I’m going to be candid. I had never played Rune Factory 4 prior to E3 2019. I had never played any Rune Factory game at all, in fact. There’s this whole pseudo-genre — an era of portable games I kinda-sorta classified in my head as “a bit like Animal Crossing” — that I avoided for far too long. This includes Fantasy Life, Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, and, yes, Rune Factory. But after getting a hands-on demo of Rune Factory 4 Special at E3, I see how totally wrong I was to ignore this series. This game is going to absolutely destroy me.
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That’s not how it started. Instead, my preview began more-or-less how I expected. There was no preamble: either from the game or nearby PR folks. I just picked up a Nintendo Switch and found myself in a field of leafy greens. This is what I thought Rune Factory 4 Special was like. I assumed it was a game where you mostly farmed, hung out with villagers, and maybe sometimes fought monsters.
And that really is the game, to a certain degree. Although, I’ve come to enjoy pastoral escapism a bit more in recent years (Fantasy Life is great, by the way). What I did not expect, however, was to see so much JRPG DNA infused into that formula.
The combat in Rune Factory 4 Special is fast and frantic, with a surprisingly satisfying weight for such a simple, top-down aesthetic. I learned this when I went to the only area of interest in the demo I was shown: a dungeon-like forest that came with its own multi-stage boss fight. It wasn’t a challenging encounter, exactly. My foes hit hard, but I had harvested an ungodly number of healing herbs before I even knew what I was doing. I was able to mash and spellcast my way through the final fight without much trouble.
Fun and Fancy – Rune Factory 4 Special Preview
This illuminated a loop I never actually knew the Rune Factory games had. You craft and gather back at base to enhance some fairly deep dungeon diving. Then you take your spoils back, craft even better items, and shake things up with a quick fishing trip (or something similar). Although I couldn’t catch so much as a minnow during my demo…
And through it all, you get to see some truly fantastic pre-rendered backgrounds. Rune Factory 4 looks absolutely stunning on the Switch. The characters themselves are bit simple by comparison, but some flashy 2D intro videos lend them character. If I have one complaint, it’s only that Rune Factory 4 Special joins a growing swathe of Switch games with teensy weensy font in handheld mode. Seriously, it’s a pain.
If you can squint past the font, though, the writing adds a great deal. Rune Factory 4 Special has an effervescent, almost fourth wall-breaking tone that managed to make an impression in a very short amount of time. At one point the game asked me to find one “Lady Ventuswill.” I didn’t think much of it, until I stumbled into her and learned that she’s basically Pete’s Dragon with a sense of humor.
More Than Meets the Eye – Rune Factory 4 Special Preview
Unfortunately, because my demo was so short, I didn’t have time to see so much of what the game offers. I’ve since read up on the series and learned about getting married, managing the town for myself, and a new difficulty mode. There’s also the oodles of crafting I didn’t get to see.
This all adds up to one incredibly appealing package. I may not usually be a fan of “these games,” but Rune Factory 4 Special is so much more than I thought. As a huge fan of JRPGs, I want to see its dungeons. As a newcomer to the series, I want to explore its simulation of everyday life. Not to mention I just want to soak in the gorgeous art redone in HD.
Put another way, this game is absolutely going to destroy me when it comes out later this year. I’m already furiously checking the internet for a more specific release date. There isn’t one, sadly — not yet. But I’ll be ready for Rune Factory 4 Special to completely consume me when that time does come. In the meantime, I think there are some other games I might like to give a second chance…