Rune Factory 5 falls squarely within a neglected subgenre at the intersection of farming simulators and JRPGs. Xseed Games’ latest installment of the “fantasy Harvest Moon” series leaves much to be desired compared to revolutionary farming sims and cozy games like Stardew Valley, but it entertains fans with a complex combat and crafting system. While Rune Factory 5 will never compete directly with something like Animal Crossing: New Horizons or Stardew, it does do one thing far better than its competition.
Rune Factory 5 may be sitting at a 71 on Metacritic with mostly middling reviews that focus on its lackluster visuals and confusing design choices. However, it incorporates JRPG elements better than most other farming sims on the market, including Stardew Valley. Imagine is Stardew had better role-playing elements?
Instead of just regular farming like one would expect in Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon, Rune Factory 5 invests a lot into its overarching plot, monster-taming, and other aspects one would expect to see in a straight JRPG. You can basically tame any animal or monster and keep it in a barn. Want a pet wolf? Or maybe a griffin? Go right ahead. You can grind for money by selling your crops and bulk up to plow through dungeons with ease. It also has levels for almost anything you can think of like weapons, ingredients, and even mundane motions like walking.
Stardew Valley has monsters in specific areas like the mines, the Volcano Dungeon, and Skull Cavern. However, these dungeons are designed more as levels to pass through from top to bottom for rewards rather than places to explore to complete quests. Both games overlap in using these dungeons to hope for monster drops, though. In Stardew, the monsters can’t be tamed and brought into a barn, but it does incorporate special monster drops that players can find in dungeons.
Rune Factory 5 by no means overshadows Stardew Valley, though it better fulfills the niche of a fantasy farming sim genre. Stardew Valley is a critically acclaimed game for plenty of reasons, but its world and characters feel a bit thin even if its approach to farming chores proves addicting. Both of these games were made with distinct goals in mind, but the richness that Rune Factory 5 brings to the table makes you wonder what similar depth could do for a game like Stardew Valley. In that regard, Rune Factory 5 delivers a fairly eye-opening experience.
Those who flutter between games like Animal Crossing and Final Fantasy should give Rune Factory 5 a shot. See if it scratches the JRPG itch, and try growing some turnips while you’re there.