Rune Factory 4 Special is an upgraded port of the original Nintendo 3DS version that came out in 2012. Here we are about 8 years later, and Marvelous is trying to revive the series on the Switch by test-driving this port. The 3DS version received some pretty good reviews back in its day, but I am curious. How well did this game age? And is this “Special” version a reason to return to Selphia or not? Well, there is only one way to find out, so let’s dive in and review Rune Factory 4 Special on the Nintendo Switch.
Thanks to Jordan over at SwitchWatchTV, you can enjoy my review in video-form as well. Otherwise, continue downward for my written review. Here we go!
In a traditional Japanese RPG storytelling way, Rune Factory 4 Special opens with your character transporting goods on a cargo ship. Some idiotic baddies have found their way on board, and in a moment, they kicked you off the cargo ship. Thankfully, you do not die immediately. Instead, you plummet into a lovely little town called Selphia and right on top of a dragon named Ventuswill. It is here that we suffer amnesia and cannot remember who we are or what we were doing.
Shockingly, the game’s opening, despite its traditional storytelling, drags for way too long. The amount of gameplay I experienced in the first 30 minutes of the game was roughly 10 seconds. Otherwise, I was stuck behind reading text after text after text. If the story was more engaging, I would not have minded, but since Rune Factory 4 Special’s story is nothing to write home about, it made the opening a lot more sour than I anticipated.
The story casually puts you in a position where you become a prince/princess and are responsible with various activities. You will farm, you will pander to the townspeople, and you will be tasked with ridding monsters or investigating strange occurrences. This makes your character feel important, but it also seems like a random means to give you lots of responsibilities that you do not seemingly deserve.
Despite, interacting with the villagers is wonderful. Learning about their likes and dislikes helps you to know what presents to give them and how to level up your relationships. In Rune Factory 4 Special, developing these relationships is especially important, because marriage can become a major part of the story. It is not a necessity, so no need to feel pressured, but it is a fun little addition that plays into one of the new modes, Newlyweds Mode. There are 12 potential suitors which can really add a lot of extra time with the game.
It needs to be said that Newlyweds Mode only becomes available once you marry one of the 12 potential people in the actual game. It is not available from the start.
On top of Newlyweds Mode, there is also Another Episode, which has 13 available side-stories. There is only one available from the get-go, and it seems like the other 12 are locked behind an eShop purchase. From the available one, it does not seem like there is any gameplay. Just dialog and story development.
Overall in regards to the story, it is wide and varied. You get a casual story experience of caring for the kingdom, a more traditional JRPG story experience through mysterious developments regarding dragons and runes, and you get some love stories through a pursuit to marry. There is a lot to offer in regards to Rune Factory 4 Special’s story, that’s for sure.
Rune Factory 4 Special is a bizarre mix of differing genres when it comes to gameplay. The best label I could find for the game was a fantasy farm simulator, but even that is a bit of an undersell.
The game is basically a jack of all trades and a master of none, and that’s no necessarily a bad thing.
What I mean is that we have farming simulator in the same vein as Harvest Moon, but Rune Factory 4 Special is not nearly as good as Harvest Moon. It has JRPG elements and a battle system similar to that of Kingdom Hearts, but it is not even remotely as good as a Kingdom Hearts. And it is a fun little life simulator with so much borrowed from a game like Animal Crossing, yet it is not nearly as efficient at doing this as Animal Crossing.
But the fact that it contains so much variety in the package is what gives it strength. Sure, it may not be the best farm simulator or the best JRPG or the best life simulator, but it does do all of them well and makes the world feel more organic than those other titles.
There is a lot that I can talk about in this review. But since the gameplay can be split into three major areas, I figured I could share about each of those, starting with farming.
In my opinion, farming is probably the weakest point of the game. It just never really felt necessary, and although I spent a lot of time on the multiple available farms throughout the game, particularly my own, I found myself neglecting them for long periods of time with little-to-no consequence.
There are lots of seeds to find and buy, each of them providing different plants and flowers for your garden. Growing flowers was my favorite, because it really did look beautiful when an assortment would bloom all together. I just honestly did not focus on much else, because food was so easily available elsewhere.
The process of farming does feel a bit like a chore, as it should be. I mean, it is farming. But it was because of this that I neglected my farms often.
For those who enjoy these types of simulators, I think Rune Factory 4 Special’s farming system works well enough. It is nothing to brag about, but it does get the job done.
Combat and fighting in Rune Factory 4 is very simple. There is one attack button, and you basically just keep spamming it until enemies die.
There are a lot of enemy types which does vary the combat, and you will be getting all sorts of different weapons to mix things up as well. Although it may be simple, it can still be fun.
Boss fights feel much bigger than other combat situations, but they are honestly not that hard. I only found myself in dire situations a handful of times throughout the game. However, I do have to admit that I play carefully and heal often, and I also level up appropriately for such games. Since enemies, including bosses, do not strike so quickly, healing yourself in the midst of combat is not that difficult, so do it as often as you need.
One last thing about combat is friending monsters. This was one of my favorite things to do in the game, because it basically felt like Pokemon in a bizarre way. You can approach just about any monster in the game and offer them a present. If they hate it, they will try to attack you. If they love it, they will become your friend and offer you protection or assistance in battle, and you can even ride some of them!
This really helped mix things up while battling. Giving the player the option to fight or befriend any monster just made each encounter feel more meaningful.
Initially, the living aspect of Rune Factory 4 Special is the most confusing. You are made into a prince or princess by the dragon Ventuswill, and you are given the task of improving the kingdom and impressing the various residents. There is a board sitting beside Ventuswill that gives you royal tasks to do, such as creating festivals, upgrading your storage, and getting various licenses. It is a lot of fun and feels like Animal Crossing: New Leaf in regards to responsibilities.
People will also request all kinds of things of you through the Request Box located in the center of the kingdom. Completing these requests will improve your relationship with the person who requested it and offer some other reward, and that is about it. Requests range from farming requests to ridding monsters to cosmetic improvements. It helps to keep you busy if you feel like there is nothing to do.
On top of that, there are just a lot of activities to do and resources to collect. Similar to that of Animal Crossing, fishing, cutting for wood, and mining rocks all get you valuable materials that can be used for all sorts of things. Cutting wood and mining rocks were definitely a bit annoying at times, especially if you did not have enough of those resources to complete a task. It just made certain things take a lot longer.
Rune Factory 4 Special is a very beefy game, and although it is not top-grade beef, it is still enjoyable and helps pass the time well. There is just so much to do.
The music in Rune Factory 4 Special is amazing. From the stellar opening song to the various overworld and dungeon themes, the game is such a pleasure to listen to and enjoy. It may not be the most memorable music for a JRPG/Farming Sim/Life Simulator, but it absolutely serves its purpose and does so very well.
There is a little bit of voice acting, so it is difficult to review it fairly. Since this was a 3DS title initially, the vocals are scattered around the dialog and are only often used to say other character’s names during story segments. It was not bad at all, and I actually thought both the English and Japanese voices were great, but I honestly wanted more of it. Maybe in the next Rune Factory, we will get some proper full-on voice acting to help liven up the story areas even more.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE
Although Rune Factory 4 Special is an upgrade of the original 3DS version, I did not find the visuals to be impressive at all. It is definitely an improvement from the 3DS, but it feels well behind other Nintendo Switch titles, including other ports. It does not look bad, mind you, but it does not look good either. Although this was a port from the 3DS to the Switch, I felt like I was playing a GameCube game.
In regards to performance, however, the game ran flawlessly and every transition was silky smooth. There was no slowdown whatsoever, and I did not experience a single technical issue in my dozens of hours playing.
Now, right out of the gate, Rune Factory 4 Special is going to run you $39.99 in the US, £32.99 in the UK, and €39,99 in the EU. That does feel a bit pricey for an upgraded 3DS title, but hold on. This version of the game is absolutely the definitive version. Not only is it upgraded from the original, but it also has multiple new modes and lots of major improvements. On top of that, this game will easily give you well over 50 hours of gameplay to complete simply the base stuff. If you want to clear everything, you are looking at over 200 hours of potential gameplay. That is a lot of bang for your buck.
For those who played the original on the 3DS, there may not be a whole lot of reason to revisit, but if you are new to the series or missed out on the original, Rune Factory 4 Special is a great introduction and a worthy game for your Nintendo Switch.
As I have said multiple times, Rune Factory 4 Special is not the best at anything it is trying to do, but it is the best at doing all of them at the same time. Where else are you going to find a game that offers farming, dungeon crawling, and kingdom management and does all of those decently? I will await your response.
Story - 7/10
Gameplay - 8/10
Audio - 9/10
Visuals & Performance - 6/10
Value - 8/10
Rune Factory 4 Special is still a good games all of these years later. Its entry into the Switch library is a welcomed one, but it is not amazing in any of its parts. However, it does all of its parts well and provides a massive experience in the process. Although the visuals did not age that well, it still looks fine and plays great too. New modes give this already packed game even more reason to keep revisiting Selphia, and multiple potential marriages gives the game a ton of replay value.
- Tons of gameplay
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Relationship building is great, and befriending monsters is even better
- Visuals did not age well
- Some tasks can become repetitive and boring