Rune Factory is a good Harvest Moon spinoff. I think I like it better than the "real" HM games.

User Rating: 8 | Rune Factory Frontier WII

Harvest Moon has been around for a long time, but recently Harvest Moon has gotten lazy. With each new release I find myself paying full price for only minor upgrades (Most games ever have the same characters, alas Rune Factory is guilty of this too). At least Rune Factory offers something a bit different The game is a fun blend of traditional harvest moon and traditional rpg, forming something rather interesting to play. You have to fight in order to farm, and farm in order to fight.

The plot is rather bland (and towards the end, weird). The prologue begins with Raguna's voice (which is rather annoying) reading white text that appears on a drab black screen describing how Mist, the girl who saved you in the first game, leaves the town. Raguna goes after her, and would could have been a driving plot point (searching for her) ends when Raguna visits a nearby church and just finds Mist. Like the beginning of the first Rune Factory(or any Harvest Moon game for that matter), Raguna is given another free house, and some tools.

The game starts very slowly, which is one of the downsides of any HM or RF game. You have to do a lot of searching to get all your tools. The location of these items is relatively obscure, and some require weeks of time to pass. For example to get the axe you have to talk to the Nun at the church, Sister Stella. I had no idea for a good while just to ask a nun for an axe. For your scythe you have to go pull weeds out of your neighbors yard!? The game is not clear on what you need to accomplish in order to get these tools.

Another thing that slows down the game is that not all of the characters are around at the start. As in other HM, and RF games, multiple characters arrive much later, some a whole season later. For example Bianca, a returning character, arrives in Summer, and then just leaves. There is a way to make her stay (it involves finding an elephant), but it's so obscure your unlikely to ever know that, or find it. Such things are frustrating.

The farming makes up for it, and once the pace quickens the game is a lot of fun. Farming is identical to past HM games, it even has the "Seasonal Caves" from past RF games or the HM Games' greenhouses(Places where you can plant certain things year round. An example would be that some plants only grow in Spring. If you want to grow it any other time your must find a "spring" cave.). As usual there are some crops that are worthless, but the tilling, planting, and watering is addictive.

There are other activities as well, just like in the other RF games. You can cook, mine, explore, fish, forge, craft, and raise livestock. Each of these can compliment each other, or can be used as your sole source of income. This means that even if you hate the farming you could simply fish the day away and still make a lot of cash. As expected there is also a Dating/Marriage system. It's fun, but not as deep as other games in the big HM family.

The one main gripe is the Runey system. Each district has four types of Runeys. These Runeys form an ecosystem, that will actually live or die over time. If you get a perfect ecosystem, then your crops grow faster, and if your ecosystem dies, then your crops will grow slower or not at all. The problem is balance. The reward gained by a perfect ecosystem really isn't worth it, and the consequences of failure are too severe. It can be extremely hard to repopulate areas with Runeys once the ecosystem dies. Thus it requires constant micro to keep it working. It's ends up being too tedious.

As expected though, the game is highly repayable and has a lot of depth to it while remaining simple to play. The controls are easy, and while they don't take full advantage of the Wii, that's fine with me as they are practically pick up and play.

The graphics are rather nice. The art direction is much more realistic than the cutesy HM style and it's very pleasing. The full 3-D look is a major visual change from the DS versions and it's mostly for the better. Your farm looks great when it's filled with all manner of plants. All the modeling is strong, and the animation gets the job done. Like all HM/RF Games the Art direction is what pulls it through. Audio suffers as usual. Sound quality is low, the voice acting terrible, and the music gets repetitive. Another trademark of the HM Series.

All in all, even with the poorly designed Runey system, limited sound, and minimal Wii controller use, Rune Factory Frontier is still the best and most fresh take on the HM universe.