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What You Didn't Know About The Harvest Moon Spin-Off Series

The Harvest Moon series actually has a spin-off that you probably didn't know about. Starting with 2006's Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, the popular spin-off series has allowed players to battle monsters, work through complex plots, and yes, get married to prospective bachelors and bachelorettes. While the game series might seem similar to Harvest Moon in many ways, it diverges from the familiar formula by taking place in a fantasy world that varies greatly from typical slice of life and farming sim games.


In its official review of the title, IGN said, "For Harvest Moon fans, Rune Factory is exactly what you've been waiting for." The review explains that after a disappointing installment in the Harvest Moon franchise, the weirdly brief Harvest Moon DS, Rune Factory offered a complete overhaul of what made Harvest Moon DS so difficult to play. With its rich illustrations, interesting plot, and balanced combat system, Rune Factory began something new — a different sort of farming sim. But what sets the Rune Factory series apart from its competitors? The answer lies in two key ideals: monsters and plot.

Monsters, monsters, monsters

The first installment in the series established a template for subsequent games to follow. The plot might seem familiar to Harvest Moon fans, as it deals with a player character suddenly finding themselves in possession of a farm, in a town with lots of interesting people to get to know. Where Rune Factory diverges is in its extensive monster gallery. Yes, players can battle monsters as they gain more strength and magical powers to improve their combat skills.


One of the more interesting aspects of monster hunting in Rune Factory is that players can employ monsters to work for them, watering their crops and helping out around the farm. Players have spent a vast amount of time researching what monsters are best for specific tasks, demonstrating that the monster system in the Rune Factory games is complex and worth exploring.

While other games, like Stardew Valley, have integrated monster hunting into simulation games, Rune Factory takes things a step farther by allowing players to befriend monsters and recruit them to work their farms. There's nothing quite like seeing a Goblin watering your crops on a sunny day.

Plots that intrigue

Unlike the plots of the Harvest Moon series, which rarely moved beyond setting up a farm to impress a deceased relative, Rune Factory offers narrative-driven reasons for character choices. For example, Rune Factory 4 begins with a heist that leads the protagonist to meet a dragon and become embroiled in local politics. Rune Factory 4 also features more events in which character interact directly, which in turn helps players get to know them better.


2021's Rune Factory 5 features an amnesiac protagonist who must work as a security guard for a small town, performing a variety of tasks for the citizens and earning a good reputation. Rune Factory 5 has also been praised for allowing the player character to marry same-sex characters, crafting their own narrative and providing further representation in the game.

Rune Factory 4 was one of the most anticipated games on the Switch in 2019. If you can't wait for the next installment of Rune Factory, and you've played through all of Harvest Moon, you can always give Stardew Valley a try. It also features a combat system and plot to unfold, and just might scratch that Rune Factory itch.

Rune Factory 4 Special is actually a rerelease

Instead of being a new entry into the franchise, Rune Factory 4 Special is actually a rerelease. Rune Factory 4 originally appeared in 2013 in North America, but the new version isn't a straight port of the initial game.


In a review of Rune Factory 4 when it released in 2013, IGN notes that one of the charms of the game was the variety of tasks players can complete. Unfortunately, the review also argues that being a monarch becomes tedious and underwhelming as the game goes on.

Gameplay of Rune Factory 4 follows the same pattern as previous games in the series, and Special does not alter gameplay greatly. Some reviewers have categorized the playstyle of Rune Factory games as a mixture of the World of Mana series and farming sim games like the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series. Action RPG elements combine with soothing farm life to make a memorable gaming experience.

Rune Factory 4 also features a wide cast of characters for players to meet, including 6 bachelorettes and 6 bachelors for the protagonist to romance. However, the Switch edition of Rune Factory 4 contains new additions, like Newlywed Mode.


The rerelease of Rune Factory 4 makes a lot of improvements to the original game

With Newlywed Mode, players can discover more about their partners through new scenes. Players can also find out more about bachelors or bachelorettes they may have missed the first time around, giving them an opportunity to discover more information about each marriageable character.


Newlywed Mode plays like a visual novel combined with minigames, and acts as a separate gameplay mode that can be accessed via the main menu once the player marries a character. Newlywed Mode provides an opportunity to discover the nuances of each characters' personality in a new setting separate from the original game.

Special also includes some quality of life improvements, like better graphics. One review of Special concluded that these changes aren't enough, explaining that most of the new content is only accessible once players beat the game or complete big goals like marriage. However, smaller changes also make their way into Special, like the option to select the original Japanese audio or English and an increased difficulty for players who want more of a challenge from their farming sims.


What's up with Rune Factory 5?

Since Rune Factory 4 appeared in 2013, there's been no new content in the franchise. Fans might not have to wait long for a new installment, though. Rune Factory 5 has been announced by Nintendo and even has its own page on Nintendo's official site.


While Nintendo hasn't released too many details just yet, fans will be thrilled to see that Rune Factory 5 already boasts impressive gameplay trailers and a new list of features.

Rune Factory 5 will offer an option to link with save data from Rune Factory 4 Special, which allows some characters from the older game to appear via special events in Rune Factory 5. So far, there's no news yet on whether these cameos will affect the story of Rune Factory 5 in any way.

Rune Factory 5 will also include new marriage candidates, each with their own backstory and personality. Fans will have to wait to discover how each bachelor and bachelorette will behave, but for now they can enjoy the tidbits that have been released to the public.


Why is Rune Factory 5 taking so long?

With Rune Factory 4 appearing on the scene almost a decade ago, fans might wonder what took Rune Factory 5 so long to be developed. The answer lies in financial troubles.

Rune Factory developer Neverland Co. filed for bankruptcy in 2013, right after the release of Rune Factory 4. A translation of Neverland Co.'s official statement explains that even though Rune Factory 4 sold well, the profits weren't enough to keep the company afloat.


It was unclear what might happen to Rune Factory 5, and fans continued to wonder for years. Then, in 2019, Nintendo surprised everyone in a Nintendo Direct announcement by revealing the existence of Rune Factory 5.

It turns out that Yoshifumi Hashimoto, the mind behind the Rune Factory and Story of Seasons series, opened a new development studio, Hakama, in 2018. Fans immediately discussed the possibility of more Rune Factory games online, hoping that one of their favorite franchises would continue. With the help of Marvelous Inc., Hashimoto continued to work on Rune Factory 5, which is set to release in Japan in May 2020.

The games break genre boundaries

Rune Factory 4 and 5 are receiving all the buzz in the gaming community right now because they're appearing on Nintendo's latest console. However, it's also important to remember the previous games in the series, which broke boundaries in the farming sim genre. Because the Rune Factory series melds the genres of action RPGs and farming sims, it's expected that the games do something interesting.


For instance, an interview with Yoshifumi Hashimoto on the release of Rune Factory Oceans delved into one of the more interesting aspects of Oceans. Hashimoto stated, "The first thought that came to my mind was creating an exciting adventure in the sea. In former series we couldn't enter the sea; we could only see it off in the distance." Other farming sims, even ones that incorporate action like Stardew Valley, frequently stop players' dreams of crossing oceans, using water as a way to create boundaries within the games' world.

By crafting a game that allowed players to fulfill their pirate fantasies, Rune Factory Oceans basically went where no other sim had gone before. Though Oceans, released as Tides of Destiny in Western markets, still focuses on marriage and farming, it also allows players to take their adventure to the seas in a different sort of action-adventure.


It's all about fantasy

The entire point of the Rune Factory series is its fantasy trappings. In addition to farming and romance elements, the games strive to place players in a fantasy world. In fact, the fantasy element of Rune Factory sets the series apart from many other slice of life-style games.


Yoshifumi Hashimoto has described fantasy as his main goal with the series, explaining, "Rune Factory isn't a game where you just fight – it is a living fantasy world where people become hungry, some people just want to be left alone to live their lives, and you may even be attacked by monsters. This started off with me trying to create that sort of life in a fantasy world." In an attempt to immerse players within the world, the fantasy Hashimoto crafts has its own internal logic.

Hashimoto also explained that anime influences the games quite a bit, as they feature extensive animated cutscenes. In Japan, the worlds of the games are expanded through audio dramas and comics as well. The series is meant to be a fantasy — one that grabs a players attention and keeps it through wondrous and fantastical worlds.