Rune Factory Frontier [Available on Wii]
ESRB Rated: E10+
Number of Players: 1
Publisher: Marvelous Entertainment/Xseed
Release Date: March 17th, 2009
Harvest Moon has always served as an excellent contrast to other RPGs on the market. Known for taking the form of a sim, our goal for years has been to perform the daily grind of farming, enter marriage and manage crops. This has never screamed as a fun game concept, but the series has to be doing something right to have lasted for over a decade since its birth on the Super Nintendo. Numerous sequels have spawned, most of which bear virtually identical gameplay with minor tweaks thrown in. Lately though, interesting spin-offs have been popping up, starting with Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon on the DS. This time it’s the Nintendo Wii’s turn. As luck would have it, Rune Factory: Frontier is a quality game that proudly fills the RPG void on the little white box.
Despite being released for Wii, RFF is a semi-sequel to the DS game. You still farm, but the experience takes on more fantasy mayhem with the addition of swords and monsters. The formula isn’t just about homestead management, wedlock, maintaining friendships and doing business anymore. Dungeon conquering, monster taming and more have been added to the mix. The game even boasts a more significant “story” than the typical Harvest Moon, which also happens to drastically depart from the typical RPG—it’s non-linear and fresh. The plot focuses on Raguna, the same lead character from the DS game. However, the tale of RFF is entirely self-contained. Experience with the prequel isn’t necessary, you’d simply miss cross-references; but the games aren’t interdependent. It’s your job to tend the farm while villagers introduce themselves and the occasional newcomer drops in. The story isn’t epic as you might find with Final Fantasy, but it’s an interesting way to nudge you along during a non-linear campaign. Cutscenes keep things moving and introduce characters, but they’re not stereotypically grandiose, so the gameplay always maintains command.
Unlike other RPGs that hold your hand until the ending credits roll, Rune Factory maintains the roots of Harvest Moon and lets the player’s choices shape things. One path could be sinking hours into tending your fields, crops, tools, along with selling the harvest and conducting business in town. Or the focus could be on finding a potential mate, acquiring items that other characters like, remembering NPC schedules, and more. If action is on the brain, dungeon-crawling, defeating monsters, gaining levels, and crafting weapons is possible…whatever tickles your fancy. There’s so much to do that the game quickly turns into a serious time vampire. In order to explain the mechanics a bit better, let’s examine each piece individually.
Farming is as simple as pressing a button or swinging the Wii remote to use a tool, such as a hoe, watering can, scythe, hammer, etc. Over time, your character loses stamina, but gains proficiency with the tools. Better equipment can be made or purchased throughout the adventure, offering new benefits. To profit, you can grow crops and sell the harvest by placing it in the collection bin. To recover stamina, the options are to rest overnight or relax at a bathhouse in town. Dungeon-crawling bears about the same depth. The consequences of tool use hold true for weapons as well. Also, reaching higher levels due to defeating monsters increases your HP and stamina. Dungeon exploration may also yield new items applicable to cooking, weapon-crafting, and so forth. Dungeons additionally provide grounds to tame monsters and raise them on your property. Couple all this with five plot-driven dungeons, boss battles, unlockables, etc, and my point of Rune Factory: Frontier being epic is only strengthened.
The homestead can also be further customized with amenities like cooking ware, a forge, and more. RFF is a constant cycle of money-making, upgrading, exploiting your upgrades, profiting more, and so on. Going it alone is boring though, so mingling with townspeople and finding a bride is important too. The plot focuses a lot on these factors, but again, the pace is decided by you. Frontier has a massive design, but rather than running on real time, players enjoy a modified “fast” day. Days span 24 minutes, and with so much to do all the time, there’s never a dull moment. It’s refreshing to have such a deep game to play on Wii; it combines the addiction of Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon with the richness and fantasy narrative of Final Fantasy – it’s a great achievement. There are some downsides though. It’s initially frustrating to determine where to start. The game doesn’t provide prompts, so sometimes finding a specific tool or knowing who to speak with can be annoying. It takes a little extra footwork on the player’s part. Furthermore, it can feel like you’re walking in circles when you’re browsing the same villages and areas time and time again. I would’ve appreciated more small towns spread around the main hub. Finally, long-time fans may feel betrayed that playing as a female isn’t an option; the series has often been dual-released so as to offer a version for the “female” perspective on the same game. Despite these flaws, Rune Factory is great fun.
Rune Factory: Frontier is a pretty too. It’s not the best visual effort on Wii, but pleasing nonetheless. The presentation is extremely colorful and vibrant, with each area of town bursting with life. The designs stay in touch with the DS games, and the characters transitioned well from 2D sprites to 3D models. The animation is stiff at times, but the game is still a looker. Character portraits are highlighted and the artwork is beautiful; the expressions are especially fun to see. Voice work accompanies some scenes, but the game would’ve benefitted more from full support. Sound quality is excellent and the music is well-done, wrapping up this great package.
Rune Factory: Frontier features an absurd value. Easily eclipsing 100+ hour territory, this sim-RPG is a welcome hit for the starved Wii. RFF is a solid effort on all levels, and I’m excited for the prospect for a sequel; a bigger game, online components, male and female options, and more. Considering how well this turned out, the future for Rune Factory seems bright.
Overall (Not an average): 8.5/10