It hasn’t been that long since we covered the PlayStation release of Rune Factory 4 Special but Marvelous/XSEED have now finalized their Western localization of the sequel, which launched in Japan back in May of last year. Rune Factory 5 is a Switch exclusive for now though, so we made the switch from Sony to Nintendo for this review.
As with previous games in the series, Rune Factory 5 is a ‘slice-of-life’/farming game with social elements and a touch of real-time combat, which makes it stand out from the likes of Animal Crossing while bearing resemblance to developer Hakama’s own Story of Seasons spin-off games. The latest in the series doesn’t look to reinvent or refocus things either, but for fans of Rune Factory’s tendency to have a ton of stuff for players to do that’s probably not a bad thing.
Story-wise, Rune Factory 5 lets you create a character who then appears in the game just in time to save a young girl from a monster attack. You’ll then be hit with the overly familiar narrative mechanic of amnesia, which is turning into an all-too-common story element for RPG games at this point. Here, it’s the reason you must bide your time by helping out around town until your memories are restored – which at the same time builds up your relationships with the people who live there.
A large part of daily life in Rune Factory 5 is farming, which is pretty involved and includes a series of tasks. Some of these tasks require tools, which in turn trigger side quests that allow you to gain access to these tools. Once you grow and harvest crops, that allows you to make a little money as well, so it’s easy to see the loop that’s created here. It’s addictive too, as new stuff constantly gets added, making it rarely feel like simple busywork.
You’ll also venture outside the town of Rigbarth, often to battle monsters and/or explore dungeons through real-time combat. It’s a simple combat system that lets you get away with button mashing if that’s how you enjoy playing, but you can try to pull off combos by alternating between normal, heavy and charged attacks as well. If you’ve played earlier Rune Factory games – and we played Rune Factory 4 Special just three months ago – there’s nothing new under the sun here.
The relationship aspect of Rune Factory has been expanded upon in this game though, and you can choose to date/romance any character regardless of gender – a big step forward for the genre and a nice bit of attention to detail. You’ll find that that same attention to detail was also given to the narrative and character development, with interesting stories not just for your protagonist but also for many of the other characters you meet. The story, told through visual novel-style conversations, is every bit as involved as the game’s farming and adventuring mechanics, which should definitely please long time fans.
What’s less impressive is the audiovisual presentation of Rune Factory 5. It’s been almost ten years since the release of Rune Factory 4 on the 3DS at this point, and we’ve had a number of years in which we were able to see what the Switch can do. While the 3D models for characters look good, the environment in which they move around is less than impressive, with backgrounds being almost entirely devoid of detail. The 3D models are underused as well, as your perspective switches to a visual novel style when you engage in conversations. Add small visual glitches here and there into the mix, and you’ve got a game with solid mechanics but a flawed presentation.
There’s plenty to enjoy for Rune Factory 5 fans though, who will gladly pour dozens of hours into the game and its brand new story. The core formula was already built around having tons of things to do so perhaps they didn’t need to implement more mechanics there, but a leap forward in the audiovisual sense would have been welcome.