is also largely determined by your actions, and it is fairly easy to squeeze more than forty hours out of this title. Still, if you only want a brief jaunt into Rune Factory and keep to the story, the experience is still quite hefty, and you can expect to pour at least twenty hours into this title.
In addition to the single-player story mode, there is a multiplayer component to Rune Factory 2 which allows you to trade items with distant friends whose friend codes you have obtained. Although this is an interesting component to the game, trading items is not exactly the most exciting of features. I would have loved to have seen some sort of online co-op system incorporated here.
One thing I really appreciated about Rune Factory 2 was the control options. The control is mainly button-based, with most attack and agricultural-based commands tied to a certain button. However, there are stylus input options, which are really useful for navigating long and complex menus. I would traditionally balk at a control scheme that uses both stylus and button inputs, but both input methods work well, and a combination of both works surprisingly well.
The graphics in this title are also very good, and the visual style of the game has the series’ trademark anime look with a little bit more of a fantasy-inspired, rustic feel. The graphics use a combination of highly detailed 2D environmental elements with nicely modeled 3D characters to achieve a very unique look. Although the different characters do suffer from a little blurring, the graphics are very solid overall.
Music is also very good, and each area in the Rune Factory landscape has a cute little tune accompanying it. The title song is also very catchy and is an interesting J-Pop number that sounds great. However, the voiceover in this title is not so good. The voiceovers are very infrequent; to the point where you never know if you will get voiced dialogue or scrolling text. The voiceovers are also hit or miss in terms of quality and just don’t really cut it.
My one major criticism of Rune Factory 2 is that it is too similar to last year’s Rune Factory. Even though the Rune Factory series feels like a huge departure for the Harvest Moon franchise as a whole, I would love to see this series mature and develop. The story, though very charming, bears one too many resemblances to last year’s title and a lot of the core mechanics and quests remain identical to those found in the original. Still, Rune Factory 2 is the best Harvest Moon title to come out this year, and if you are just itching to get your agricultural juices flowing, Rune Factory 2 provides the perfect vehicle to do so.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.1 Graphics
Graphics look very good and feature a nice mix of both 2D and 3D elements. 4.4 Control
Although the entire game can be played with buttons, stylus options come in handy when navigating complex menus. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The score is very nice, and the opening song is quite catchy. However, voiceovers are infrequent and hit or miss in terms of quality. 4.0
Although Rune Factory 2 gets off to a very slow start, the gameplay is extremely rewarding and it is easy to get lost in this title.
4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.