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Rune Factory 5 review: A farmer’s life for me

rune factory 5 review scarlett cutscene
Rune Factory 5
MSRP $59.99
“Rune Factory 5 should satisfy fans and cozy game enthusiasts, but its not quite as friendly for newcomers.”
Pros
  • Charming marriage candidates
  • Satisfying progression system
  • Endless options for what to do
  • Long days
Cons
  • Unclear instructions
  • Unimpressive visuals
  • Notable glitches

Rune Factory 5 reeled me in, much like the bunches of fish I sold for money in the game. Xseed Games’ latest iteration of the series offers a surprising amount of breadth in its farming, crafting, and combat systems — enough that it’s difficult to run out of stuff to do. That’s if players can stomach stumbling through the game to learn the basics without tutorials and ignore frame drops.

Rune Factory 5 is the latest game in the Rune Factory series, which originated as a fantasy Harvest Moon spinoff. Its previous release was Rune Factory 4 Special, a Nintendo Switch remaster of the original Rune Factory 4 for the Nintendo 3DS. Fans have been waiting for ages for a new generation, long enough that this should be a big deal for those who enjoyed previous titles.

Rune Factory 5 continued to impress me with its endless entertainment, which I noted in my preview. However, the flaws didn’t really improve. Nonetheless, its progression system and characters kept me invested enough to keep playing.

Welcome to Rigbarth, part 2

A screenshot shows a conversation with Martin in Rune Factory 5.
Dialogues are genuinely entertaining and funny, though they aren’t as varied as previous titles.

Like all Rune Factory titles, this one starts with an amnesiac protagonist who wakes up on the outskirts of Rigbarth. The protagonist, the male Ares or female Alice, wakes up to save Hina, a little girl who has wandered into a dangerous area outside of town. She leads the hero over to Rigbarth, where the villagers inspect the protagonist before recruiting them as an agent for SEED, the local task force. Your job then becomes to farm crops, tame monsters, fulfill requests from townspeople, capture wanted criminals, and so on.

There’s plenty to juggle, including completing the main plot, raising skills, and bonding with your favorite townspeople.

Players can focus on a number of aspects of the game, depending on what kind of player they are. One can start dominating their fields with seeds right away or build bunches of barns to house as many monsters as possible. Meanwhile, others can cash in on pricey catches from fishing ventures.

There’s plenty to juggle , including completing the main plot, raising skills, and bonding with your favorite townspeople. It never felt like I was stagnating, and there’s near-constant progression thanks to the skill bars for almost everything, including cooking and sleeping.

Gotta love that sweet grind

Alice rides a Buffamoo in Rigbarth in Rune Factory 5.
Just a girl and her Buffamoo.

Farming is one of the first skills that a townsperson will walk players through. It’s simple at first, but once crops hit level four, players need to enrich the soil to grow higher-level crops. As players progress through the game, they learn other skills like how to fish and tame monsters. Each skill has layers that make them more advantageous and build on one another. For example, taming monsters leads to recruiting them, allowing players to collect important drops and in turn raise a monster’s friendship level to acquire higher-level drops. Think better-quality eggs from your chicken friends, depending on how much they like you.

Another major element of the game is romance, which eventually leads to marriage, including same-sex unions, and children. Players can choose between six bachelors and six bachelorettes. Marriage candidates, and townspeople in general, greatly differ in terms of personality, so each one feels unique and caters to different tastes. Unfortunately, there’s not much variation in terms of skin color or body type for the candidates, so it might not cater to players looking for a more diverse dating sim experience.

Each skill has layers that make them more advantageous and build on one another.

It’s easy enough to raise friendship levels (and romance levels) through daily conversation, gift-giving, and exploring together with your ideal candidate. I raised Martin to heart level seven by the first week of summer, thanks to a steady stream of gifts and adventuring invites.

Cecil and Alice fight using a special spell in Rune factory 5.
A new mechanic lets characters in your party charge up to an “ult,” which will unleash a powerful attack on the nearest target.

Rune Factory 5 has serveral difficulty levels, which can be cranked up to make a playthrough more challenging, but even then, it shouldn’t be difficult to beat a boss head-on without worrying about the quality of equipment or gear. I didn’t experiment much with strengthening weapons or equipment, though the game gives players that option. That easy difficulty is a shame considering the game allows up to four people or animals in a party. You probably won’t need the help, though you should bring them anyway to raise friendship levels.

In farming sims and similar games, players might feel disappointed if the days are too short to complete everything they need to. Thankfully, Rune Factory 5 days can span over a full hour in real life. Some might prefer sleeping as early as 3 p.m. or the moment they run out of Rune Points — the energy they use to complete tasks like cooking or chopping wood. However, it’s also possible to keep eating food or visit the hot springs to replenish energy so that busy bees could keep working until the wee hours of the night. Perhaps it’s not recommended, but I hate to waste the time I could spend grinding for more materials.

A puzzle game? I think not

A player farms on the back of a dragon in Rune Factory 5.
You will befriend many dragons who happen to have giant fields on their backs — like this one.

In my preview, I noted how the game didn’t clearly explain what I had to do to build a monster barn. After playing this game for 50 hours, I’ve found that the ambiguous instructions continue even further into the game. Sure, it tells you how to farm and how to learn new recipes with bread. However, it doesn’t clearly explain many other basics like where to find the fertilizer bin or the fact that there’s a delivery port inside your room, but your wardrobe blocks it, so you need to move it to have any chance of having items conveniently delivered to your house. There are Redditors already asking these questions while playing the Japanese version.

I’ve found that the ambiguous instructions continue even further into the game.

The problem should be less pronounced for those already familiar with the series just based on features that carry over from past titles. I often looked up Rune Factory 4 guides to make educated guesses about how to do tasks, which I shouldn’t need to do, but it helped me nonetheless.

Rune Factory 5 also didn’t impress me with its visuals, which noticeably have more empty space than ever in Rigbarth and dungeons. Backgrounds have more of a bland, painted look without much detail. If people ended up caring about Rune Factory 5 as much as Pokemon Legends: Arceus, they would flip over its flat look.

Frame stutters noticeably appear while moving about the map, especially the town. Some hiccups like crops disappearing for brief moments at a time until they render, or character icons spawning in the water will happen. It doesn’t significantly detract from the gameplay, but it’s present enough to be considered a “flaw.”

Our take

Captain Livia appears disappointed in Rune Factory 5.
Captain Livia might look like a child, but she’s also your boss.

I’m still playing and enjoying Rune Factory 5, but I wish it were even better than it is. It’s a satisfying follow-up to the series, mostly in terms of the freedom in romance and skill leveling. However, the fact that it fails to explain even the bare basics of the game to beginners (and returning fans), along with a number of other flaws, makes it difficult to recommend to newcomers. I hope to see improvements in the Rune Factory series that make its more traditional 3D counterparts as stable as the 2D ones, and enough explanations throughout the game to make it more convenient for newcomers in the future.

Is there a better alternative?

If you really want a good farming simulator with lots to do, including romance, Stardew Valley is still the cream of the crop.

How long will it take?

Rune Factory 5 can last hundreds of hours; I’m already clocked in at around 55 hours. For finishing the main plot, around 40 hours is a decent estimate, though expect to play more.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Rune Factory 5 should appeal to longtime fans or those who like games that overlap between a couple of categories, including farming sims, dating sims, and JRPGs. I can’t see it having much mainstream appeal, though, due to the barriers it puts up for newcomers.

Rune Factory 5 was tested on Nintendo Switch.

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