Would you like to see my turnips?
Rune Factory Frontier is the third title in the Rune Factory franchise, and the first on the Wii. The first Rune Factory title debuted on the DS back in 2007. Rune Factory is a spin-off of Natsume's long-running Harvest Moon franchise; Yoshifumi Hashimoto (a long-time producer of Harvest Moon titles) described it as, "Harvest Moon where you wield a sword." Frontier is definitely a game that gives the player a lot to do, but the massive amount of playtime required to complete it may ultimately turn some players off.
For those unfamiliar, the Harvest Moon formula tasks the player with moving to a new town and taking over a run-down farm, making it profitable, all while courting one of the town's available young ladies. All of this makes it into Rune Factory Frontier, but it comes with the addition of dungeon exploration, cooking, crafting, blacksmithing, and many other forms of distraction.
The game has strong RPG elements. Combat increases not only your base level but the also the level of each skill you use. Swing the sword a lot and you'll level up your sword skills; water the plants and you'll do the same.
The addition of dungeon-crawling gives players four dungeons to explore, each of them having a seasonal theme. While four may seem like a small number, they aren't easy. The dungeons are long, the enemies are fierce, and your ever-decreasing stamina is a constant danger. Once your stamina is depleted, your health is next. Run out of health and you fall in a heap. Each swing of the sword, wave of the wand, or thrust of the lance moves you ever closer to collapse.
While these dungeons do reveal more of the game's plot, they also give you new opportunities to farm. While the crops you can grow in your field are limited by the game's season, the dungeons offer you year-round access to seasonal crops. Small plots of arable land dot the floors of the dungeons. Need to grow a summer crop? Go farm it in the volcano dungeon. Need a spring crop? The spring cave is the place for you!
The dungeons also offer you access to slave labor in the form of tamed monsters. If you can withstand trying to pet the monster while they maul you, you can earn a new critter for your barn. Some (cow and chickenlike creatures) provide you additional crops, some collect items like seeds and minerals, while others perform farming chores (such as harvesting, clearing land, and watering crops). This labor force frees you up to do other things, like fighting and engaging in crafts.
There is a lot to do in Rune Factory Frontier, but the catch is that it takes a long time to do things. Many of the daily events are based on the time of day; for example, mail comes at 7:04am, many of the townfolk start to stir around 8:00am, and the spa (where you can refill your stamina and health gauges once a day) doesn't open until 3:00pm. The spa is the worst, because if you have a lot of crops to tend it is very easy to burn through most of your stamina and health by 9:00am. This means you have to wait an additional six game hours (one in-game minute is about one real-world second) to get back to work. While you can talk to people during this time, the game does drag because of it.
It takes roughly thirty real-world hours to complete one year of the game. Like an Animal Crossing title, it’s clear that Rune Factory Frontier is meant to be played in short, daily bursts over an extended period of time.
Since many of your relationships aren't in place until year two, it takes a while to get one of the game’s little ladies to cohabitate with you. It's not an easy task either; each girl has likes and dislikes. Not only do you need to give them gifts, but you also have to do certain things during your daily activities in order to sway each girl's heart.
The controls come in two flavors: Wii Remote/Nunchuk or Classic Controller. Both of them work equally well. You move with the Analog Stick and the buttons allow you to interact, access menus, and use tools. Both schemes are easy to learn, and neither makes much use of motion control. The Wii Remote/Nunchuk setup uses the Nunchuk to knock on locked doors, which is about as minor a use as one could manage to contrive, and tools are used by swinging the Wii Remote. I primarily used the Remote and Nunchuk layout, relying on button presses instead of motion controls.
Graphically, Rune Factory Frontier is really beautiful. The color palettes reflect the current season, the character models and architecture are appropriately rustic, and the elements of nature do much to cement the image of a small frontier community. Everything looks sharp, and the world is diverse and vibrant. The anime-inspired 3D world is diverse, and a joy to navigate.
The audio is also well-executed. Music is diverse and enjoyable to listen to, and the game features a wide variety of sound effects (including a distinct Wii Remote sound for each tool) and a large amount of recorded dialog. The only issue is the lowfidelity Wii Remote speaker, but there's nothing the developers can do to fix that.
Overall, Rune Factory Frontier is a very strong title. The mechanics and presentation are well-executed, and there is an absolutely intimidating amount of content. There is a nice story, with the best collection of colorful characters I've ever seen in a Harvest Moon (or Rune Factory) title of this type. However, it’s hard to imagine Frontier keeping its momentum due to the huge amount of time it takes to really see the full breadth of what it has to offer. But if you have the time to put into it, you'll get a ton of play out of Rune Factory Frontier.