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Rune Factory 4: More farm, harm and charm

Clocking in at the factory again...

After three games' worth of amnesiac protagonists, it will surprise precisely no one to learn that Rune Factory 4 begins with our hero losing their memory.

Yet if this is far from a new concept for the series, at least there's an inventive reason for it - the clumsy fool falls out of an airship (as you do) and bashes their head. Perhaps that bump on the bonce is the explanation for the male character's unlikely moniker, Les. The female alternative, meanwhile, goes by the only slightly more sensible Frey.

PLAYING THE FIELD
Whichever you choose, you'll live the life of a prince or princess, albeit one who's prepared to get their hands dirty. Yes, that means tilling fields, planting seeds and watering shoots - though crops aren't restricted to a grid this time and you can grow much larger vegetables. You'll also be able to spend any prince or princess points on new buildings and organising festivals to attract tourists to your town.

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There's a whole new dating system, too. You're royalty, so naturally there's no shortage of potential partners, but instead of befriending someone and then instantly marrying them, as in previous games, you need to spend some time wooing them.

Indecisive players - or potential bigamists - will no doubt be delighted with the option to date several characters at once. The new Doki Doki Zoom feature allows you to get a closer look at your potential love matches.

Though that name might induce fears of a troubling witch-touching interlude - Matthew still shudders at the memory - it's actually an onomatopoeic term used in Japan to represent the sound of a heartbeat. In other words, the feature highlights the more romantic moments, whether you're taking your beloved on a picnic or, er, a fishing expedition.

Other information is a little thin on the ground - the game is reportedly only 50% complete, after all - but we know that your hero has the ability to talk to dragons, including one which has its own butler. Could this mean a more peaceful relationship with the fauna compared with the aggro-cultural approach?

Either way, we're glad of these fresh ideas. We like the Rune Factory games but we're weary of the same old routine. And with some fine art looking particularly resplendent in 3DS sharp-o-vision, you can sign us up for a fourth dose of the series' beguilingly bucolic busywork.

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