The first game of Rune Factory, which combination of farming simulation and combat RPG brought a refreshing gaming experience to the public, was created 17 years ago as a spin-off of the Harvest Moon series. The second game then broke away from the Harvest Moon label and has since established its own unique identity, laying the foundation for future works. The first two games boldly incorporated many innovative gameplay elements at the time, which led to both success and failure. After learning from the previous games, the third game improved and added many new features and is still ranked second in the hearts of most fans today (after the fourth game, according to internet).
As someone who has played several games in the Harvest Moon series, I have always been intrigued by the Rune Factory games. So, I jumped at the chance to finally play the Chinese version of Rune Factory 3 Special, which was recently released.
Before playing the remade/remastered version of a game, I would always look up what the original game looked like online. It’s worth noting that those who haven't played the original game may find the visual presentation of Rune Factory 3 Special somewhat outdated compared to other modern games, and might even feel discouraged at first (I certainly had this feeling). However, given that almost 14 years have passed since the game's original release, upon comparing the visual presentation of both the original and remastered versions, it's evident that the developers have indeed put a lot of effort into improving character modeling and environmental quality, just as they promised. By retaining the original gameplay and incorporating significant visual improvements, the game offers a nostalgic experience for series fans while also trying its best to cater to the tastes of new players. In this regard, the developers deserve big props.
At the beginning of the game, the male protagonist (you), who is half-human and half-monster, wakes up one day to find yourself in a human village. You are rescued by one of the female protagonists and offered accommodation in a large tree in exchange for managing the village's abandoned farmland. With no other options, you accept the offer and begin your new life in the village, where you would encounter 11 beautiful girls and a variety of other villagers.
Several unexpected incidents then force you to conquer the five major dungeons in the game, representing Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and the Final Level respectively. Each dungeon’s endpoint will awaken part of your memory, advancing the main storyline forward, which ultimately ends with you marrying one of the bachelorettes. The story of this game explores the topic of "racial harmony", telling the story of the previously discordant relationship between humans and the Univir (horned people). Through your dedicated efforts, the two races finally reconcile, putting the heart-warming story to a conclusion.
The side stories primarily portray the interactions between you and the villagers, presented in the form of Requests. These Requests, which are not time-limited, correspond to at least one villager's story, and the increase in relationship levels will unlock the next Request in sequence. The game features 24 villagers (including 11 the bachelorettes), each with their own distinct personality.
As you complete the villagers' Requests one by one, their attitudes and reactions towards you will change accordingly. For instance, with the help of Shara, her extremely shy sister Monica gradually opens up to you, and her usual grumpiness eventually turns into admiration. After witnessing her changes in attitude along the way, it's sure to evoke a bit of "siscon" in some of us. Undoubtedly, the most outstanding aspect of this game is that each character is not only depicted with a diverse appearance but also has a unique personality. Their interactions with the protagonist will change as the plot progresses, providing an unparalleled immersive experience for players.
I believe fans of Harvest Moon will not find the farming elements of the game unfamiliar. But what sets this game apart is that players can plant crops corresponding to each of the four seasons inside the dungeons, allowing the production of off-season crops. Since you have to take care of fields in various locations, there is basically no idle waiting period where you have nothing to do but to wait for your crops to mature.
In terms of livestocks, you can tame various monsters such as Buffamoo, Wooly, Cluckadoodle, and even Slimes and Spiders in the dungeons. Well-fed monsters tend to produce output every day, and these outputs are enough to turn you into a millionaire within a year (no kidding). In addition, you can ask them to join your dungeon expeditions, or instruct them to help manage the fields. All of this in exchange for mere Grass, huh? Hats off to these monsters who work multiple part-times without complaining about their meager wages.
On the other hand, the combat system in the Rune Factory series is a crucial element that propels the storyline, utilizing real-time combat similar to ARPG games. The focus of combat in this game is centered around conquering various dungeons. Alongside the Attack and Dodge commands, players can equip different elemental magic and attacks that align with various weapons. The fluidity of combat is emphasized, as players can cruise through boss battles under Normal difficulty by strategically timing dodges and then spamming the Attack button. For those seeking a challenge, the Special version includes the new "Hell" mode to offer a more intense gameplay experience.
Rather than complex combat maneuvers, I believe this game places more emphasis on the player's equipment combinations. For example, equipping the Aquamarine Ring when facing a water-type boss can reduce the damage that you take by half, allowing you to clear dungeons at a level much lower than the recommended level. Although combat may be simpler compared to other real-time combat RPGs, it is by no means lacking in satisfaction. When paired with the game's dynamic sound effects, it's definitely a thrill to unleash a flurry of attacks on vulnerable enemies.
This game boasts a highly customizable build system, made possible by its versatile crafting mechanics. From short swords, long swords, and spears, to axes, hammers, and staves, players have an endless variety of weapon types to choose from based on their preferences. Furthermore, there are countless shields, headgear, and accessories to equip, ensuring that every player has its own unique build. These vast arrays of equipment can be crafted in your own workshop and upgraded with different materials, each with its own specific enhancement effects. For example, there are Ores that boost physical attack and defense, or Gems that increase magical attack and defense. As your Forging level increases, you can use rarer materials to forge even more powerful equipment. The ability to freely switch between different equipment in dungeons adds even more variety to the game's combat system.
To increase your Forging level, the only way is to forge constantly, regardless of success or failure, as it will grant you experience points. This applies to other life skills such as cooking, fishing, farming, and even walking. This is where another game mechanic comes in: RP (Rune Points). Most actions in the game, such as forging, using skills, and watering plants, will consume RP. If your RP runs out, it will start consuming HP (health points), and if your HP reaches zero, your character will wake up in the hospital and be forced to pay a hefty medical bill. Fortunately, levelling up most skills will increase your max RP, so you just have to keep doing what you do. If you run out of RP, simply visit the inn to take a dip in the hot springs or eat food that restores RP, allowing you to continue your work.
Levelling up skills also improve the success rate of creating high-level items or dishes. As long as the item level does not exceed 9 levels above the corresponding skill level, the chance of successful creation will be at least 10% (0% at 10 levels or more). Every item and dish has its own recipe, and successfully creating it will unlock the recipe. However, without looking up guides on the internet, the best way to obtain recipes is to go to a restaurant and buy them. The restaurant owner will make "Recipe Bread" which, when eaten, randomly grants knowledge of a recipe for Crafting, Forging, Cooking, and so on. Now, don’t ask me “why bread?”, or “why the restaurant owner?” All I can say is “why so serious?” Interestingly, the learning of recipes is similar to a gacha system, and may not necessarily unlock recipes in sequence according to your skill levels. In fact, there are some low-levelled recipes which I didn’t obtain until the late game.
Last but not least, don’t forget about the Newlywed Mode exclusive to the Special edition, which utilizes Live-2D technology to present more vivid character illustrations and tells new post-marriage stories between you and your wife (or wives). As a side game that can be accessed after clearing the main story, the release of the Newlywed Mode satisfies your fantasy to freely woo all the heroines. By browsing different post-marriage stories simultaneously through separate save files, it seems like we could finally form an indirect harem in Rune Factory 3.
As a meld of the classic farming and dating sim elements of the Harvest Moon series with unique RPG combat and crafting systems, Rune Factory 3 Special pretty much offers a gameplay experience even richer than Harvest Moon. The game's pace is fast, and whether it's planting crops or raising livestock, the rewards are almost immediate, making money easy to come by. Even if you're not a fan of farming, you can still earn money through activities like fishing, battling monsters, forging, and cooking. The game offers so much to do that I couldn’t get bored at all during my first year in-game.
The various mechanics in the game work together seamlessly, providing a gameplay experience that is challenging but not overly complex, complemented by heart-warming stories that complete the picture. However, arguably too faithful to the original, the Special version boasts no significant changes apart from visual updates. It retains many of the old-fashioned controls, such as having to manually put each item one by one into your shopping basket when purchasing. Players who are used to modern controls may need some time to adjust at first. Nevertheless, after playing for more than 30 hours, I find myself having no desire to stop at all, and I'm even tempted to try out the fan-favorite Rune Factory 4 Special which was released few years ago.
And that concludes Lluvia’s review of Rune Factory 3 Special (Chinese version) from a first-timer’s perspective. The game will be released worldwide for Nintendo Switch and PC (Steam) on September 5, 2023.