By MindBullet 4 Comments
It's time to review the hot latest entry in a long running franchise that introduces open world elements, explorable dungeons, and your new witchy waifu. That's right, it's Rune Factory 5 for the Nintendo Switch.
Rune Factory is a sort of off-shoot of the Harvest Moon series, where you spend your days chilling on a nice bit of farmland chatting up the locals and possibly finding love and starting a new family. In this series you also battle various monsters, confront mustache twirling villains who wield godlike powers, and tame dragons so you can ride around on them like horses. It's got all the cozy slice of life goodness you'd want from a Harvest Moon-like (Natsume-like? Farm life game? Do we have a term for this?), plus the insane otherworldly endgame content you might find in your average Kirby adventure.
The thing about these games is that they're pretty standardized by this point. The way you plant crops and what that even looks like, your interactions and relationships to your fellow villagers... There is some individuality to be had here, but if you've played something like Story of Seasons or Stardew Valley you're going to notice a lot of similarities. That might even be part of the charm, to be honest. I only really say that because Rune Factory 5 doesn't really add much to this formula. There are some quality of life additions here that are very welcome, but nothing really shakes things up in a substantial way so I'm not really going to spend a whole lot of time on that aspect of it. If you've played a Story of Seasons or Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, you have a pretty good idea of what you're in for here. It has a lot of the same ups and downs of previous Rune Factory games especially, including weird pacing and events that 'steal' days from you. This time, you can freely romance whoever you want as whatever gender you want. There is romantic tension coming at you from all sides and it's delicious.
Unfortunately, even if I believe RF5 could stand side by side with any other game in the series, it's got one major issue: It runs like garbage. It's not unplayable by any stretch, but it's definitely noticeable. This is one of those situations where you can grit your teeth and deal with the slow down and animation jank if you're determined to enjoy this game, but those issues will never not make themselves known to you. The worst part is that it apparently ran even worse when it released in Japan originally, and we got the patched version that still runs poorly. There is very little hope that any of this will get fixed in the future, which is a real shame since these tech issues will undoubtedly overshadow RF5's legacy. I have to imagine that these problems stem from the 'open world' design they went for here. Instead of sectioning areas off with loading screens or scene transitions, you've got your town hub surrounded by three areas that you can freely run between and have items and enemies load in as you approach them. While it is nice to be able to roam about like this, I'm not sure the performance cost was really worth it.
But really, what you're coming to this game for is the vibes. Rune Factory 5 is set in the small town of Rigbarth, an incredibly out of the way little place surrounded by woods, snowlands, and a volcano. RF5 takes place after the events of 4 where-spoilers for RF4 I guess-the Sechs Empire has fallen and in an attempt to fill the power vacuum a town watch sort of organization known as SEED has risen to restore peace and order. You play another amnesiac who ends up falling in with the SEED branch in Rigbarth while taking ownership of the local farmland. The main storyline is pretty barebones in all honesty, and will likely run itself out before you even finish your first year in Rigbarth. There is one sort of interesting theme of dubious corporations and how they handle data collected from unwitting civilians, but it's very thin. You're mainly going to be here for the people of Rigbarth itself.
So with that said, I want to give my own Quick Look of each resident of Rigbarth. These characters are, after all, going to be the main draw and what will likely keep you playing beyond the paper-thin story itself. Also, I just feel like doing it.
Reinhard- A literal knight in shining armor. Aside from being a bit of a klutz, he's a devoted
house husband royal guard for Beatrice who integrates himself into the town nicely. He's the type to stick to a support role and tries not to stand out too much, so I kind of forget he's there sometimes. He can get intense when it comes to food waste and sword training, though. The only thing that really stands out about him for me is that you can give him Failed Dishes to increase his affection.
Murakumo- The resident Himbo. Dude just loves being a bro, and running the local hot spring inn lets him bro out 24/7. He's so kind that he needs people like his sister Misasagi to keep him from going broke due to falling for simple scams, giving out freebies, or just destroying his own place with his unmitigated hype. He's voiced by the same guy that did the English dub for Ichiban Kasuga from Yakuza: Like a Dragon and they have a similar sort of energy. I like to imagine there's an outtake recording of Kaiji Tang going full Frat Bro on some of Kumo's lines.
Ryker- Palmo's art and carpentry apprentice. He's chuunibyou as fuck. The kind of guy that will unironically say stuff like "the moon's light gives me strength" or w/e while posing like a JoJo villain. I like to imagine that his VAs are also doing the poses while reading his lines. He's kind of a lazy asshole most of the time but he does care a lot about Palmo and his work. It just gets buried under his desire to laze about and skulk in the shadows most of the time. If anime existed in this world you know Ryker would never shut up about it. There are hints that there's actually something darker under the surface, but it seems like you don't really get much of it unless you go way down his romance route.
Martin- The blacksmith's apprentice. Entirely focused on his work. The kind of guy that will go 48 hours without food or sleep and has to be reminded he needs those things before he dies. You do eventually get to see a cuter side to him. You catch him naming his tools at one point, and he eventually opens up to you and clearly wants to share his passion with someone who seems like could keep up with him. Also has a bit of a friendly rivalry with Ryker that could be prime shipping fuel.
Cecil- Self-proclaimed apprentice detective. He's a child in a young adult's body and it can get kind of weird. Obsessed with mysteries, but is pretty bad at them. Short attention span, good with kids, and more likely to spend his day gossiping amongst Rigbarth's rumor mill than doing anything seriously. Loves his brother Martin, who is his only family left. Looks up to Terry as an inspiration, and something of an adopted father. There are hints that something traumatic happened to his parents, but they don't really delve into it too much.
Lucas- Hard to talk about him without diving deep into what little spoilers this game's story has. He shows up late to the party, claims to have amnesia, and spends a lot of his time performing magic tricks for the kids. A weirdo, but kind of a hot weirdo? He ends up working with Heinz at the crystal shop and they fit together surprisingly well. Even as he regains his memory, he still seems to struggle to grasp basic human concepts. Might be one of the most plot important characters other than yourself, and it's kind of wild he's an eligible bachelor.
Lucy- The mayor's daughter, and Julian's big sister. She really leans into the 'big sis' type, but there's an even bigger character trait that essentially overshadows everything else about her. You see, Lucy LOVES competition. She loves it so much that it's pretty much all she ever talks about. It's so persistent and pervasive in her dialogue that she ends up feeling flatter than she really should. The only real standout moment she had was early on she lays the groundwork for her relationship with Priscilla and comes across as intensely defensive of her, going so far as to call Priscilla a princess and demanding the player treat her accordingly. I came away wishing I could play matchmaker and set up romanceable NPCs with each other.
Priscilla- The hopeless romantic. She can come across as what I'd call a "default" romantic option. A character that is clearly into the player from very early on, shy and demure, and almost overly domestic. There is a bit more to uncover about her as you grow closer, but she never really goes beyond being the 'safe' choice in my opinion. The writing will almost make you feel bad for not choosing her, as they write out pretty clearly that she has romantic delusions of the player riding into town and sweeping her off her feet like in her story books. The thing that really stood out about her was that when she was first introduced, a weird glitch caused her head to move like a Silent Hill marionette as she spoke to two different characters and it maybe colored my perception of her for the entire rest of the game.
Scarlett- Your Cop GF. She's the Student Council President type taken out of the school setting and presented as your SEED senpai. An incredible stickler for rules and regulations, extremely focused on finishing things that are unfinished, and a somewhat unhealthy admiration for her father and his life philosophy. She gets a scene where she has to swear off certain puzzles because her OCD has caused her to neglect sleep until she finishes them. Aside from being a marriage candidate, she's mainly here to flesh out SEED and it's activities in Rigbarth. She'll accompany you in various battles (in cutscenes at least) and offer you SEED related tasks on occasion. She's the only half-elf in town but it never seems to be an issue, or even addressed unless you have Margaret visit and even then it's just to remark on how Scarlett is a half-elf.
Beatrice- A member of the royal family laying low in Rigbarth. It's clear early on that she's not used to being away from her palatial prison and revels in being among the common folk. I think her design is cute. The mix of blue, black, white and gold is elegant. The fur around her neck really pops in her character portrait. Her tiara resembles dragon horns, which considering dragons are a big part of this world I can definitely see a royal family incorporating draconic motifs into their ceremonial garb. I'm kind of over the whole "runaway princess" thing, but she plays the part well enough and still manages to be a charming goofball despite it. There is an interesting turn if you decide to pursue her romantically where the game forces you to commit several times while Beatrice explains that at some point she will have to return to her castle and she won't be able to take you with. This could be incredible if they follow through with it, but considering romantic rivals apparently had to be removed from the franchise because of players getting butthurt over losing their waifus, I don't really expect them to stick the landing.
Ludmila- A succubus that feeds on pure emotion and runs the local flower shop. The emotions she needs to feed on range from the feeling of getting hit in the head by a rock, to flirting with the other characters around her, or simply seeing people smile after receiving a free flower. One of her favorite gifts is a rainbow trout with extra poison. They ride the line between making her seem lewd and wholesome very well while establishing her as something that doesn't abide by typical human common sense. Ludmila brings a very welcome dynamic to the village and can bounce off the other bachelorettes nicely. It's just that, in my opinion, her character works better if she isn't your actual partner. Also, girl is BIG AS HELL, easily taller than the other bachelorettes and a good head taller than even the player.
Fuuka- Fuuka is a hard one to deal with. She's a were-animal like Misasagi and Murakumo, but with a twist. She doesn't speak your language. When initially introduced, the idea of someone dealing with a language barrier was incredibly interesting to me. I spent my teenage years around a lot of Spanish speakers in South Florida, and even dated someone whose family mainly spoke a different language, so the idea of having a character here who tackled that sort of dynamic attracted me to Fuuka immediately. The problem is that she's presented as little more than an unusually intelligent dog. Her language is vocalized as cutesy growls and barks, and is described as being "more of a visual language" despite the text giving her what appears to be a consistent vocabulary. She's treated akin to a communal pet, and her presentation doesn't do much to go against that. Her primary interests are shiny things and food, and the only emotions she really understands are fear and safety. There is a backstory there of Fuuka being a world traveler that is interesting, but it comes with the implication that her homeland is 'primitive', which doubly comes across poorly when you consider Fuuka is one of the only characters in this world with a darker skin tone. They could have maybe made it work by incorporating the other were-animals into her situation better or letting the player attempt to learn her actual language, but ultimately I feel like Fuuka is a character with some Problems.
Doug and Margaret- These two get lumped together since they're basically bonus content for having Rune Factory 4 save data on your system. While it's nice to see them all growed up and on their own now, they're more or less walking Easter Eggs and I usually end up ignoring them in favor of the new characters.
Yuki and Randolph- These two get paired together since they are defined so much by their relationship. Yuki and Randolph are the local old couple who run the bakery and act as everyone's surrogate grandparents. They're adorable together and very clearly love each other to a tooth aching degree even after all their years together. Randolph has the added depth of being a retired adventurer, while Yuki is the lifelong resident who acts as the heart and soul of Rigbarth as a town. Randolph gets a scene with some of the other Manly Men of Rigbarth where it's made clear that he still has plenty of gas in the tank, but promised his beloved to leave that life behind and meant it. Yuki gets a scene with Simone where she gets to nag her about the mayor's poor health and messed up love life.
Simone- The resident Houshou Marine cosplayer. I mean, she's the resident mad scientist. No, that's not right either. She's the town doctor who also pulls double duty as the mayor. She enjoys a bit of questionable experimentation and makes one too many jokes about whether she needs consent or not, but beyond that she's a pretty competent woman. I mean, she's raising two kids while also acting as the one doctor in a rapidly growing town that she also governs. I dunno, I gotta respect that. Her husband is constantly away on some adventure and while promising to come back to see her, but it seems like that's been the story for a long time now.
Palmo- Palmo Creacie de Sainte-Coquille. The Sainte-Coquille family are wacky characters that constantly appear in the Rune Factory games and they all kind of look and act the same. This one is the resident eccentric carpenter and artist. He's cool I guess, but like I said once you've seen one Sainte-Coquille you've more or less seen them all.
Darroch- He runs the smithy, and looks after Martin and Cecil. He can come off as aloof and intimidating, but once you get to know him better you realize he's a big ol' teddy bear. Kind of has the same problem as Martin where he focuses a bit too much on his work, but years of experience have taught him how to balance his life better. The gag tied to his character is that prolonged exposure to the sounds of working the forge has damaged his hearing to a degree that he constantly mishears people in comedic ways. He also gets a cute scene with a few of the other Rigbarth lifers start going on about his childhood escapades while poor Darroch is left blushing and mumbling about how he should really get back to work soon.
Heinz- The local comedian. Really, he runs the crystal shop, but his entire character revolves around telling bad jokes. I really want to know how well his dialogue translated to English, since he speaks almost entirely in puns and dad jokes. He could be an annoying character to be around, but Heinz manages to pull it off somehow. The greatest joke he ever tells is the one where he speaks seriously and admonishes you for not seeing him as a complete, complex human being.
Julian- The resident kid. He's Simone's son and Lucy's little bro. He seems to develop a rivalry with the player immediately, but is also kind of a wimp. He inherits his sister's love of competition to a degree, but he's pretty bad at winning the challenges he throws at Hina. Speaking of, Julian is defined by his relationship to Hina quite a bit. It makes sense considering they're the only two children in town, but it's also pretty clear that Julian has a massive crush on the new girl. More on that in a bit.
Elsje- She runs the local restaurant and is known to be a pretty amazing cook... If she can bother to actually do anything. Despite her business doing pretty well for itself, she's constantly dragging her feet and having to be forced into doing anything other than sleep. In fact, the whole gag behind her character is that she somehow runs a restaurant while sleeping 25 hours a day. Aside from that, she's Priscilla's older sister and essentially adopted Fuuka into the family after giving her a job. Oh, also she's the most apparent victim of the discrepancy between the 3D models and the 2D art. Her 2D portrait looks like a pretty lady with a bird-like maid motif. Her 3D model looks like a pretty bird maid lady with two smaller bird maids stuffed in her bra. There's also something weird going on with her bangs that makes her face look a lot slimmer than it does in her portrait.
Terry- Terry somehow makes a living as a detective, and has established a local agency where he works parallel to SEED. He's got a bit of mystery to him, and seems to know more about things than he ever lets on. Always cool and collected, ever patient and understanding, he might be the male character I could see people wishing was romanceable. He takes Cecil on as an apprentice, but there are hints that he does it partly out of guilt for what happened to Cecil's parents. They don't really go into detail, but even that plays into his overall mystique.
Misasagi-The resident 'Hot Single Mom In Your Area' who runs the Item shop. She probably has the most outright sexualized design of all the residents of Rigbarth, and regardless of anything else going on with her character, that's just something that going to be staring you in the face the entire time. Aside from that, she's a woman who grew up in Rigbarth but left some time ago with her husband only for her return to coincide with the player's arrival in the village. She has to be rescued in a similar way as her daughter, which leads Misasagi to essentially pledge a life debt to the player. You learn pretty quickly that Misa is intensely protective of her daughter and it's hinted that this likely stems from a tragic loss of her husband some time ago. Other characters go out of their way to mention how scary Misasagi can be when she's angry, and you catch a glimpse of it when she mistakes you for her brother at one point. Misa also straight up offers to murder anyone who threatens you. No joke.
Hina- Hina is the first villager your encounter, saving her from monsters in the forest. She ends up becoming incredibly attached to the player afterwards and is something like a mascot or surrogate daughter character. She's cute for sure, but they can't help but place her in a sexualized context. Firstly, she becomes fast friends with the other child in Rigbarth which very quickly gets framed as Julian having a crush on her and all the adults coyly anticipating them getting serious about it once they're older. Secondly, Hina is Misasagi's daughter. By that I mean, Misa is inherently a pretty sexualized character, and there is a latent expectation that Hina may one day grow to to look similarly to her mother that comes up in text enough to establish itself as a thought the writers want you to hold on to. Lastly, Hina's were-animal 'quirk' is that she is uncomfortably blunt with her words and doesn't really respect personal space or boundaries. This leads to situations were she initiates various forms of skinship, and generally hints at having a childhood crush on the player. Now, trying to look at this as optimistically as possible, there is maybe a way to do this where it's made clear that Hina is confronted with a situation where she has this non-family member who has gone above and beyond to protect her who she then has to work through the appropriate feelings and boundaries with. It may still be uncomfortable and awkward but there's a way to present it as understandable. Instead, they lean into it a bit too much for my liking. There was one memorable dialogue choice with Hina where she mentions how she wants to be like her mother when she grows up. There's nothing wrong with that at first blush, Misasagi is confident, beautiful, and has showered Hina with love her entire life. However, one response leads to Hina replying that she hopes to be able to make boys blush the same way her Mom does, and the other leads to her commenting on how she can't wait to learn how babies are made. They aren't even trying to hide it, and I have very little tolerance for this sort of lolicon bait.
There are a few other characters present, but they're so tied to story spoilers that I'm leaving them off. As I said at the top, there's not much story here to begin with, so I don't want to spoil what few surprises they have.
Overall, Rune Factory 5 is the epitome of a 7/10 game. Or rather, it's the kind of game where the review includes the "fans of the series will likely love it" line. The technical issues can't really be ignored, but there is a solid Rune Factory game underneath the muck if you're willing to find it.