I try to be as objective as I can going into a review. I approach things as often as I can from a pair of unspoilt eyes, to best reflect the perspective of a first-time player. When it’s the latest in a franchise, I try to go back and play the older titles. But with Rune Factory 4 Special, I feel I need to cut to the chase. Rune Factory 4 was released 8 years ago on the 3DS, and when I played it, I instantly fell in love. And I played it… and played it… and played it. According to my log of hours, I put a good 110 hours into the 3DS version alone. Then came the Nintendo Switch release, and I bought that one happily. Now, finally, for the first time in franchise history, Rune Factory has hit the Xbox with a port of 4, and you know it, I jumped at the occasion here too.
If you are looking for a neutral point of view of Rune Factory 4 Special, this review isn’t it. But if you are looking for a review from someone who loves this game through and through, you’ve come to the right place.
With that out of the way, for those not in the know, Rune Factory is an offshoot of the former Harvest Moon now Story of Seasons franchise (it’s a legal landmine I’d rather not step on). Whereas those games were focused exclusively on farming and social interaction, Rune Factory expands the formula to include hours upon hours of JRPG action awesomeness. Think of it like somebody put classic Zelda, Golden Sun, and Harvest Moon in a blender, and the amazing smoothie is Rune Factory.
The setup of this game is nothing unusual for JRPGs. Get this… we have an amnesiac hero, glowing McGuffins, four mythical dragons and a prince/pauper switch up. None of this stuff is out of the ordinary for the genre, but it’s played just straight enough to become engaging, while still self-reflexive enough to be entertaining.
However, where the writing in Rune Factory really shines is in the characters. While they may seem a tad “tropey” at first for lack of a better phrase, once you really get to know them and dig into their stories, relationships, etc. it’s undeniable that you will come to love them. The cast is also a who’s who of great talent both in Japanese and English. You will definitely recognize a few of them.
I myself have always been fond of Clorica, the hardworking butler-in-training whose dedication to keeping the castle tidy at all times leads to some embarrassing moments of clumsiness during the day. I also love Illuminata, the kindhearted detective florist who is always on the case. There is a character for everyone in this game.
Combat and roleplaying also have surprising amounts of depth and challenge. While Rune Factory is mostly an easy-going game, it’s not afraid to give you a challenge on some of the higher difficulties. However, you can raise or lower the difficulty at any time to find your best fit.
Farming is just as deep as it is in Harvest Moon, and crafting/cooking also has a considerable amount of complexity to it as well. And like in other games of the type, it’s important to watch your stamina to make sure you can get through the day without fainting. Overexert yourself or fall in battle, and you may end up in the hospital, where the Doctor gives you a considerable fee (his wife is far nicer, offering treatment for free, but you never know who you’re gonna get). Even in this fantasy world, free healthcare may be too much to ask.
The aesthetics of the game is really the only area where Rune Factory 4 Special is held back. The music, voices, sound effects and character illustrations are top-notch. Everything else, unfortunately, less so. Screen-tearing and stutters were a semi-regular occurrence through my playtime, and the harsh reality is that this is a technically 9-year-old 3DS game output to 4K on an Xbox. It looks dated, and while the handpainted art direction minimizes some of these issues, the game looks still closer to a late-gen PS1-era Square-Soft RPG than a modern-day JRPG. Even down to the overly compressed anime videos.
None of this matters in the end mind you. The overall quality of the game shines bright above all else, and you can find yourself easily sinking over 100 hours into Rune Factory 4 Special. But this is more of an enhanced port than a direct remaster.
On that note, a Newlywed Mode (for after you marry your chosen Bachelor or Bachelorette), as well as a small vocal episode for each character, is included in the package, so for those of you who have already played Rune Factory 4, there’s your excuse to jump back in. Not that you’ll need one, mind you.
All in all, Xbox owners are in for a treat with Rune Factory 4 Special. A masterwork of an RPG, this is a game you can easily spend real-life days playing away. A perfect fit for fans of Rune Factory and Animal Crossing, as well as an exciting action JRPG for fans of old-school Zelda, there is something in this game for everyone. While the port from 3DS to Xbox isn’t exactly the most graceful, after a few hours, it’s unlikely you will care.
If you are looking for some nice comfort over the chilly winter, it doesn’t get much better than this. Fingers crossed the upcoming Rune Factory 5 makes it over in the future too.
Rune Factory 4 Special is available from the Xbox Store from 7th December