A while back, Wiqd, Tesh, Ysharros and a few others were talking about what a Harvest Moon MMO would feel like. It’d been a long time since I played a Harvest Moon game but I remembered the series fondly. All that talk got me reminiscing.
Before I knew it, I’d ordered Rune Factory 2: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, for the DS. When I mentioned this to a friend, he told me he’d been enjoying Rune Factory Frontier on the Wii. Being a crazy person, I picked that up as well.
And I’m glad I did, because honestly I found RF2 to be a bit overwhelming. RFF, on the other hand, eases you into the life of farming and monster bashing…wait, monster bashing? In a Harvest Moon game?
Yup, it appears the series has expanded beyond its non-combat roots. Harvest Moon used to be all about running a farm (unless my memory is playing tricks on me). It was more or less a time management game where you had to balance raising crops with befriending villagers (and eventually finding a spouse). Along the way you’d have to chop wood in order to get lumber to increase the size of your house, and so on. Or at least, that’s how I remember things.
Rune Factory Frontier still has you tilling the land, socializing, expanding your house, fishing, gathering wild herbs, but now you can also go out monster hunting. And time management is still a huge part of the game, in two ways.
First, your character has Hit Points and Rune Points. Virtually every action, be in tilling a plot of land, or swinging a sword at a monster, uses up Rune Points. When you’re out of Rune Points, these actions start using up Hit Points. When you run out of Hit Points, you pass out and wake up the next day at the infirmary. So Time Management Thing One is managing your Rune Points.
Time Management Thing Two is that time is always passing while you’re out and about. You wake up every morning and as soon as you set foot outside, time starts to advance (time stands still inside buildings, for some reason). At some point, you’ll need to go to bed. Sleeping replenishes your Hit and Rune Points, fully if you get enough rest. So when to go to bed is up to you. Get there early and you’ll be fully refreshed. Stay up too late and you’ll start the next day partially depleted, or worse, get sick and end up starting a day with 50% Hit & Rune Points.
At the start of the game, there isn’t a lot to do, nor are there many villagers to talk to. You’re given a run-down farm to use, some seeds and some cheap basic farming gear. Your job is to till the fields (initially 1 ‘square’ at a time), plant the seeds, then water them. As you do all this, you’ll gain skill levels in almost every action. The higher your level, the fewer Rune Points it takes to carry out that action.
With your free time (and early on you’ll run out of Rune Points with plenty of daylight left to burn) you can run around and get to know the villagers, who might give you simple quests, or new farm tools to use. Getting a cheap axe lets you start to chop branches for lumber. Getting a cheap hammer lets you pulverize the pebbles in your field. Both of these actions clear the square for future tilling. Both also has a Skill Level attached.
It won’t be long before you find your first dungeon, at which point you can start hunting monsters (which drop craft materials), mining ore, or even planting crops in the dungeons. Eventually you can tame the monsters, at which point they’ll go live in a barn (which you’ve had to purchase) where you need to brush them every day to get them to like you. Once they like you enough they can be put to work helping around the farm.
I have to say, this is the first game I’ve played that has me brushing a goblin in order to get him to harvest my crops.
You can expand your house with a forge, a kitchen, an alchemy lab, and other ‘crafting stations’ and use the materials you’ve gathered to make better, more efficient tools and weapons. For instance, once you upgrade your watering can you can water 3 squares at once using a ‘special move’ that uses twice the Rune Points of a regular 1 square watering. So a 50% increase in Rune Point efficiency, plus some time saving.
All the while this is going on, the days are passing, new people are moving into the village, and hopefully you’ve been starting to woo a future wife.
At which point we hit one big drawback: you can only play a male character, who can only woo a set number of “heroines” as a future wife.
But hopefully you can see how the game branches out as you play more and more. Suddenly there are too many activities per day, and you have to figure out where the best place to spend your time is. When you wake up to find it raining, you’ll rejoice since it means all the time and rune points you usually spend watering crops can be spend on clearing the field, or dungeon diving, or going fishing, or crafting… still too much to do!
There are 4 seasons, each 30 days long. Different crops grow in each of Spring, Summer and Fall (nothing grows in Winter). Different dungeons allow you to grow different seasonal crops all year long. So inside the “Green Ruins” it is perpetually spring. But you have to fight monsters (using Rune Points) to go in there to tend your crops.
This is going to be a LONG game. I’m 13 hours in, and only on day 23. That is, I’m still in Spring of my first year. There are flowers that take 100+ days to grow (obviously they can only be grown in dungeons where seasons don’t end).
And at 13 hours, I still feel like a complete newbie, still learning to do new things, still meeting new people, still figuring out new relationships and mechanics.
In a very real way, this is scratching my MMO itch. In fact, I got into the Free Realms beta this weekend, and tried to play it, but kept getting drawn back to Rune Factory Frontier instead. If you’re a big fan of crafting systems in MMOs, it’s really hard to resist the appeal of trying to get deep enough into the dungeon to get some copper so you can upgrade your sword, and doing it quickly enough that you can get home to bed early enough that you’ll have enough energy to tend the crops (which you’ll whip up into delicious food for sale) the next day.
Harvest Moon games are often a hard sell, as they can really sound boring. But I find them remarkably compelling. I thought the addition of dungeon crawling would dilute the experience, but it really doesn’t. Having to schedule a dungeon outing, in fact, adds to the experience of the game.
Only 13 hours in, but so far, two thumbs up.