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3 Reviews

Rune Factory Oceans

Surfing and turfing

We don't know a lot about the trials and tribulations of the modern-day farmer, but ever since Harvest Moon introduced us to the thrills of chicken coop management, we've been smitten with gaming agriculture.

But when Rune Factory brought together animal-rearing and seed-sowing within the context of a fantasy-themed JRPG, we discovered the true meaning of multi-tasking.

From crop cultivation and monster training to dungeon plundering and wife wooing - it was all in a day's work for the budding Rune Factory farmer. But after three similar sequels, can Oceans entice fans into a fifth marriage?

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The setting, appropriately, is the island of Finis, which is surrounded by a vast expanse of sea. The two main characters - somewhat more bizarrely - are the spiritually conjoined Azel and Sonia.

The two arrive on the island after being summoned from another dimension, but due to a trans-dimensional hiccup, Sonia's body is lost and her soul becomes attached to Azel, leading to the two of them inhabiting the same skin.

This symbiotic relationship provides the game's laughs, including Azel visiting the male bathhouse against Sonia's wishes and Sonia dishing out the criticism whenever Azel chats up the ladies. She's a bit of a backseat driver.

Relationship-building is Oceans' main focus, and with over 20 locals to befriend - all of whom set quests via a convenient noticeboard - you'll have your hands full as you try to become the most popular handyman in town.

Most missions come in the form of fetch quests and monster hunts, and in order to progress the story you'll venture out to sea in search of new islands. But rather than a rune-powered hovercraft or a ridiculous talking boat, exploration of the high seas is sensibly handled from atop your seafaring giant.

BIG FERRYING GIANT
The beast's name is Ymir and by guiding Azel up to his high-rise shoulders you can pace through the waves while fighting monsters and recovering landmarks from the seabed.

These replace the traditional Rune Factory caves, and you're never sure what Ymir is going to dredge up next from the islands, shipwrecks and giant stone heads. The same goes for the inventive bosses that guard the depths of dimly lit dungeons.

One encounter has you facing off against a mole in a swimsuit, while another sees you fighting an enormous crab that's kitted out with machineguns. Luckily, Azel can wield more than just a shrimp fork.

The combat system has remained largely unchanged, with weapons that include great swords, hammers and wands, in addition to the new doubleswords and katanas. Having a blade in each hand turns Azel into an advancing whirlwind of ceaseless slashing, whereas the katana is more about dealing significant damage to a single enemy.

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It's still a case of mashing the same combo again and again, but the process of upgrading your armaments has, thankfully, lost none of its appeal.

By bludgeoning your way through a bestiary of deceptively cute goblins, wolves and golems, you'll amass a stockpile of materials that can be fashioned into a range of useful items.

In Frontiers you had to upgrade your homestead before accessing the forging facilities, but in the less security-conscious world of Oceans, you can waltz straight into your neighbour's house and use their chopping board, workbench and apothecary table. But while item creation retains its diversity, the revamped farming is much more streamlined.

HOE DOWN
The rustic charms of the hoe and watering can have been replaced by a magic stick that can conjure saplings. Then to turn these darling buds into saleable crops, you need to procure a workforce of monsters.

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