Despite a cutesier-than-usual visual overhaul, the Harvest Moon series’ debut on the Wii didn’t sit that well with many players who were expecting something bigger and better than past entries. With a reception that could be characterized as lukewarm, Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility might have appealed to new audiences, but longtime followers of the gardening, farming, and socializing simulation series found little actual improvement in the new design. On the other hand, two successful handheld Rune Factory titles proved the standard formula could benefit from an update with a new fantasy RPG twist. Fans of those games now have something to get excited about on the Wii.
Some reoccurring characters and themes from the handheld games appear, but Rune Factory: Frontier is an entirely new adventure on its own. In the beginning, Raguna (the young lad who’s the main character from the earlier games) ventures into the small town of Trampoli in search of Mist, the girl who saved him and became a close friend in the original game. It turns out a strange voice was calling to Mist in her dreams, and she had left in hopes of discovering the nature of these nocturnal visions. The two decide to settle in Trampoli, where you’ll work to build your thriving homestead, get to know and help the local citizens, explore nearby caves and dungeons, and seek out the source of Mist’s strange dreams. Though the game takes place in a fantasy-themed realm full of monsters and magic, it’s still very much a Harvest Moon game through and through.
Every second that passes in real time amounts to a minute of in-game time. Day eventually turns to night, requiring you to get some rest, and the months and seasons gradually change. Each day you’re given a set amount of stamina that’s consumed in small quantities every time you do physical activities like gardening, cooking, mining, battle, and more. This limits the amount of activities you can do in a given day, but stamina can also be replenished by eating, bathing, and sleeping. Exactly how you choose to spend each day is up to you. Interacting with certain characters in various situations, meeting certain goals, and reaching stat benchmarks often triggers cutscenes and opens up opportunities to advance the story. The game lets you progress at your own pace and tackle tasks as you see fit. You’ll likely find yourself dividing your time evenly between the traditional farming and social sim elements and the newer exploration and battle aspects of Rune Factory.
Like most Harvest Moon titles, you’re given a meager abode, a plot of tillable land, and the freedom to do what you wish. Gathering the proper tools (a watering can to garden with, a hoe to till the soil, a hammer to break rocks, an axe to chop wood, etc.) by getting to know the townspeople, you can engage in many of the traditional homestead-centered activities long-time fans are accustomed to. Sowing seeds and tending the garden daily eventually produces seasonal crops that are good for cooking recipes, eating, selling, and giving away as gifts. You can also spend time fishing, building romantic and non-romantic relationships (and eventually get married), improving your home, foraging for resources, exploring the town limits and realms beyond, raising animals (monsters, actually), and seemingly countless other activities.
Rune Factory’s controls are more functional than Tree of Tranquility’s, affording a greater level of accuracy in gardening and other activities. They take a little time to get used to. Some optional motion control elements for combat and using tools are worked in as replacements for button presses, but they all encompass waggling the Wii Remote or Nunchuk in a similar manner to engage all of the tasks. They’re not particularly well implemented, yet they don’t really hurt the gameplay. At least it’s slightly harder to trigger them by accident.
Replacing the rock and gem mines of past games, Rune Factory: Frontier features numerous dungeons packed with ore, treasure, monsters, and other mysteries to explore. These excellently designed subterranean caverns serve as the lairs to many small denizens in addition to a large boss creature. Clearing each dungeon out advances the story as well, and you’ll have to rid them of all unfriendly inhabitants to access the boss battle in each.
You can obtain various weapons and other items for battling beasties. Exploring and pummeling your way through these lairs is a fun diversion that breaks up the monotony of calm farm life. You can also break rocks to obtain ore resources and pick up dropped items from fallen enemies to use or sell. Animal husbandry is also slightly different in Rune Factory. You must use a special brush to befriend monsters and persuade them to come live on your farm. Some creatures resemble traditional animals like sheep, cows, and chickens, and they function similarly in terms of food and resources production. Other beasts can be persuaded to join you in your journey through various dungeons and assist in battle. There are many more fantasy elements worked into the gameplay that RPG fans should enjoy immensely.
The landscape and scenery in and around Trampoli and the caves beyond are gorgeous. Rune Factory: Frontier sports a slightly more mature visual style that’s still very colorful, detailed, and appealing. The village and homestead still retain a familiar country vibe, but a smattering of fantasy elements and added visual flair make the land feel more magical. Anime cutscenes appear at random; it’s likely a good thing for anime fans but not so hot for the rest of us. Though the fixed camera angle feels a little tight at times, it affords a good view of each areas and isn’t as cumbersome as Tree of Tranquility. Thankfully, load times are also cut to a minimum during transitions from area to area.
Rune Factory: Frontier gets the core traditional aspects of the formula right, while adding in exciting RPG elements and a fantastic presentation that breathes new life into the Harvest Moon series. Old-school fans who don’t mind a little fantasy flavor (a little swords and sorcery never hurt the garden vegetables, right?) will find Rune Factory’s firm grasp of the classic gameplay pleasing, and the other additions it throws in changes things up just enough to freshen the experience substantially.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
The landscape and scenery both indoors and outdoors is simply beautiful. It’s a marvelously designed adventure. 3.6 Control
Controls are occasionally cumbersome when switching between items. Motion controls are unspectacular, yet they’re far from broken. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The musical score is catchy and pleasant at times and dramatic and dark at others. The voice work borders between good and irritating. 4.5
There’s simply so much to do that it will take many months to fully explore Rune Factory’s true depth. The best part is it’s fun to do so.
4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.