Thursday, July 18, 2024

Rune Factory 5 Review – A near perfect game with a big miss

Farming sims have always been pretty hard for me to get into. They can feel like chores to me. Stardew Valley felt like another job, Harvest Moon felt too young, and even my first fighting/farming game, Kitaria Fables, which seemed promising, dragged a bit too much for me. But regardless of still not finding that one that fits me, I continue my search regardless. And on that lookout, Rune Factory 5 was dropped on my lap, and it was a near-perfect farming simulator for me.

You play as the self insert blonde hero – either Ares or Alice, depending on the gender you choose, suffering memory loss after turning up into a forest. You hear a cry nearby and without hesitation run to the noise to find a small, pink wolf girl whose afraid of the super menacing fuzzy sheep running circles around her. You pass out and wake up around new people thanking you for saving Hina, the pink girl from before. 

You pass out again and wake up looking at the face of my favorite girlboss, Simone, doctor AND mayor of Rigbarth, alongside Murakumo, owner of the bathhouse, who is thanking you (very loudly) for saving his niece. Eventually, more and more people come to your room to introduce themselves.

There’s Lucy, who’s a little suspicious of you. Priscilla, ready to help with whatever you might need. And then there’s Captain Livia, who wastes no time recruiting you to her SEED team, a task force that’s been established to help protect Rigbarth while you work on getting back your memories.

There is plenty of things for you to do in Rune Factory 5

You meet more interesting folks in this small town, bakers who give you bread to eat so you can learn new skills, a general store manager who drops everything to make a detective practice, a jeweler whose jokes never land with your character and more. You can grow tomatoes the size of your head, learn to fish, and farm even more food on a dragon’s back!

After burning through most of the tutorials, Rune Factory 5’s story starts to pick up when you find out Hina, the first person you save, has a missing mother, Misasagi. After hearing about this from Murakumo, Misasagi’s brother, you immediately take the responsibility to bring her back, and get going on the journey outside of town. You start heading into hours of battling monsters you can keep to help you, taking on more and more of Captain Livia’s SEED tasks, finding impossibly large dragons, and marrying your one true love.

True love, it always feels so nice to come across it. The LGBT+ community has gotten by in games with self-insert protagonists, but it’s never enough knowing deep down that most games we had growing up are coded for straight cis relationships. And now with RF5, and an RF first, queer players can initiate same-sex relationships with 12 total romance routes to choose from! I naturally was quick to pick who I thought was the cutest from the bunch, my wonderful Priscilla.

I have never shaken my Nintendo Switch as much as I did with this game, and that’s a good thing. I tend to be very physical when I feel emotional, so anytime we were getting closer, going on adventures together and she was being adorable, my console was seconds away from being thrown in the air. I worked SO hard learning new techniques for her to like me better. I remember there was a point I was out trying to get more chemistry experience, so I can eat more chemistry recipe bread, to learn the little items she needed for my request. Priscilla, my favorite lesbian, was making me a better woman and a better citizen of Rigbarth.

Rune Factory 5
Fuuka – and all of Rune Factory 5’s Black and Brown characters – deserve better

Rune Factory 5 was everything I wanted from a farming RPG, but while trying to be progressive with its same-sex romances, it continues to take a step back with its Brown and Black characters. The default set of nine romances open to players, while unique and loveable, is painfully pale. Fuuka, the one romance option with a browner shade of skin, is energetic, curious about life, and is always looking to learn English (or Japanese if you are playing that version.) However, Fuuka, became a perfect example of how games have a horrible reputation in introducing the darker characters in their plots as aggressive, or excessively comedic. Upon meeting her in Lackadaisy, a restaurant in a ship-shaped building, she comes right up to you with a power of fiery energy, trying to get you to understand her native language. As someone who is ESL (English as a Second Language), I’m a fan of people with different tongues interacting, as it can be quite wholesome. However, this interaction between Fuuka and my character, and her inability to speak the town’s language, came off as something to be chuckled at. Being someone who still suffers between constantly losing my first language to gain more of my second (and vice versa), and being made to feel dumb from not being able to know the correct words, this was a little disappointing to see.

Before meeting Fuuka, you come across the town’s blacksmith, Darroch, a big burly man, who outside of Fuuka, is the only other darker main NPC you talk to in town. The game introduces him as being a little aloof for the comedic relief, and being someone who isn’t aware of his surroundings. Players do realize that there is more to see the eye, but it is always the Black and Brown characters in video games that seem to push more for that comedy in the first interaction with players.

And to rub more salt in the wound, these visibly darker characters are a shade or two from just being pale. And the one overweight character is caricatured like a hamster, similar to Yamada from Danganronpa. I would think in 2022 video games everywhere should know that when a game isn’t healthily diverse, they will absolutely hear about it.

Rune Factory 5 falls into stereotypical caricatures that hurts the overall experience

Media has been guilty of this for so long, but I’m so tired of feeling like I have to give this another pass because people think of some excuse to have me do so. No representation is inexcusable this day and age, and while it’s nice to see myself represented in some way, why does it always have to connect to microagressions, or just flat out harmful stereotypes? From Barrett in FF7R, Loba in Apex Legends, to here in Rune Factory 5 – video games, though recent, remind me that we still have a long way to go before there is even an inkling of a resolution to this issue.

Despite the self-awareness of my being that it gave during my play, Rune Factory 5 still holds the crown of being my favorite game that I’ve played so far this year. I wish they thought more about representation and the choices they made with their characters. But, I can say I feel delighted while playing a farming simulator for the first time in my life. Battling and Farming co-opting together makes for such a great time that doesn’t feel like chores.

My next goal? Setting out on romancing everyone, and see what more I can explore in this cozy game.

Score: 3/5

Rune Factory 5 for Nintendo Switch was provided to Gayming Magazine by PR.

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