Rune Factory 5 Review (Switch)
2020 was perhaps one of the most notable years in recent memory that people, in droves, sought brief escapes from reality; adventures in virtual worlds that only a good video game can offer. For some, the casual cuteness of Animal Crossing: New Horizons was just what the doctor ordered, others were enraptured by the awe-inspiring locales of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. While I too enjoyed both of these titles, there would be another release which would ultimately stand out for me from the rest that year: Rune Factory 4 Special.
Despite never playing a Rune Factory game before, it instantly made me a fan of the series and subsequently served as my ticket to board the Rune Factory 5 hype train. Now that it is here, though, I’m at a bit of an impasse. On one hand, the core experience is sound and, in many ways, is improved compared to its predecessor. On the other hand, there are some sizable issues and oddities present that make it difficult to fully appreciate all the genuinely good things the game has to offer.
Rune Factory 5 begins with the player selecting from a male or female character. This hero, or heroine, is then thrust into the world with no recollection of their past. They awaken face-down in a forest, and soon hear cries for help nearby. After saving a young girl, and being injured in the process, the girl carries the player to town in order to treat their wounds. After recovering, and as a means of repaying the town’s kindness, the player decides to join the local militia known as SEED in order to pitch in while also hoping to find a way to restore their memories.
There’s nothing particularly special about the main narrative of Rune Factory 5; some might even call it bland. But as was the case in Rune Factory 4, this game features a strong and diverse cast that helps make up for those shortcomings. There are many citizens that the player can befriend and build relationships with, some of which can be romanced and/or married regardless of the player’s chosen sex. Relationships in general are an important aspect of Rune Factory 5, as they open up new opportunities for special events and sub-narratives as well as other boons.
One of the easiest ways to get to know the townsfolk is to simply speak with them daily, but this requires the game to present a healthy amount of unique dialogue in order for things not to get stale. While the variety in Rune Factory 5 isn’t as robust as its predecessor, there is still plenty to discover and experience. Either way, it is the characters of Rigbarth, not the story, that help bring the world to life, but I personally didn’t find them as interesting as the lineup found in Rune Factory 4.
The main story can feel a bit short since it lacks the RNG requirements of Rune Factory 4 (thank goodness), and can easily be completed in the first year of the game, but it could still take 40+ hours to complete depending on how invested the player is in everything else (it took me close to 50). Even so, there is likely to be plenty of side-stories and other content to do for many hours after the main story’s curtain call.
The Rune Factory series has long been a melting pot of various genres and mechanics, and Rune Factory 5 is no different. Players are free to live out their lives in Rigbarth as they see fit, whether that be romancing the townsfolk, becoming the local farming kingpin, perfecting various crafts, becoming the bane of monsters by ascending the SEED ranks, or just chipping away at both the main campaign and side quests. But no matter what the player does, they will be progressing their overall power level.
Besides standard character level progression, Rune Factory 5 features separate sub-levels for virtually all activities, including but not limited to sleeping, bathing, and eating. And most of these not only improve the potential and potency of those specific actions, but also directly tie in to overall player power to some extent. This kind of design ultimately rewards the player in small, but meaningful increments no matter what they might do on any given day.
Rigbarth progresses through the four seasons via a day and night cycle, with business hours and events varying each day depending on the time and season. Shop owners are generally good at being on time to their businesses, but it isn’t unheard of for them to be late or unresponsive at times. Worse yet, sometimes they’ll refuse to offer their services randomly in the middle of the work day – my hygiene was borderline atrocious thanks to Murakumo’s far too happy-go-lucky work ethic.
Early on, players are allowed to call “directives” which can have a multitude of effects, such as scheduling town festivals, or increasing inventory space. The currency for said directives are accumulated by being invested in the town itself, and just helping out as much as possible. One way is to take down and capture wanted monsters for SEED, which are powered-up versions of standard monsters that emit an ominous aura. These beasts have to be weakened before they are capturable, much like one would capture a Pokemon, via the patented SEED circle. The more wanted monsters the player captures, the more rewards they will receive in addition to the occasional SEED crest – an equippable badge that gives various bonuses.
Additionally, the SEED circle used for rounding up wanted monsters can also be used to temporarily stun monsters, as well as forcing them to do the player’s bidding for the duration of that day. On top of that, the player can occasionally steal crystal fragments from foes, and reach items in the distance that would otherwise be impossible to obtain (like fruit from trees).
The player begins each day with a full HP and RP bar, the latter of which is key in performing virtually any and all actions in Rune Factory 5. Both HP and RP can be easily restored through a multitude of means, so it’s never really much of an issue outside of early progression when resources are low. But it’s important to keep an eye on RP as actions taken when RP is zero will instead consume health – a rather large amount of it, in fact. Should the player’s health reach zero, then they’ll be rescued and sent to the infirmary where they’ll likely have to pay a hefty fee for the services.
Rune Factory 5 does feature some quality-of-life improvements over its predecessor. Players no longer have to choose between equipping a farm tool or a weapon, as they are now able to swap between one of each type quickly via the d-pad. Most items and materials within a certain radius of the player will be automatically picked up, including lumber and stone! Moreover, building materials, fodder, and fertilizer can all be instantly deposited in their respective bins in bulk rather than having to insert them a stack at a time (there are some exceptions, but it usually works). Events are also much less RNG centric, which was a huge problem in the previous entry.
One bizarre discovery, however, was the absence of dungeon seeds, which was one of my personal favorite features of Rune Factory 4. Veterans may also miss the inclusion of seasonal plots, even though the biome-specific farm dragons the player can befriend give the illusion that they do exist. Despite those setbacks, Rune Factory 5 still feels mechanically superior to Rune Factory 4.
Although Rune Factory 5 pulls from a number of different subgenres, it doesn’t sacrifice any depth for it, especially when it comes to farming. Farming is one of the best ways to make money, and it’s designed in a way that rewards both the min-max mentality as well as the casual farmer. The general idea is simple: plant crops, keep them watered, and harvest them when they’re ready. For those that want to dig deeper, both soil and the crops themselves can be leveled up and have some additional nuance beyond that.
Crops and the individual plot nodes themselves all have varying degrees of growth rates, maturity times, and strength to withstand natural disasters, such as typhoons. Some crops are more harsh on the soil than others, leading to weaker plots and reduced growth rates without restoring them with proper additives and nutrients. The vast majority of crops aren’t limited to growing only in a specific season, but always have conditions for which they grow best.
Besides the standard Rigbarth SEED plot, the player will befriend various “farm dragons” over the course of the adventure that, conveniently enough, house additional plots and room for animal/monster barns on their backs. Unlike the standard plot, dragon farms can take advantage of temporary boosts, such as on-demand rain and increased growth rates, should the player feed the dragon special crystals. Animals that are tamed will live in the barns upon the farm dragon’s backs, and can be used in combat as well as ordered to help tend to the fields once a certain friendship threshold is reached.
Rune Factory 5 incentivizes players to dive deep into crafting thanks to its steady stream of materials. Players can receive and purchase a variety of crafting stations that can then be used to combine raw goods into an assortment of products. Unlike many games, Rune Factory 5 rewards the player’s time investment handsomely, with crafted items typically selling for more (some for substantially more) than their raw counterparts.
While one can go off the cuff and combine any ingredient in hopes of making something, it is far more efficient to follow recipes, which are learned from consuming recipe bread purchased around town and found in dungeons. RP usage for any given craft is dependent on the player’s specific crafting level, the level of the recipe, as well as the ingredients used. And yes, crafting with insufficient RP will result in the player taking HP damage. Like most systems in the game, crafting features some additional depth beyond the scope of this review. Overall, crafting is as fun and rewarding as it has ever been.
Rune Factory 5 combat feels like a natural progression from the foundation of Rune Factory 4. Players can hack and slash their way through droves of enemies with an assortment of weapons, each of which have their advantages and disadvantages. Smaller weaponry, such as fist weapons and daggers, tend to prioritize speed and fluidity at the expense of range and defense.
Individual weapon and spell types can be leveled up, with new moves opening up at certain level thresholds. Additionally, rune abilities can be equipped that allow the player to use special moves of other weapon types regardless of the currently equipped weapon. Players can evade incoming attacks by dashing away, and if done with perfect timing, can completely negate the attack even if it would have otherwise hit. This “perfect dash” also allows for an immediate dash attack if the player presses the appropriate button in time.
In Rune Factory 5, the player can recruit companions from town, as well as tame and/or entrap monsters in order to more efficiently conquer hostile areas. Of course, party members and monster companions all have their own separate forms of progression, and the former can even be outfitted with gear to the player’s liking. Moreover, once certain bonding thresholds have been reached with human party members, powerful linked attacks can be used that feature some flashy animations.
What monsters lack in customization, they make up for in being much easier to develop and their innate ability to never tire (Rigbarth citizens will only stay grouped with the player for so long each day). Many monsters can also be mounted, opening up faster travel in addition to unique mounted attacks. Speaking of fast travel, the game does allow the player to easily travel between previously unlocked areas at any time. All things considered, combat and progression does feel improved in Rune Factory 5 outside of performance-related issues (more on that later).
Rune Factory 5 allows the player to place an assortment of furnishings, crafting stations, and decorations around the house and surrounding farmland. Placement is free-form, allowing one to move and arrange objects in whatever fashion they see fit. Unfortunately, the lack of any sort of grid snapping and d-pad support makes the system have some serious disadvantages by default.
But that isn’t even the worst thing about it – each object has an unbelievably large boundary that makes placing them against a wall (or even neatly next to each other) a seemingly impossible task. None of this, besides grid placement, was an issue in Rune Factory 4, so it’s hard to understand why this feature regressed in such a way. As it stands, this is a huge misstep in what should have been a fun and enjoyable side activity to the main grind.
That said, Rune Factory 5 does show the player exactly where any given object will be placed beforehand, which is a nice change. But the aggravation associated with everything else makes it difficult to even want to deal with the furniture and decoration in the first place.
Presentation, Performance, and Sound
Rune Factory 5 isn’t the franchise’s first foray into the world of 3D, but it is the first for its Nintendo Switch branch. One would assume that building the game with the Switch in mind would pave the way for exceptional performance, but unfortunately that’s not the case. To put it simply, Rune Factory 5 is one of the most poorly optimized full-priced titles on the console.
While the majority of characters, monsters, and objects actually look good, the entire experience suffers from constant changes in resolution, draw distance, and unsightly pop-in. Assets will frequently swap between crisp edges to blurry messes, and none of it ever seems to improve the framerate in a drastic way. Weather effects appear as their own layer in the foreground (GTA Trilogy on Switch, anyone?) and even with the dynamic resolution doing its thing, Rune Factory 5 frequently dips well below 30 frames. While the player can turn off dynamic resolution, that only exacerbates the aforementioned issues.
But it’s not just the downscaling and poor framerate that are to blame here. Rune Factory 5 has fairly noticeable input lag with almost every action. For a game that touts itself as an action RPG and requires the player to perform many non-combat button presses in general, it is simply unacceptable. Although players will ultimately get used to the delay and constantly shifting graphics, that doesn’t make them excusable either. I also suffered from multiple crashes across my 50+ hour journey.
The saving grace of the presentation, outside of charming (but difficult to appreciate) character and enemy designs, is the soundtrack. While it collectively seems inferior to the score offered in Rune Factory 4, there are several catchy tunes scattered about for the player to enjoy. And if you prefer a previous game’s soundtrack, there are directives that allow for the town’s music to instead be changed to those. Neat!
There’s a certain level of polish that is to be expected from any game, let alone a full-priced one. And the unfortunate truth is that severe performance issues and graphical oddities make it very difficult to appreciate all the good that Rune Factory 5 has to offer. There is loads of content here, but you have to be willing to look past some sizable flaws in order to enjoy it all. That said, if you have enough patience and perseverance, Rune Factory 5 could easily entertain you for hours on end.