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4 Reviews

Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon

It's a pastoral symphony played with bazookas

US Import: You're enjoying a relaxing walk around your new farm, eyeing the land sagely with plans for the coming harvest. Suddenly out of nowhere spawns a vile monster, demanding that you deal it a few swift blows to the head with your trusty hoe. Once the monster has been successfully dispatched, you wipe the sweat from your brow and exhale slowly. This isn't Kansas any more - it's Dorothy and Toto opening a door into Apocalypse Now.

First you get the money
Before we talk monsters though: yes, it's a Harvest Moon game, so farming is at the heart of it. But unlike previous iterations (which ran along the lines of "farm crops, get married, farm more crops") you're given a real plot to contend with. It's not just the cutscene memory of a dead parent who wants you to reenact an episode of The Good Life - it's a real reason to play.

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You've lost your memory and been set to work on a farm by a nice girl who points out that the town has recently seen an increase in monsters coming out of strange machines in the cave system. Who put them there? What are they? Who are you? How did you get here? And why do the strawberries on your farm grow to the same size as your head? Constant suggestions from the village people that your fighting ability means you were once a noble warrior breed a playing curiosity that has been rather lacking from previous Moons.

Then you get the power
So what about the fighting, then? Quite aside from the fact that a death whilst fighting in the caves means Game Over and a trip back to the menu screen (player death is all-new to Harvest Moon!), it's not as simple as saying that you can choose whether to farm or to fight. If you want to make cash, then you only need to sit at the seashore catching enormous fish, or else go into the caves with a big hammer to find shiny things.

What farming crops offers you, on top of yielding interestingly-proportioned fruit and veg, is Rune Points, which you need in order to fight, or undertake most activities. Kind of like a stamina bar, you run through this before you get onto the health bar proper. And while you can top up your health bar with potions and herbs, the Rune Points can only be topped up by picking up blue orbs that appear when a field of crops is ready for harvest.

This means that you end up planting crops throughout the cave systems as well as in your field, so you can sneak extra RP mid-dungeon battle. Each set of caves has a different climate which it keeps year-round, so you also don't run into the normal Harvest Moon problem of only being able to plant certain crops in certain months.

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In fact, Rune Factory has removed lots of HM's farming turmoil. For example, you can walk all over your plants to water them without harming them, unlike in other games where you had to plant them in a weird shape to avoid having a dead space you couldn't reach to water. All in all it's far more accessible, which means you have more time to get more involved in the other elements of the game, such as taming monsters to come and work for you, and flirting casually with the laydeez.

And the women?
There's none of that Heart Event rubbish you have to endure in the other Harvest Moons. No longer is your love affair doomed just because you forgot to bring the girl you like a polkadot tea cosy made of cheese at exactly 11.20 on a Sunday morning - now you can treat your women like you treat your farm skills and swordfighting: a slow levelling up process made possible by repetitive behaviour that provides small incremental rewards.

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