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Rune Factory 3 Special review - a somewhat sheepish remaster

It’s time to get our hands dirty on the farm, as we dive into this agricultural remaster with our Rune Factory 3 Special review for Nintendo Switch.

Rune Factory 3 Special review: Several characters from Rune Factory 3 are shown against a yellow background

Our Verdict

This remaster of the DS fan-favorite brings the town of Sharance and its beloved characters to life like never before. Gorgeous visuals work alongside satisfying farming and fun combat to deliver hours of fun for newcomers, though there is very little here for returning players to warrant the price tag. Some additional changes to UI and the gameplay could have made this one of the best entries in the series.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well, what about a half-human half-monster hybrid? That’s right, we’re back on the farm in this spiffy remaster of a simulation classic, as Marvelous and XSeed bring Rune Factory 3 Special to Nintendo Switch. Originally released on Nintendo DS, this is a faithful recreation that does very little to change what worked about the original.

You wake up with amnesia (typical) in a quaint village called Sharance, and before long, some friendly townsfolk give you a lovely big treehouse with a field ready for crops. From there on out, it’s up to you to raise your vegetables and plants for some cash, learn some recipes, romance some available girls, and perhaps even dare to push into the surrounding forests and take on some monsters.

Unlike titles such as Harvest Moon, Rune Factory 3 Special balances simple day-to-day life with a nice sprinkle of exploration alongside some simple action mechanics. It makes exploring the world a little bit more exciting, and also acts as a natural barrier, as you aren’t able to visit some of the later regions at a low level, less you fancy a wildlife-flavored battering.

The focus is mostly on your farm and the townsfolk though, as you spend more time plowing fields and attempting to politely court the many ladies available to you with gifts and great chat. Sadly, you can only play as a male character, and you can also only romance female NPCs. I get it might be a lot of work to change these things, but even a female option for the playable character would add a nice bit of extra representation that many more modern farming games have embraced.

Rune Factory 3 Special review: two characters are engaged in dialogue

On the other side of the Rune Factory coin is combat, which definitely takes a back seat to life-sim and farming, but is fun nonetheless. You equip your character with a longsword, a short sword, or a pair of daggers, and if you have a hand free, perhaps even a shield. It’s pretty much tapping A to swing, but you slowly unlock new abilities as you go. Alongside a dash, some spells, and the ability to purchase or upgrade to more powerful armor and weapons, there is a nice amount to do here that all adds depth to the farming and pillaging gameplay loop.

Another fun element is the ability to transform using those titular runes. Your character is secretly part-human and part-monster, so as they explore the world they recover their memories and abilities. When you unlock new monster abilities, they each come with new combat options and ways to interact with the world, and it’s also a fun element to the story as you learn to love the townsfolk. Again, it’s all quite simplistic, but this game is a nice way to relax, not get your adrenaline fix.

Rune Factory 3 Special review: a character farms a field

One of my favorite elements of Rune Factory 3 Special is the slow creep of your powers, as performing just about any task gives you experience. Simply by playing the game, you increase your running abilities, your sleep power, and other essential elements such as combat and fishing. It runs parallel with the new weapons, clothes, and abilities you receive from NPCs as you talk to them, so it feels like whether you’re exploring on your own or interacting with the town of Sharance, you’re always doing something worthwhile, and earning new levels, and new powers.

This is a ‘Special’ version of the game, though, and that comes with some marked improvements. The graphical style is a really clean adaptation of the original’s charming visuals, with new character art that is sharp and gorgeous. The actual town and surrounding areas look very similar to their DS origins, but developer XSEED has done a wonderful job expanding the width and clarity of those muddy DS beginnings.

Rune Factory 3 Special review: two fantasy characters attack a large tanuki

If you’re worried about the second screen, there’s no need, as XSEED has mapped the DS’ top screen to the ZL button. Give it a quick tap to have a small map pop up in the bottom left corner of the screen, or press it again to have a larger map appear alongside icons for each character’s movements. The larger map lowers its opacity, so you can still see what’s going on underneath. It’s a great way to deal with things that I hope future DS remakes adapt as well, but I would like the option to change the opacity of the map so it’s a bit easier to see the action.

Other additions include the new Hell difficulty, as well as a short post-game. In the original, after growing your crops and exploring the many dangerous areas around Sharance you get to marry your preferred NPC, and then credits roll. In Rune Factory 3 Special, there’s a short addendum that is a nice way to further explore your relationship with that character, but that’s about it.

Rune Factory 3 Special review: Two characters are talking to each other

That’s also where the improvements stop, sadly. It’s a bit of a shame that XSEED hasn’t done more to streamline the controls, as when farming or foraging it is very easy to accidentally pick up tops instead of equipping them, ending up with you holding your sword in the air instead of in your hand and ready to fight.

There also doesn’t seem to be much in the way of quality-of-life changes, such as buttons to quickly send all of one item to storage. You spend a lot of time putting vegetables in boxes or your fridge, and considering the complexity of wood and weapon recipes escalates, it can all get a bit too fiddly. The lack of touchscreen controls feels like a glaring omission, especially considering the title’s DS origins.

Another change I’d like to see is a clearer objective marker or request system. The opening hours of the game especially are a meandering slog, as while the goals are clear (if very easily missed), it’s tough to keep track of your progress. Things get a bit easier later on, but I imagine newcomers might find the opening moments especially frustrating before the many overlapping mechanics start to fall into place.

Rune Factory 3 Special review: a character attacks monsters with a sword, while surround by ice

While I have my issues, I still really enjoy Rune Factory 3 Special, and this gorgeous visual upgrade is a really touching way to experience one of the better Rune Factory games and stories. The characters are so endearing, and so much of that comes from well-written dialogue and the way each villager adapts to events, weather, and your increasing interest.

If you’re yet to play a Rune Factory game, this is a great place to start. This remaster boasts about 25-30 hours of relaxing farming gameplay, some simplistic action, and a touching story bolstered by great character design and dialogue. However, if you’re hopping in from something like Stardew Valley, things might feel a bit shallow, and that becomes especially apparent with the $39.99 price tag.

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Altogether, Rune Factory 3 Special is sure to please fans with the new graphical style and some smart updates that don’t drastically change what makes that initial release so great. However, outside of superficial improvements, many elements of this title are starting to feel out of date, both in the lack of options and the slightly archaic menu systems. There’s a really sweet farming game here, and I’ve really enjoyed my time with it, but this remake still feels like something of a missed opportunity to do something truly special.