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[Keywords] Rune Factory 5 and Friction

Rune Factory 5 is available on Nintendo Switch.

Rune Factory 4 is available on Nintendo Switch, 3DS, and Steam.

I've been a big fan Rune Factory for a while now. It's probably my favorite blend of the “farm life” style of game, and 4 on the 3DS gobbled up dozens of hours of my life. I was among the first up to bat for the series when it was pronounced no-longer-dead two years ago.

And let's be crystal-clear: I still have a soft spot for Rune Factory 5. Its cast of townsfolk has quickly gown on me. The clearer structure provided by (admittedly-optional) in-game missions adds a nice backbone to the series' self-directed gameplay. And, gosh darnit, it's just something cozy to curl up on the couch with.

But boy oh boy does it feel like I'm starting to spin my wheels with this game.

And I feel like a lot of this just boils down to the fact that the series is on Switch now.

That's right; go grab yourself an overly-engineered coffee drink. I'm about to hipster-ize Rune Factory 5 in the same way that a lot of us claim that Pokémon or Zelda is inherently better in 2D.

Bigger is Not Always Better

Shifting to a fully-rendered game world is unequivocally great for exploration. It helps a space feel more like, well, a space. You can explore all sides of a mountain. sneak up in a monster from behind, or just get lost because you can't remember which way you entered the dungeon from.

Unfortunately, a lot of the day-to-day in Rune Factory 5 is incredibly routine.

You chat up townsfolk and ask them about new gossip. You keep an eye on your farm and water the plants what need watering. Maybe head down to the dock for the twenty-thousandth time to fish for a new species of squid.

You know, the Animal Crossing routine.

And there's a good reason why – for the most part – you can't rotate the camera in Animal Crossing.

When I try to attack a chore like pulling weeks, I don't need to have a close-in angle that shows me a close-in perspective of the flowerbed.

I just need things to work, with as little friction as possble.

  • Rune factory 4 town for comparison
  • Rune factory 5 town for comparison

The Easygoing Everyday

Rune Factory 5 can feel like it's stringing me along at times, nickel-and-dimeing my time in a series of itty-bitty moments. None of them really matter on their own, of course. Neither does a paper cut. But take enough of them, and you start to want to get out of the office entirely.

One of the daily tasks is to clear rocks and tree-stumps from your farm. Great, dandy. Except that some of them take ten individual swings of an axe to wear down – even with improved equipment. If you decide to keep up perfectly on weeding the garden, so to speak, it takes three in-game hours a day, every day. Even then, the backyard will still be filled with detritus again by nightfall.

And the whole game is riddled like things like this.

Every house in the game takes up an appropriately-sized plot of land. Again, great for feeling like I'm living in something resembling a real place. But a pain in my rumpus given it takes fifteen seconds to travel between neighboring buildings compared to half that in the series' tightly-packed 2D towns on the 3DS. And with how my monkey-brain wants me to shake hands with every town resident, every day, just for that extra five friendship points, that really compounds.

And that framerate.

Normally I swing toward aggressively forgiving about technical issues, since I know that QA and bug-squashing is a right pain in the kiester. But the Switch and Rune Factory 5 just have different ideas of what each other should be capable of, and it results in combat that just feels sluggish and un-fun. Not to mention that just a second of loading-time whenever I leave a building, which I'm doing near-constantly.

It all creates friction.

<em>Every morning day in day out I smash ten boulders before lunch<em> <em>It does grate after a while<em>

Inner Unrest

It's a crisis of what's best – if nebulously – described as “game-feel”. You can see it in more aggressive ways, like how Sifu‘s adoration of masterful kung-fu clashes with requiring that mastery of its players. But you can also see it in Stardew Valley, with its min-max-friendly tools egging you on toward ever-more-efficient uses of your time. And it's as strong here, where Rigbath's embrace of the slow life is at odds with how you have to put in a continuous-if-modest effort to participate in that slow life.

Of course, it's entirely possible that I'm looking at this with glasses tinted rose for Rune Factory 4, a game that did so much the same but that felt so different. It's just snappier and more tightly-tuned; a smash of the hammer happens a titch quicker, and animals will chop take that lumber off your hands for a healthy allowance of fodder.

It's those little things that help the game-y-ness of farming and rote combat get out of the way of the life portion Rune Factory‘s odd little farm-life-dungeon-crawling-sim-a-majig cocktail.

Yes, I adore slow-moving, idyllic scenarios where things move at a glacial pace. But I love that it's by choice, letting things drift down-stream because that's the natural state of the world.

I can breeze through Rune Factory 4. I have to amble through Rune Factory 5.

Good Vibes

The thing is, it's hard for a series to “go back” from 3D to 2D after it's made the jump; you basically have to pull the Mario strategy of keeping a foot in both pools to make it work. And so I find it hard to imagine a Rune Factory 6 that plays more smoothly and gets less in its own way than 5.

And, honestly, that may be fine. As hyped-up as I am to see Rune Factory alive beyond its original development studio. maybe I don't need to focus on it if it's becoming a point of friction.

I've still never played anything from the series before 4, after all – maybe now's the time. And the indie scene is lousy with other games aiming to be as low-stress as possible; surely between Ooblets, Here Comes Niko, and Rainy Season, it's not hard in 2022 to find a game that smooths out all else in the favor of the lowest-pressure-possible experience.

Or maybe it's worth putting up with that bit of pushback to see things through. I still haven't managed to fully put the game down, after all. There's still Ludmilla to meet, a whole list of recipes yet to master – you know, boxes to tick off.

But I mark 'em down, it's hard to imagine coasting through this game much longer.

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