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DS  header logo

Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon

For: DS

Beat your plough into a sword

Product: Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon | Developer: Neverland Co., Ltd | Publisher: Rising Star Games Limited | Format: DS | Genre: RPG, Simulation | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), wireless (network) | Version: US
Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon DS, thumbnail 1
As assumed by its rustic title, the Harvest Moon series of farming sims are about as pleasant games as you could ever wish to play. Sure there's plenty of fiddling around with inventories, not to mention crops and livestock to look after, but these are games you experience at your own pace. If you so desire, you can potter around soaking in the atmosphere. If only real farming was as laissez-faire, we'd all be at it.

Such an approach flies in the face of current gaming trends - just consider the number of first person shooters recently released. Even the driving force behind casual games is the competitive nature of besting your high scores. On that level, Harvest Moon looks a bit old fashioned, which brings us to Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon.

Sticking with naming convention, it's a bit of a mouthful, but you get the picture. There are fantasy elements. Maybe even some type of factory. Perhaps churning out runes?

Well. Sort of. Rune Factory is best described as Harvest Moon with swords and spells. In fact, that's exactly how Rune Factory plays, and it's the combination of these elements that provides both the game's strengths and weaknesses.

The farming bit sees you turn up in the village of Kardia, as Raguna, a young boy with a serious case of amnesia. Nevertheless, you're handed a patch of land which you have to cultivate - clearing it of rubbish and then ploughing and planting the correct seeds for the particular season. You'll also have to water and weed around your plants every day before you get up to anything more interesting. Eventually, when the crops are fully grown, you can harvest and sell them for the cash you'll need to ensure you're ready for the other part of the game.

That's the fighting bit. So as not to confuse players, this occurs in specific locations - several caves - so you have to actively go looking for trouble. Indeed, you'll have to introduce yourself around the village to the somewhat crazy mayor, plus assorted shopkeepers, doctors, priests, librarians (and their daughters - of whom more later), in order to get the passes and equipment that provide access in the first place.

The real-time combat is fiddly however. Each cave is full of monster generators that, if you don't destroy them, keep pumping out bad guys. Annoyingly the generators also respawn every time you enter a cave, meaning you always have to fight your way in. Hence, the only tactic is to get straight down to pummelling those factories ASAP. There's not much skill involved, merely button bashing. You can't just make your way clearing out each cave either as you're limited by your supply of Rune Points. These are used up whenever you perform physical actions such as fighting, ploughing or mining. Run out completely and every action will start depleting your health points. Hit zero points in a cave and it's game over. If you're outside, you'll faint and have to be revived by the doctor.

In this manner, the only way you can conquer the caves is by planting crops in them too. Once these are fully grown, they act as Rune Point generators, allowing you to fight your way deeper into the cave, in order to plant more crops, until you're sufficiently levelled up and RP-heavy to take on the cave's boss.

It's not the most elegant system but at least this interlinked farming/fighting approach does have advantages. The most important is your ability to capture creatures within the caves. You store them by building monster huts and you can buddy up with one of them to help you fight. Others can be tasked with the daily tedium of watering and caring for your farm. Some also produce milk and wool that you can sell. You always need more money for better weapons, armour, seeds, spells or meds.

So these are Rune Factory's basic elements, but they by no means describes the sheer scale of the activities within game.  There's a vast amount to do. As with all Harvest Moons, there's an in-depth love mini-game which sees you courting the village girls via a 10-point heart system that will eventually end up in marriage, but only when you've sufficiently impressed them and collected enough wood and money to build a large house with all the trimmings for your picky bride-to-be.

Then there are the skills you have to level up via repetitive actions. Examples include fishing, mining for iron ore, creating your own items such as weapons, medicines and ornamental rings as well as learning how to cook. You can also exchange items and seeds using the multi-card mode or your friends' codes via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. You can even take your own screenshots and doodle on them. This is Harvest Moon plus the kitchen sink.

And, in the end, that's both good and bad. Frankly, there's always too much to do, so you'll feel a bit hassled. Every day there's farming and fighting, then you have to wander around the village, talking to everyone to see what's going on. Then there are the skill-based mini-games, not to mention the assorted birthdays, holidays and special events you'll need to attend to hook yourself a charming wife.

Of course, if you're already a fan of Harvest Moon, the dedication required will only make you love the experience even more. This is the sort of game you could play for a hour every day for a year. For those of us with less available time though, just discovering who you're supposed to see to gain an axe or the creature friendship glove proves to be a frustrating experience. After all, while some people enjoy growing their own potatoes, most of us are happy to buy them from the supermarket. Still, if you fancy the outdoor life, this offers it all.
Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon
Reviewer photo
Jon Jordan | 2 January 2008
Rune Factory is an impressive advancement for the Harvest Moon series but you have to be committed to get the most out of the experience
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