Rune Factory: Frontier was a deep Action RPG.
I've been a fan of Harvest Moon games since the SNES, but I'll be honest, they haven't progressed enough for me to continue buying them. The Gamecube Harvest Moon was the last one I was excited for. With that said, I loved the idea of Rune Factory. They basically took the Harvest Moon "simy" stuff, and thrown in an open world Action RPG into the mix. It turned out to be an awesome balance of grind and harvest that I was looking for. They made the harvesting alot more accessible, while keep the dungeons tough as nails.
Rune Factory requires a ton of patience though. There is a ton of grinding involved. If you aren't into leveling up your Fishing stats or getting the right amount of cooking experience, then look elsewhere. Rune Factory might look cute, but it will eat your soul.
The difficulty in dungeons can be frustrating, but the penalty for dying isn't sever enough to worry about it. You will die alot.. and I mean ALOT. I died in this game atleast 200 times. I'm not kidding. It can get really hard.
Overall, I had a ton of fun with Rune Factory.
Rune Factory: Frontier is an action RPG / Farming Sim. The action RPG part of the game reminds me of loot grinding games such as Diablo with a simplistic elements such as Chocobo's Dungeons.
The dungeons don't really challenge you, in a puzzle sense, like in a Zelda game. The true difficultly in a dungeon are the monsters, and the glowing bulbs that spawn them. You have to destroy these monster gates, like in Gauntlet, so they stop spawning.
The other difficult issue about Rune Factory is your HP and RP meters you have to keep watch over. Each time you use an action, your RP meter drops. Once your RP meter is at Zero, then your HP starts to drop. There's really no easy way to get RP or HP restoring items early in the game, so you have to escape the dungeon and start from scratch until you're powerful enough to plow through the enemies.
Rune Factory is a very grindy game in that sense. If you don't like grind, then don't play these games. You'll have to grind your weapons, your tools, your cooking skills, your forging skills. The higher your skills levels are, the less RP you use. The less RP you use up, then the easier it is to dungeon crawl. The higher your levels are, the better weapons you can make aswell. RUne Factory is a constant state of "almost there" that you're continuously hooked.
There are only 4 dungeons in the game, but it can take up to 20 hours per-dungeon to conquer one. It might require that much grinding, but also, you're doing other stuff in the game too.
You also have a garden to tend to. The garden starts out small, and since you have to start from scratch, you have to clear off all the rubble and debris covering your garden. To clear out the rubble, you need Hammers, Axes, Hoes, and Sickles. Then you need to upgrade them, and level up your skill. This is also a time consuming task, but ultimately a rewarding one. Once you open up more garden space, you can start to grow more crops. When you have more crops, you make more money.
With the money you make, you can buy new items such as healing items, or seeds. You can also upgrade your house by having the town carpenter (played by a Twilight goth) add new areas to it. You can buy new items for your house from the town peddler. You can buy new recipes from the town librarian as well, this will help you create new items with your forge or by cooking.
The point of the game is to balance your dungeon crawling time with your farming time. It can be a little overwhelming but once you get the knack of it, you'll have it under control in no time.
----------Characters / Story----------
You play as Raguna. You have lost your memory, and you're wandering through a small town looking for a girl named "Mist". Mist was a friend of Raguna when they lived in in a different town. Mist moved away to the town of Trampoli. Raguna reunites with Mist and decides to move next door to her. Raguna starts from scratch, as he rebuilds an old farm house.
Above the town of Trampolis is a mysterious floating island shaped like a Whale. It's a mystery to the citizens, but Raguna tries to make sense of it during his adventures.
The graphics are pretty good for the most part. The locations look lush, the enemies have a nice variety to them. I like the anime cells they use during dialog scenes. I'm also a fan of fully animated cutscenes in video games as well. The anime cutscenes don't look mind blowing, as they do look compressed a little. The character models could have used some more work.
The only thing that really bugs me about the graphics are the long load times between areas. It's not a major issue, but it does get tiresome after a while.
The music is pretty good, although repetitive over time. The only song that really annoys me is the opening theme song during the anime cutscene. It sounds like a mix of Melt Banana and some generic J-Pop.
Each character is voiced out, sometimes you will get fully voiced dialog, but most of the times its plain text. There's nothing truely offensive by the American voice casting, so that's good.
Rune Factory is an open ended RPG almost from the start of the game. While the world isn't very large, you can run around the entire map. The only thing that are locked are the dungeons, which you can open up during the course of the game. You can actually open up 2 dungeons fairly early in the game too. There are only four dungeons in the entire game, but don't let that scare you. It can take hours of preparation to finally beat one.
Each dungeon has their own garden, where you can plant flowers, vegetables and fruit. Each seed is required to grow during a certain season, and each dungeon is perpetually in a season. For example, the Fire Dungeon is always "Summer" and the Green Dungeon is always "Spring". You can use this to your advantage if you need to grow certain off-season plants. So even if you do beat a dungeon, they are still useful.
----------Time to Complete Game---------
If I didn't want to grind out my skills and if I knew exactly how to activate each storyline trigger, I'm sure Rune Factory would have been a much shorter experience. I played this old school style, no hints, no cheats. I grinded everything I needed and wanted. That's why this game took so long to complete.
It felt rewarding though. Each new level upgrade, each time you find a rare loot drop, each time you finally activate a new storyline. It felt great.
After you beat the game, you can continue grinding your way through it if you want.