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Shine on, Harvest Moon
Harvest Moon: Rune Factory: Frontier
Harvest Moon is an odd game series; inasmuch as it's a game that always has impressive sales, but which no one in polite company will admit to playing. If you tell a joke based on your turnip crop, everyone will laugh, but very few people are willing to sit down and discuss strategy. Therefore, I would consider it a “Hidden Gem” series, but not in the normal sense. It's more of a “guilty pleasure” series. This has lessened considerably since the popularity of the farmville games, which struck me as odd, because it became big, and people spoke of it, I always responded, “Oh. Like Harvest Moon.”
This review is actually an update of a hub that I wrote over three years ago when the game “Rune Factory Frontier” launched. I have since beaten the game, and returned to Hubpages since the Squidoo merge, and RFF remains one of my favorite games, so it's worth revisiting. First of all, if you aren't familiar with Harvest Moon, the additions in Rune Factory will make no sense to you, so we'll revisit the basics before diving into the meat of the review.
Developed by Natsume, the Harvest Moon series is a farming simulator in which the main character comes to own a broken down farm and must make it profitable. Along the way they need to find love, raise a family, and develop friendships with the townspeople along with their financial goals. Generally, there are a few eligible marriage candidates, called “Bachelors” if the player character is female and “Bachalorettes” if the player character is male. They can be wooed into a relationship by talking with them and presenting them with gifts. Each eligible candidate has their own list of likes and dislikes, and their relationship meter will reflect the effort the player has put in to gain their love and respect.
The farm is usually riddled with debris like tree stumps, weeds, rocks, boulders, and sometimes animals like gophers and coyotes that must be disposed of and cleared for planting. Then you can till the ground, plant seeds, water them, and harvest your crops to sell for money. Likewise you can build barns to raise livestock like chickens, cows, sheep, goats, ducks, etc. You can harvest from your critters and sell the milk or eggs or whatever they produce. I promise that this is far more fun than it sounds.
Rune Factory Frontier is a Harvest Moon game released for the Nintendo Wii in 2009 that builds upon these basic concepts with a new adventure angle thrown in. The Rune Factory series is actually considered a spinoff of the Harvest Moon series, and Frontier is the third installment in the spin-off series, after Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon and Rune Factory 2 on the NDS. And I have to say, once you have a taste of the spinoff, it's difficult to go back to the original. Every single change is a marked improvement.
Rather than buying your livestock, you have to go out and tame them, like Pokémon. This gave me a much closer connection to my animals, and much more pride in them. Also, you can take them from your homestead out into the game, where they can help you in battle. Some of them are rideable, and some of them will help you in your fight against enemies. I had a dog I named Sparks, after my real life dog, who adventured with me throughout every dungeon in the game and became a true companion.
You can also collect materials to craft into items that can either be used to upgrade your character, or as gifts to your friends and lovers. These can be dropped from monsters, grown on your farm, mined, or obtained through a series of trades, adding a level of customization that really immerses you in the world of Trampoli. You can craft food, pharmaceuticals, weapons, armor, clothes, toys, jewelry and more. And if you gift someone an article of clothing, and they like it, they'll actually put it on and wear it from then on.
I was severely disappointment in one romance element of the game: Sexuality of the characters. Every character in the game has a romance meter, leading me to believe that you, the protagonist, were bisexual and could romance any character. I desperately wanted to marry Erik, and spent a fortune in gifts for him to no avail. No matter how much you pamper males, you'll never get a single heart on that romance meter. You will advance their friendship meter and unlock 'friend' cutscenes, but it seems that Harvest Moon is severely lacking in lbgt representation, and instead likes to tease people with unnecessary romance meters that do absolutely nothing. The existence of the meter makes it feel like a lie.
Having said that, if you stick to the lady folk there is a much larger pool of bacholorettes than I was accustomed to for a Harvest Moon game. Everyone in your age group is a marriage candidate, and each of the women folk have their own life and story that you will get to know, and need to know in order to properly romance them. Certain elements of the game are changed based on your romance meter with the various ladies, and one of the boss battles can even be skipped entirely if you're dating the right character.
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The absolute WORST thing about this game without a doubt isn't even the lie of a romance meter. It's the runies. These little spirits are incredibly important and incredibly annoying. You have to keep them balanced throughout the map, or the crops on your fields won't grow. You birth them by growing crops. So it's a catch 22. And they will eat each other so you have to restock areas every so often to keep them in the green- and if they go in the red, there goes your farm, and by proxy, your livelihood. These things weren't in any of the handheld games, including RF3, which makes me think that the developers learned from their mistake, but good god is this annoying. Especially if you have a crop that takes more than a season to grow, like the flowers you need for the wedding bouquet. So keep a good eye on these little buggers.
So basically, the developers have taken all the best parts of Harvest Moon and added an action-adventure element. The new dungeon exploration is something that was sorely missing from previous titles. I know that some folk want to just sit back when they play HM, but honestly, the controls are so elementary that if you die in a dungeon, it's your own fault. HM is not known for it's difficulty in basic gameplay; in fact, mastery of the series is often measured by perseverance and RPG strategy rather then skill, but Rune Factory seems to merge these components seamlessly in one of the most under-appreciated titles for the Wii. And seeing how under-appreciated the Wii is in general, that's saying something.
© 2011 blargablarga