For the record, this is a very LONG post. My love of the both Harvest Moon and Rune Factory series has developed into something more than a regular addiction, one could say that it has evolved over time into… not quite an obsession per-se; but maybe a slightly unhealthy affinity and/or an unnatural desire to not just play the games created by Natsume and Marvelous Entertainment, I feel as though I must consume them.
I originally began my trek into the world of farming simulation at a very young age with the Nintendo 64 installment of the series (aptly named Harvest Moon 64) which I still own to this day and is the singular reason I still posses my beloved N64. (Well both that game and Mystical Ninja, but that is another story entirely). While the basis of each game is fairly simplistic (make money raising crops, woo a partner and start a family, raise your herds of animals with tender loving care…) I have always enjoyed each and every title (Sans the Grand Bazaar edition which in my opinion was a flop, but only 1 bad game out of over 30 separate titles? I think that is a fair average of awesome).
My biggest love of the series (especially the DS editions of the games) is the fact that they pander to my checklist-completion-possessive-compulsiveness, there is just so much to do to complete a game entirely: befriend all of the villagers; get every single cooking recipe available; unlock unique crops and animals for your farm; not to mention completing the main storyline of each game. The graphics are also aesthetically pleasing to look at, and (generally speaking) the cast of characters are almost always well-rounded. Each character has a purpose and a drive, and you get to learn more about them as you engage and befriend them.
To be blunt, the games are crazy fun to play.
The Rune Factory spin off series adds a dungeon crawling aspect to your otherwise normal farming simulator. In this particular spin off not only do you raise your farm and animals and befriend villagers, you also get to fight and befriend monsters, unlock hidden secrets in different dungeons, and are able to craft not only cooking recipes, but also armor, potions, accessories (and in the case of Tides of Destiny) furniture for your house. The Rune Factory series adds something special and extra that the original Harvest Moon didn’t have, and managed to expand it’s fanbase to include not only avid fans of Harvest Moon, but also intrigue your dungeon delving RPG fans as well.
I actually was not aware of the first installment of the series until my little brother handed me a copy during one of my visits to Virginia, after a few hours of playing I went and picked up my own edition of the game and played through it rapidly, I enjoyed the additional crafting that I had at my disposal, and the farm raising aspect became a great deal easier after learning to befriend monsters to do all of my farming work for me.
The second edition of the series was even more fun than the first: combining a two tiers of storyline into one awesome game (both a present and a future storyline) and bringing an entirely new cast of characters into the mix with their own unique personalities and introducing a “request board” that allowed further interaction with the new characters. It was (to date) my most favorite edition of the series… and then Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny (also known as Rune Factory: Oceans) came into the mix.
Plot and Storyline
The plot-line of Tides of Destiny revolves around a pair of protagonists: Sonja and Aden, who live on an (at the time undisclosed) island together. Aden is revealed to be an earthmate, a human with strange powers over the earth around him and able to (in past versions of the game) increase the bounty of crops and harvest their energy in the form of rune crystals. They also have a natural affinity for taming monsters that are found throughout the world, and are able to befriend and control them with greater ease than the average human.
The island where are story starts is protected by several beings known as Arch Dragons: friendly and benevolent creatures who protect the island and it’s citizens from harm. It is quoted that: “There are so many Arch Dragons present that they literally block out the sun and make it almost impossible to dry laundry on the island anymore.” as the two main characters talk with one another, Sonja notices a flash of light from a small pool of water, and as the two investigate the light they are almost immediately surrounded by it and Aden-in an effort to protect Sonja-passes out.
When Aden awakes, he finds himself next to the same pool; however, everything seems different, there are buildings surrounding the area which was originally a dense forest, and a small tree that had been nearby has grown into a large oak. It also appears that Sonja is missing.
After searching, Aden hears Sonja’s voice and the two determine that Sonja is present; however, her body is now missing, and she is literally trapped inside of Aden. As the couple speak to one another (for lack of a better term) a young woman named Odette appears and informs Aden that he is on Flemeth Island, and upon hearing their current predicament offers them the use of the Inn’s guest cottage. On the way back to the cottage Sonja notices a small seed and forces Aden to plant it behind the cottage. The next day, the seed grows into a giant Golem who grants the pair the ability to cross the ocean and investigate neighboring islands.
The story continues from this point which I cannot discuss into great detail without spoiling the entire game; however, the plot is interesting and engaging, and while some questions are not completely answered, I did not find myself wanting as far as the storyline is concerned.
Combat and Gameplay
Gameplay is fairly straightforward. Character movement is controlled via the nunchuck adapter, as is the ability to jump (and double jump!). Interactions with the world around you (speaking, attacking, and using items) is operated almost solely via the A button. Menu opening and closing as well as your map are accessed via the 1 and 2 buttons, and the Z button is used to close opened menus.
Combat is likewise relaxed, and there is not much “strategy” involved: basically all that is required of the player is to simply run up to your chosen enemy, slap them with your given weapon, and jump out of the range of an attack with a double-jump. Granted, the ability to use magical staffs adds a bit of mix to the relaxed madness, but can also make the game almost entirely too easy at times. Throughout my playing the game my preferred weapon was the dual sword, and I used the 1st tier fire rod for boss battles as it had a “homing” ability which meant that I barely had to even look in the direction of the boss I was facing in order to cause damage.
The only real “cons” to average gameplay is the fact that I find it too easy; however, the only weapons I have experience playing with are magical staffs, dual swords, and at the very end of my game the god-tier katana. The Katana (while stronger than the dual swords) was interesting in that it’s area of effect was much shorter than my go-to weapon. There are several other options available and several different styles that a player can take advantage of: Long Sword, Hammer, Axe, as well as many other weapons that can be crafted and taken advantage of.
Characters and Setting
Generally speaking the world setting is expansive, the player has an entire ocean at their disposal to search for islands and treasure; however, the cast of characters is severely limited in comparison to past games. There are a total of 18 villagers to befriend, 12 of which are marriageable candidates for the main characters (9 for Aden, 3 for Sonja). While each character has a drive and a purpose (and their own sub-storyline which is unlocked as you pursue friendships with them) in the case of the 6 non-marriage candidates it feels as though their storylines are cut short rather abruptly as you cannot befriend them past level 6 (which in past games would increase to a maximum of 10).
My biggest hang-up surrounding the game is the fact that you cannot complete a romance with any character until after the game has been beaten, and depending on which character you choose to continue the game as afterward, closes you off from completing friendships with the other marriage candidates. (So if you choose to play as Sonja, you cannot learn the rest of the storyline surrounding the 9 bachleorettes, or if you play as Aden, you cannot finish the storylines surrounding the 3 bachelors).
To me this is a very big problem, Just because I decide to play as Sonja shouldn’t mean that I cannot learn more about the female characters or take part in interactions with them specific to the heroine of the story. This basically forces the player to make a separate save file so that they can play as the character of the opposite gender and complete all story arcs. To me it seems like the idea of being able to play as the female lead was a rushed decision that was thrown in at the last minute; however, I find it more than a little irritating that the non-marrigable candidates do not have further storylines associated with them, and I am more than a little irritated over the fact that I can’t max out friendships with the romancible characters of the opposite gender-even on a friendly level).
My overall feeling that was taken away by the character interactions was that-while they were well thought out for the most part regarding their sub-plots-they took a severe backburner to the hack-and-slash part of the game, which was a big letdown for me personally. Harvest Moon and Rune Factory generally work under a basis of plotline and character relationship building first, farming second, and in the case of the Rune Factory series, fighting and leveling always came last.
Average Game-time and Re-playability
Technically you can play this game forever (much like all previous Harvest Moon games); however, due to the restrictions listed above I do not see any real reason to do so other than to get married in the game. The original plot can be completed in a few days time if you rush through the main storyline, but it took me a few weeks to complete the game in its entirety as I chose to max out all friendship levels and completely restore my islands to 100% before defeating the final boss.
Gameplay can also be extended by completing mini-quests on the request board, each villager tends to have between 1-2 special quests per friendship level that can be unlocked by pursuing relationships with them. These requests can give out varying rewards such as recipe books that can give you access to greater armor and weaponry to utilize in-game, or something as trivial as restorative potions and foods for your character to use. Completing mini-quests also grants a small boost to your friendship with the person who posted the request in the first place.
While you can technically play the game for infinite amounts of time, there are a few things that hamstring the desire to continue playing (or re-playing) the game once the final boss has been beaten.
1.) While you can continue playing forever, there is not much reason to do so. You have no friendships to pursue other than those of the romancable characters, which means that there are little to no new mini-quests that will be posted on the board. Unless you decide to do things such as… max out every skill on your character, you will find yourself sadly wanting for things to do after the main plot has been finished.
2.) There are no new islands or extra content to explore after the game has ended. There is a Colosseum that cannot be completed in it’s entirety until after you have beaten the main storyline; however, it isn’t interesting enough to make me repeatedly come back for more.
3.) Unlike previous Harvest Moon games; which offer multiple unlockables through hard work and dedication, Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny does not offer any such reward for continuing to play the game for copious amounts of time after completing the main storyline.
While the main storyline is awesome in and of itself, it simply does not have enough material to keep one occupied and interested once the game has been officially beaten. That does not mean; however, that the game is not in and of itself AMAZING. The story itself is well rounded, and while I feel that the characters could have been more three-dimensional; I felt as though they had a little more depth than DS installments of previous Harvest Moon games (such as Sunshine Islands).
The game is engaging, and I had a really hard time putting it down during the duration of my playthrough. I can honestly say that I fully enjoyed my time playing it, and I certainly did not walk away feeling as though I wasted any time spent playing the game. Needless to say I was more than a little disappointed with the post-game playability, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have plans to re-play the game at a later date from start to finish.
On the whole it was a good game, but I feel as though Natsume and Marvelous could have done better with it. Supposedly with Rune Factory 4 more focus will be put back into relationship building and dial back on the hack and slash. I was more than a little surprised at how the crop system was stylized in this game. EVERYTHING with the exception of the planting process was monster-controlled, and to be perfectly honest the in-game economy was horribly unbalanced.
While the game itself was a great installment in a wonderful series of games, I can’t help but feel that Natsume wanted to go in a new direction with the Tides of Destiny title, and pushed too far too fast. It seemed as though too much emphasis was put on new initiatives and not enough time was spent double checking and making sure that what always made the games pure gold in the past was built on a solid enough foundation.
I personally feel that this title was more of a stepping stone for the series, a less-than-gentle push towards something new in an effort to make something better in the future. While I can’t possibly say what the creators have in store for titles that will be available in the years to come I can still say with absolute certainty that Natsume can continue to look forward to raking in my hard earned cash.
After all… I am obsessed remember?