Rune Factory 4 Special Impression
Everything looks and sounds better than it did on the 3DS, and if the additions found later on in the game match the quality of what’s been presented so far, this version of Rune Factory 4 will indeed earn its Special title.
The summer of 2013 was supposed to be my personal “Summer of Four”. Etrian Odyssey IV, Shin Megami Tensei IV, and Rune Factory 4 were at one point all supposed to release over a six-week period that summer, and I had them all pre-ordered. As bad luck would have it, Rune Factory 4 ended up being delayed until October, so I began the other two first and started having fun. Once Rune Factory 4 was released though, the others were put aside as it became my number one “four” of the three and stayed inserted in my 3DS for over 120 enjoyable play hours. Fast forward six years and while Rune Factory 4 Special has had delays of its own, from what I’ve played so far, it’s definitely been worth the wait.
Story and gameplay-wise so far, Rune Factory 4 Special is no different than its earlier 3DS release. For those looking for more information on those aspects, Sam Marchello’s review of the 3DS version sums them up quite well. As an amnesiac hero prince or princess, players are initially tasked with growing crops, raising farm animals, befriending residents of Selphia, and exploring local dungeons at the urging of an Elder Dragon, Ventuswill. All of these systems intersect nicely with each other during the first dozen or so hours of the game as players follow along with the story, and gather more amnesiac residents to settle in a very welcoming town. One great aspect of the Rune Factory 4 Special is while there is a calendar system, there’s no real pressure to do any specific task quickly. If players wish to put everything else aside and focus singularly on combat or farming or relationship-building to the detriment of the other aspects, this in no way leads to anything becoming missable.
The major change from Rune Factory 4 to Rune Factory 4 Special is the move from dual screens to one. The change is done quite well; Marvelous seemlessly moved information typically presented on a second screen to overlays that can be accessed via the ZR, ZL, R, and L buttons. Maps can semi-transparently be displayed on the bottom left of the main screen with two choices of size or can be hidden altogether. While performing crafting, purchasing items at stores, or any other time more detailed information on items is required, the information boxes on the right of the screen can be enlarged.
Other changes are merely cosmetic with an upgrade to high definition graphics. Backgrounds and menus look very nice in handheld, though both are a little blurry on larger TVs; the sprites also show a degree of pixelization, especially while the Switch is docked. These graphical hiccups in no way takes away from how well the game looks overall. There are a large variety of cute monsters to battle or recruit, many visually different fields and dungeons to explore, and plenty of unique townsfolk to encounter. The short pre-rendered videos of each main NPC that show when players first encounter them are nicely done as is the updated opening sequence, these accounting for the few additions noticed so far. Upon release, Rune Factory 4 Special will include a Newlywed mode that adds extra story to your chosen spouse later on in the game. The game’s audio seems largely unchanged, but the Switch speakers when undocked and the television speakers when docked both make it sound far superior to the 3DS version.
In short, Rune Factory 4 Special is so far an upscaled version of the original. Although I’ve only been able to play through the first few dungeons, they’ve been excellent. When my character can tear himself away from crafting, farming, and making nice with the residents of Selphia, dungeons full of interesting little puzzles and varied monsters requiring a small amount of combat planning await. Everything looks and sounds better than it did on the 3DS, and if the additions found later on in the game match the quality of what’s been presented so far, this version of Rune Factory 4 will indeed earn its Special title.