Rune Factory 5 Review (Nintendo Switch)

The beloved fantasy farming JRPG becomes Ruined Factory in this latest entry.


It's a series beloved by both role-playing game aficionados and casual farming sim fans alike: Rune Factory. Initially conceived as a fantasy Harvest Moon spin-off for the Nintendo DS, the original game eventually gained such notoriety that it became an entire standalone series by its own right. Blending the casual, laid-back gameplay of farming simulators along with JRPG staples like combat, crafting, and exploration, Rune Factory was a fresh take on the genre and quickly gained quite a cult following. With three games on the DS, entries on the Wii and PS3, Rune Factory 4 for 3DS, and Rune Factory 4 Special for Nintendo Switch, this once humble spin-off showed no signs of slowing down.

The first ever Rune Factory game, released in 2006 exclusively for the Nintendo DS.

Announced in February 2019 exclusive for Nintendo Switch, Rune Factory 5 promised a fresh take on the genre and a transition to an expansive 3D world with complete freedom over exploration and gameplay. As it had been 8 years since the last entry in the series, long-term fans were naturally eager to explore a brand new JRPG adventure. Delays unfortunately postponed the release of Rune Factory 5, and after several patient years, the game has finally come to fruition. So is this new entry the cream of the Rune Factory crop, or has all that time in development left this bountiful harvest to wither? Read ahead and explore Rigbarth in our review for this long-awaited JRPG.

Story


Beginning as many cliché JRPGs tend to, Rune Factory 5 begins with the protagonist emerging from a mysterious portal with no memory or recollection of their past. Stumbling across a flustered girl being attacked by monsters, it's up to the protagonist to leap into action and fend off the vicious creatures! Collapsing soon after the encounter, the player wakes up in a nearby village with faces crowded around them, worried for their safety. So where exactly did they end up?


The humble town of Rigbarth, nestled within the forests of the Kingdom of Norad, is home to many hard-working and kind residents who live off the land. Thanks to the generosity of those within the town, the player is invited to take up residence within Rigbarth, staying at an organisation known as SEED, who are rangers that keep the peace in the region. In exchange for accommodation and a generous plot of land on which to grow crops, the player is recruited into SEED as a rookie ranger, expected to help the town's inhabitants with their requests.

I can think of worse places to wake up in.

Though this friendly town is more than what it seems. On the outskirts of Rigbarth, the lands are being drained of their powers, creatures are running wild, and mysterious foes are corrupting powerful enemies. It's up to the player and the organisation of SEED to defend Rigbarth and maintain the peace in these prosperous lands!


Quite honestly, the plot of Rune Factory 5 is as bland and generic as the game itself. Seasoned JRPG players will likely find the story minimally engaging, whereas those playing the game simply for its laid-back farming gameplay will likely get some enjoyment out of the game's progression and meeting the varied characters as the story progresses.


Gameplay


Part farming game, part RPG, part... dating simulator? Rune Factory 5's gameplay is an amalgam of multiple different genres and offers an interesting mix of gameplay while never truly perfecting any one genre in particular. The game is primarily divided into these three key aspects, each of which tie into each other in various ways. So how exactly can such different genres be combined into a single coherent attempt at a game?


Farming is by far the most important aspect of Rune Factory 5 and acts as the foundation for the remainder of its gameplay. The player is assigned a plot of land on which crops can be planted, tended to, and sold for profit or made into various items like foodstuffs or useful consumables. It's quite a simple task and will come naturally to anyone who has previously gotten hands-on with a farming game. Soil must be tilled, seeds planted, crops watered daily, and fertiliser or nutrients added to produce a high-yield crop and a generous profit. This gameplay loop repeats as the player is given access to a wider variety of crops, higher level tools to tend to the land, and even access to farm animals that can help out with tasks on the farm.

You're gonna need some real good hoes if you wanna make a profit.

What starts out as a small and humble eventually grows into an empire of fresh fruits and vegetables varying from season to season. By progressing through the story, the player gains access to several additional "Farm Dragons" - quite literally colossal dragons with a farm on their back. This creative way of farming offers additional gameplay elements, as the dragons can be fed various crystals to harness the power of the elements. Don't feel like watering all your crops today? Give your Farm Dragon a blue crystal to summon down a torrent of rain to do the work for you.

Standing atop a farm dragon. What happens if it does a barrel roll?

The farming though isn't without it challenges. Controls are terribly clunky and make even the easiest of tasks more difficult than they need to be. Picking up crops, tilling the fields, or even just using items is made unnecessarily difficult through controls that are unintuitive, needlessly convoluted, and sometimes just downright unresponsive. I've played touch screen mobile games that control better than Rune Factory 5! This certainly takes some getting used to, and unfortunately detracts significantly from the joy of growing your crop.


RPG elements are also a key part of any Rune Factory game, as this is what sets itself apart from other farming sims. Players are given access to a huge variety of weapons and equipment and can head out into the field on a daily basis to fell enemies and collect items that can be used back on the farm. It's a veritable collectathon, as the wide lands of Norad are scattered with useful items that can be utilised in crafting new weapons, potions, and other equipment. Upgrading your equipment is key to success, but doing so chews into the player's stamina, and once exhausted entirely will begin to wear down HP instead. Managing stamina is vital in Rune Factory, as every single action will use a small portion of stamina that can replished with food, items, or rest.

The overworld feels sparse and on-par with something you might expect to play on a PSP.

While exploring the overworld an dungeons, the player will find themselves locked in combat against a variety of animals and fantasy creatures. Using the equipped weapon along with several magical skills, players can fell their foes in order to collect valuable dropped items. Having played a wide variety of action-RPG combat systems, Rune Factory 5's is about the simplest and most approachable, but also the most boring. Most encounters simply involve mashing the attack button and occasionally dodging, with little to no skill or tactics required. Even the game's boss fights are an absolute breeze, none of which provided any degree of challenge whatsoever.

Even bosses don't stand a chance if you mash the attack button.

Dating and building relationships are crucial in Rigbarth and weaves throughout all the player's actions. By interacting with the locals through conversation, giving gifts, completing their quests, or getting involved in town events, the player will slowly gain their affection. It's a style of gameplay I'd liken to something like Animal Crossing, whereby simply just getting to know each character is the goal and provides various small rewards along the way. By establishing a relationship, the player will be able to recruit characters along with them in the field, be given useful items, or even have the option to ask them on dates. The addition of same-sex relationships is also available when it previously wasn't an option, which is a nice inclusive touch from the developers.

Some of the dialogue is questionable to say the least...

Several other activities in Rigbarth are also available to keep players busy: fishing, crafting, developing the town, raising animals, hunting wanted monsters, exploring dungeons. There's a huge amount of gameplay packed into Rune Factory 5! Though sadly, none of it is particularly impressive, as is definitely the case with the game's visuals...


Visuals


Remember the PlayStation 2? The beloved Sony console that revolutionised 3D graphics and had the power to render impressive open worlds unlike never seen before. Well, I hope you like the PS2, because that's what playing Rune Factory 5 often feels like. These visuals are dated beyond belief and appear as if they've been made decades ago. To make matters worse, not only does the game look visually bland, it somehow manages to perform even worse. Never before have I encountered so many framerate drops in a Nintendo Switch game, which leads me to think the game's Switch exclusivity wasn't always the case and it was perhaps meant to be available on different platforms.

Poor load times and pop-ins are a common sight in the town of Rigbarth.

While the town itself appears vibrant and aesthetically pleasing, it is lacking the same sort of charm and personality of many other JRPGs I've played, especially when compared to the likes of the Atelier games which are also available on Switch. Character models have a distinctly anime-style to them, and 2D portraits are expressive and cute, but animations are stilted and robotic, giving the characters about as much charm as a colourful paperweight. The same can be said for the overworld and its environments, which are bland and unpolished and play to the generic RPG sterotypes of "Grass Area", "Fiery Volcano Area", and "Snowy Area".

Vibrant visuals don't quite keep up to the standard expected of modern games.

While it's not necessarily an awful-looking game, as there certainly are some pleasant lighting and particle effects, there's just so little personality to the game's visuals. Compared to many other open-world JRPGs on the Switch like Shin Megami Tensei V or Monster Hunter Stories, Rune Factory 5's visual style is unimpressive detracts from the game significantly.


Audio


So if the game's visuals aren't quite up to scratch, surely the soundtrack and voice acting are a redeeming factor? Sadly, this is not the case. The soundtrack to Rune Factory 5 is about as disinteresting as the rest of the game. Most songs left little of an impression on me, especially as someone who truly does value the music of a videogame. Some tracks utilise heavily edited synth effects that sound fake or cheesy, and are created in a way that makes them seem ill-fitting. Maybe I'm just a soundtrack snot but Rigbarth's main town theme isn't even looped properly, and has a large pause at the end of the song before it simply just returns to the beginning.


Voice acting too is unfortunately not up to the standards I've come to expect from many others JRPGs. Very little of the dialogue in the game is actually voiced, aside from occasional snippets during cutscenes or audio simple cues like characters yelling out "Hello!" or repeatedly berating you with the same lines while you're browsing their shop. Dual audio is available, featuring both English and Japanese voiceovers - personally I chose Japanese as the English voices were not pleasant and sounded incredibly nasally and forced. Though I wouldn't worry too much, as honestly there's disappointingly little voiced dialogue in the game.


What Else?


Aside from the game's main story quests and key aspects like farming or relationship-building, there's actually a fair bit of extra, completely optional content. Players can choose to host event days which are much like those in Animal Crossing, such as the Fishing Tourney, where every resident in Rigbarth competes for prizes. These regular events give the player something to look forward to as they grind through the cycle of farm > explore > sleep > repeat. There are also plenty of extra side quests to be completed, most of which are fetch quests but some involve amusing character interactions and are a pleasant break from the game's monotony.

It's not really a relaxing casual game if it doesn't have fishing.

Upgrading the town's buildings and facilities is also a time-consuming venture, requiring a large portion of supplies and money for even the smallest upgrades. Players wanting to get the most out the game will likely spend quite a bit of time achieving this, though personally I wouldn't be able to tough it out.


Conclusion


So was Rune Factory 5 worth the years of waiting in anticipation? Unfortunately not. It's not often I'm truly disappointed in a game, but this latest entry in such a beloved series has managed to achieve this feat. Though it does retain the key gameplay elements the series is known for, it does so with as little charm and polish as possible. Every portion of the game feels as if it had corners cut and seriously detracts from the overall enjoyment. Making matters worse, the game runs terribly on the Switch in both docked and handheld mode, with constant framerate drops and poor loading and plenty of jarring pop-ins. Though some casual gamers may enjoy playing Rune Factory 5, I personally expected far more of this series. It's honestly more Ruined Factory than Rune Factory. Looking for a charming farming RPG? Go play Stardew Valley instead.


So, why should you play it?

  • Plenty of optional gameplay to keep dedicated players busy.

  • Combat is simple and approachable for first-timers.

But why shouldn't you play it?

  • Terrible performance and significantly dated visuals.

  • Clunky gameplay and tedious, unresponsive controls.

  • Boring and bland story, characters, and setting.

  • Enemy encounters and even boss fights offer no challenge.

  • So many other better options for farming JRPGs.

A review code was kindly provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

 

Written by

Ben 'Qualbert' Schuster

Ben is a game reviewer and collector with a passion for the Australian games industry. His favourite game is Ōkami and he spends most of his time playing JRPGs and indie games. You can read more of his reviews and retrospective articles at qualbert.com