Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release date: March 25, 2022
Rune Factory 5 is the latest installment in the popular farming life sim series, offering a gorgeous presentation and an in-depth story. Rune Factory 5 gets the basics absolutely right, which will please series veterans.
Growing and selling crops feels satisfying, the characters are fun to befriend, and the combat and crafting systems work well. Unfortunately, the game does fall short in some areas. There are significant performance issues throughout the experience, and the graphics sometimes look ancient.
If you’re a dedicated farming sim fan, then Rune Factory 5 is definitely worth considering. If not, the game still deserves a recommendation, but with some caveats.
Read on for our full Rune Factory 5 review.
Rune Factory 5 review: Gameplay
In Rune Factory 5, your main goal is to tend to and sell crops. Succeed in this, and you’ll be able to buy better equipment, which makes the process more efficient and profitable. You can also befriend the locals by chatting with them and offering gifts. If any of the 12 eligible singles in town take your fancy, you’ll be able to marry one of them and eventually have children together.
If you’ve played a farming simulation game before, this will probably sound familiar to you. The twist in Rune Factory 5 is that there’s a much greater focus on combat. Just outside the small town you inhabit, there’s a large overworld full of monsters to battle. You’ll also be able to find goodies, such as new weapons, armor and minerals that help you upgrade your existing equipment.
In terms of gameplay, Rune Factory gets as much right as it gets wrong — and this goes down to a granular level. You can quickly switch between your weapon and a farming tool, which is great when you need to fend off monsters while mining resources in a dungeon. But planting crops feels like it takes forever, as there’s no quick way to cycle through your hoe, seeds and watering can. The slippery controls also frequently made me miss while trying to aim my watering can at the seeds. Still, it’s hard to match that satisfying feeling after you’ve taken care of your crops and sold them for a profit.
Rune Factory 5 also has extensive options for crafting and cooking, and these are the aspects of the game that I had the most fun with. The townsfolk love getting homemade meals as gifts, for example. Fighting monsters in dungeons will get you more materials, which let you craft and upgrade weapons. I wanted to discover as many recipes as I could, and then rush to test them out. Rune Factory 5 provides plenty of incentives to explore all that it has to offer.
Performance issues can mar the gameplay, however. Everything starts to lag when it rains, when there are too many enemies on screen, or when you enter and exit buildings. The lag doesn't make the game unplayable, but it’s certainly annoying.
Rune Factory 5 review: Story
The story in Rune Factory 5 isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it does fill the game with a decent 60 hours' worth of content. Your amnesiac protagonist moves into the sleepy town of Rigbarth, and becomes an operative for SEED, an organization dedicated to protecting the citizens from monster attacks. As you progress, you’ll attempt to reclaim your lost memories and investigate strange happenings in Rigbarth. These could be anything from a ghost appearing at the inn, to a mysterious energy surge down at the abandoned ruins.
The game does a good job at drip-feeding story events and new characters slowly. Every now and then, you’ll wake up to a new task from field captain Livia between your usual daily chores. This keeps things interesting without becoming overwhelming. You can focus on your farm, but if you'd rather find where that thunder-wielding Cerberus came from, you can do that, too.
Most of the main story events set you on a path to explore a new dungeon, with a boss battle waiting at the end of each one. This gives the game a satisfying sense of progression. Rune Factory 5 also explores some deeper themes, which keeps things from feeling totally superficial. It’s great to have a reason to keep coming back to Rune Factory, other than to check whether your spinach is wilting. Plus, if the lack of an overarching story has turned you off of farming sims in the past, the deliberate narrative here is a nice excuse to try out one of these games.
Rune Factory 5 review: Characters
The characters in Rune Factory 5 may feel somewhat familiar if you’ve played a game with dating aspects to it before (or watched a romance anime). That’s arguably part of the game's appeal. Tried-and-tested character archetypes mean you’re bound to find at least one person you’d like to get to know. As you raise the townsfolks' affection levels, you’ll unlock event cutscenes that explain their backstories and flesh out their personalities more.
Still, some of the townsfolk are more interesting than others. I didn’t care for Lucy, who kept yammering about how annoying her younger brother was. Priscilla telling me she was tired every morning almost put me to sleep. Lucy and Priscilla are both marriage candidates, and I was a little surprised that I could date them over any of the other single characters in town.
The first boss you fight in the game, a shape-shifting fox spirit called Misasagi, moves into the town after you defeat her. She’s mature, mysterious, and a doting mother to her daughter, Hina. There are also a few moments where she banters with the other characters, which seem to point towards her having a deeper personality to uncover. Despite my hopes, Misasagi is not an eligible marriage candidate in the game. Pizza is one of her least favorite foods, though, so I guess it was never going to work out between her and me, anyway.
While there’s a variety of friendly faces on display, the cast is somewhat lacking in racial diversity, which is a shame. Rigbarth isn’t a real location, so the characters don’t represent real races. However, most of the characters look either Japanese or European. Fuuka is the only character with a darker skin tone, and she just happens to be a werewolf who doesn’t speak any English. Allowing same-sex marriage for the first time in the series is a great step toward inclusivity, but it would have been even better to improve racial representation as well.
Rune Factory 5 review: Visuals and sound
I tempered my expectations for Rune Factory 5’s visuals based on what I’d seen in trailers, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised with its beautiful art style. The character models are detailed, and the backgrounds have a subtle watercolor aesthetic, which gives the environments a relaxing vibe. Rune Factory 5's atmosphere is perfect for casual play sessions, so it feels right at home on the Switch.
Unfortunately, the visuals are still far from perfect. The aforementioned lag interrupts the animations. Several areas and textures look like they’ve migrated from the GameCube era. I’m not one to ditch a game due to graphical quality, but I could imagine many players getting frustrated after staring at these muddy-looking fields for too long.
The game also features a few short anime cutscenes, which introduce the eligible marriage candidates. These cutscenes look great, with impressive, detailed linework. But the anime interludes made me wonder why all the cutscenes couldn’t look like this. It would have taken care of some of the lag, if nothing else.
As for the sound, Rune Factory 5 does a serviceable job. I liked the relaxing tunes that played while running around Rigbarth, and the music that played during boss battles amped the tension up to a suitable degree.
You have the choice of listening to the voice cast in either English or Japanese. I chose to listen to the English dub, but found that the background music and other sounds tended to muffle the dialogue. This persisted even when I delved into the settings to adjust the audio mix.
Rune Factory 5 review: Verdict
If you’re reading this review, there’s a decent chance that you’ve played Stardew Valley, the perennially popular farming/life sim game that’s sold more than 15 million copies. It’s easy to recommend Rune Factory 5 to anyone who’s played something like Stardew before.
However, if you’re a newcomer to the genre, you might be turned away by this game’s lag and last-gen graphics.
Rune Factory 5 doesn’t rewrite the farming sim book, but it does enough stand out with its story and focus on combat. The game’s excellent visual style makes it a heartwarming experience, and the story and characters will keep you coming back to spend dozens of hours in Rigbarth.