Author's note: This is part of a series in which Wootex and I highlight games that are fairly unknown but nonetheless awesome. They are both informative and entertaining, or at least Wootex's are.
Previous edition: 16 - Def Jam: Fight for New York
Rune Factory Frontier
Genre: Farming/RPG hybrid
Developers: Neverland Co.
Release Date: November 27, 2008 (Japan), March 17, 2009 (North America), April 1, 2010 (Europe)
What is it?
Rune Factory Frontier is by far the youngest game to date in this series, having come out in North America only a little over two years ago as of the writing of this article. However, considering the fact that GameSpot never even reviewed it, I think it's safe to say that it already merits being called "unsung". And it's definitely great. And, well, it's also definitely a game. So, in it goes.
Rune Factory Frontier (like the rest of the Rune Factory series) is a pretty weird game, just in terms of its multiple personalities. On one hand, it's got a very strong Harvest Moon vibe going on - a major part of its gameplay is tilling soil, planting crops, watering the crops, and then selling the harvest for money, all while getting to know the people (especially the girls) living in the village you begin to call home. At the same time, however, there are a number of dungeons in the game in which monsters dwell, and in which you have to fight the monsters in order to get further into it. The two really don't seem like they should work together, but they really, really do.
In Rune Factory Frontier, you play the part of Raguna, a young man who left his home in search of a girl named Mist, whom he finds in the tiny village of Trampoli. She convinces him to settle down in this village too (there's an empty yet fully furnished house right next to hers, conveniently enough), and he does. Thus begins his epic quest of planting crops. And harvesting them. And also saving the town of Trampoli while he's at it, since a giant whale-shaped island floating above the town, you find out, is going to shortly fall from the sky down on it if nothing is done.
"I'll take a turnip... and EAT IT."
What's great about it?
Rune Factory Frontier's appeal is actually a lot like that of Animal Crossing - although this game does have a story, it largely takes a back seat to the gameplay. This isn't the sort of game that one will stay up super late playing because one can't pull oneself away from the gripping storyline; rather, it's the sort of game that one will sit down to for a relaxing session during which to unwind. It's also definitely not a game that will appeal to everyone - you'd definitely have to see value in planting digital crops and getting acquainted with a digital village, because that's definitely the core of this game's appeal.
If you do see the appeal in that, however, there's a lot of things to do in Rune Factory Frontier. For starters, the game goes through the four seasons just as the real world does, and in each season there are different crops to be planted and different activities in town to do. Both your house and your equipment (both farming- and battle-related) can be upgraded multiple times and in multiple ways. As you go through the game, you can get a forge, a kitchen, and a lab, in each of which places you can make new equipment and items. The game also has, in total, thirteen girls, as well, with whom you can start up a friendship that can eventually blossom into a relationship.
THAT'S WHAT SHE- oh, never mind.
Of course, you can't do everything the game has to offer in a single day. The game places a number of limiters on your ability to do things in an in-game day - you have a set number of hit points with which you can withstand enemies' attacks; you have a set number of rune points (effectively your stamina) that any given stenuous activity will require and use it; and you have an in-game clock, which dictates what shops are open, what villagers are where, and how late you can stay up before needing to go to bed. Everything you plant requires a set number of days before it's either ripe (in the case of crops) or in bloom (in the case of flowers), as well, so patience is a virtue.
Finally, the game also has a level and skill system, too - as you battle monsters, you gain levels up, making you stronger; and as you do activites around the farm and in battle (tilling, chopping, attacking, forging, etc.), you gain skill levels up, making you more efficient in those activities. These effectively make it so that you can do more in one day and go further in dungeons before needing to turn back - when you first start out, you'll only be able to tend to a small amount of crops and go a little ways into dungeons, whereas the more skilled you get and the higher your level gets, the more you'll be able to get through in the same day. Upgrades to farming equipment as well makes them more efficient - for example, upgrading your watering can one level enables you to water three squares in one go, instead of just one. Which is good, since the amount of farmland available in the game is massive.
I AM FARMING THE **** OUT OF THIS PLACE RIGHT NOW
The bottom line
This is really one of those games where it's pointless to dwell on it too long - if you're going to like it, you're probably already thinking about looking into it by this time, whereas if you're not going to like it, you've probably already decided that this sounds really stupid. If you are still considering it, though, it comes highly recomended in my books - it's a great game for a rainy day, one that offers great relaxation and casual fun. Check it out!