Rune Factory Frontier, the latest game for the Rune Factory series and the first for the Wii platform, is really two great games in one: a simulation farming game and a role-playing fighting game. The play is fantastic and the visuals are stunningly beautiful. It is a game that works for fans of the series and for newcomers. The only danger with the game is the risk of addictive play. At one point, I considered seeing if there was a Gamers Anonymous group I could join, I could not stop playing for one more “day.”
Rune Factory Frontier starts as a farming game, where you plant and harvest crops for cash. Each second of play equals a minute so a “day” passes in under fifteen minutes. Time spent inside your house or anyone else’s house stops the clock, so the days often take a lot longer than fifteen minutes to get through. The days are set in 6-day weeks that make up four 30-day seasons of the year. The seasons have distinct soundtracks and design, and each one visually is more yummy than the next.
As you expand your farm, you can build additions to your house and upgrade your tools and weapons. You can only get so far in the game, however, before you need to go dungeon-crawling to gain skill and tools you need to advance. The beauty of Rune Factory Frontier is that you can work the balance of fighting or farming to your own liking.
You cannot completely let the farming go, however. Certain harder-to-grow flowers are required for creating your defensive armor. The farming does get easier because as you advance, you can build a barn and the animals can do some of the basic work for you.
Rune Factory Frontier really requires multi-tasking strategy. You can’t do everything you want in a day. It’s impossible. So you have to choose. As the game progresses, you gain the ability to harvest and move around the runeys (hence the name: Rune Factory), spirits of energy produced when things grow. When the runeys are plentiful and balanced, crops mature more quickly. But if any area of play becomes devoid of runeys, then crops grow more slowly. Balancing the runeys takes loads of time and the clock is ticking. If you decide to ignore the runeys and let them get into a sorry state, it takes a long time and a lot of effort to get them back in equilibrium.
Plus you have to spend time developing other skills alongside the farming and fighting. You must learn to cook and forge, craft and brew potions. Each of these takes time and the game play time stretches considerably because all these activities take place inside your house where time is frozen. The result is a game that forms an incredibly complex ecosystem that you have to make calculated decisions all the time about where and how to spend you time and resources.
You can’t cheat time, either. If you try to p lay through the night, you get penalized by waking up later and later the next day. You cannot stay up through the night completely even if you try. At 5 a.m. you are taken out of play and you wake up the next day at 10 with depleted energy reserves and often a bad cold.
Finally, Rune Factory Frontier is also a “nice” game. To play, you have to befriend other players and give attention to your livestock. Certain cut scenes don’t arise unless you get your friendship and heart points (with the girls) up to a certain level. Friendships and conversations lead you to other benefits as well. The fishing rod will help you make more money and give you food for energy. Valuable items you need for weapons, armor and courtship can be gotten early through interactions with townspeople.
I like the ways the Wii interface lets you play the game with gestures as well as buttons. To water the plants, for example, you can press a button or make a gesture similar to what you’d do to sprinkle a watering can. Unfortunately, one button does double duty for all tool actions as well as picking something up from the ground. Occasionally, I’d be in the heat of battle, want to strike only to have my character bending over to pick up an artifact instead and I’d get creamed.
You can only play as the young man, Raguna (or whatever you choose to name him.) Given the complexity of the social interactions, I understand why. Still, the game has less immediacy, since I’m always playing as “him,” and don’t feel as close as a game where the character is female or a non-gendered creature.
Rune Factory Frontier
Publisher: X Seed Games & Marvelous Entertainment