‘Rune Factory 5’ review: a fantastic transition with some growing pains

This cosy RPG is a gem for newcomers and long-time fans alike

Rune Factory 5 belongs in the genre of farming sim games like Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley. However, what makes the Rune Factory series stand out is its RPG elements. Rune Factory 5 has a great blend of features from both genres and is a game that can be played at any comfortable pace.

Rune Factory 5 starts off with the player losing their memory and finding themselves in a town called Rigbarth. From there, they are recruited into the peacekeeping organization, SEED. Through SEED, the player must solve a variety of cases, the main one being that the runic balance throughout land is being disturbed. It’s a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously but offers enough stakes for the player to feel invested.

Rigbarth is one of the most lively towns I’ve ever encountered in a game. Many of the shopkeepers and citizens have their own names, and they all go about a daily schedule. Lucy, for example, is one of the shopkeepers of the bread store. Every single day in the morning between 8:55 AM and 9AM, Lucy can be seen running down the street to get the shop in order. It’s little details like these that make Rune Factory 5 such an immersive experience.

Rune Factory 5. Credit: Hakama, Xseed Games.
Rune Factory 5. Credit: Hakama, Xseed Games.

There are also different side stories involving different characters to partake in as well. They unfold really organically while you go about your day tending to crops or fighting in dungeons. Completing these side stories and gifting items to these characters builds your relationship with the different characters in the game.

At first, you’ll be able to invite them to join your party to tackle dungeons. Achieving a high enough relationship level will also then allow you to ask a character for their hand in marriage. Rune Factory 5 is also the first entry in the series to have same-sex marriage too!

The main story objectives can be done at any time, so you’re free to spend time focusing on the simulation elements or relationship mechanics first. Or you can treat the game as more of an RPG and go through the story as fast as you want! Players have a lot of freedom in how they want to approach the game.

However, the game’s hands-off approach can be a bit confusing as you’re not sure what to do next. In particular, fetch requests don’t have clear enough directions, nor any quest markers. So this can lead to some frustration as sometimes you won’t know where to first start to complete the objective. But once you get into a routine, the gameplay loop can be addicting. It’s just that the first several hours can be stressful due to the game’s loose structure.

Rune Factory 5. Credit: Hakama, Xseed Games.
Rune Factory 5. Credit: Hakama, Xseed Games.

There are plenty of different activities to do, such as mining minerals, planting crops, and fishing. There’s a ton of variety of crops to plant and species of fish to catch. All of these materials can be used to make dishes to sell for money, as gifts to other citizens, or just simply to consume. Players can also craft weapons, armour, and accessories with different materials. The list is quite extensive here, and existing equipment can also be upgraded as well for higher stats.

In addition to having other characters join your party, you can also catch different monsters in a Pokémon-esque way. You can then feed and take care of them in a barn, and have them join you during your dungeon crawling. There are many different systems at play that add a ton of variety on how you want to tackle your day.

By deepening your relationships with the characters, you’ll also be able to earn points to activate Directives. These are just commands that help expand Rigbarth. For example, you can put on a festival where all of the citizens come together and compete to grow the biggest crop. These festivals are filled with personality and unique dialogue from the characters that contribute greatly to the game’s overall worldbuilding. Or, you can use the points to simply permanently increase your item capacity, whether they’re for storage, fridge, or shipping.

Rune Factory 5. Credit: Hakama, Xseed Games.
Rune Factory 5. Credit: Hakama, Xseed Games.

The battles in Rune Factory 5 are in real time. There’s actually a lot of variety in the different kinds of weapons to wield such as swords, hammers, axes, and twin daggers. There are also Rune Abilities to equip, which can range from flashy special moves to magic spells. The game’s bosses are memorable as well, consisting of big and unique monsters.

The dungeon design can be a bit bland, however. They’re all themed around different elements, like the fire dungeon in the volcano, the ice dungeon, grass dungeon in the forest, and so forth. Luckily, the dungeons aren’t too long and they don’t overstay their welcome.

But this is also where the game’s biggest problem lies: its framerate. It’s absolutely abysmal and it’s a problem when the fights revolve around real time combat. Swinging a greatsword at enemies causes lag on impact and it’s incredibly distracting. The framerate is also inconsistent outside of battles too. Every time I walk out of a store or fast travel to an area, the game lags because it has to load up the area.

Rune Factory 5 is the first fully 3D entry in the franchise, whereas the previous games were in a isometric, top-down perspective. Transitioning to fully 3D graphics with a free-roaming camera is a natural evolution, but unfortunately, that comes with the consequences of bad framerates and long load times.

Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. The 3D models for all the characters look much better than expected, while the environments look a bit dated and low resolution. However, the game’s bold and colourful art direction helps make up for it and the 2D anime character portraits are crisp too. Furthermore, XSeed did a fantastic job with the English voice acting. Each character is well-acted, delivering the script clearly and with plenty of emotion.

Rune Factory 5 launches for Nintendo Switch on March 22.

The Verdict

Rune Factory 5 has many features that series veterans have come to love over the years and since each game is a self-contained story, newcomers are welcome to start here too. It’s an engaging, cosy sim game with meaty RPG hooks that players can tackle at their own pace. The transition to fully 3D hasn’t been without growing pains, though. The lag and bad framerate can be unbearable at times, and damage the experience.

Pros

  • Rigbarth is an incredibly immersive town
  • Great cast of characters
  • Huge variety of activities to do

Cons

  • Awful framerate, lag, and loading times
  • Environments look a bit dated and low resolution
  • The first few hours can be a bit too hands-off and lacking in direction
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