Rune Factory 5 is quaint, and a little unpolished, but I always feel like I’m improving.
Moments after pressing start in developer Hakama Inc.’s upcoming release, I picked my character and woke up in a forest with amnesia. After saving a girl from “monsters” (they were sheep), I passed out again, only to find myself waking up in the SEED headquarters. And that’s how I was abducted into this JRPG’s neighborhood watch.
At SEED, the goal is to help out around the small town of Rigbarth, picking up requests off the job board and becoming closer with the neighbors — most of them are humanoid, but some are hybrid animal-people. Being a small farming town, the issues are simple at first, like helping an old woman find some glasses that aren’t actually lost. But that’s OK, because Rune Factory 5 is all about being a helpful member of a small community, like other cutesy farm games. However, Rune Factory 5 also leans heavily into dungeons, combat, and an intriguing mystery that distances itself from more farming-centric games like Stardew Valley.
After finishing the game’s lengthy tutorial, I begin the morning by watering the crops behind my house before going off on a series of adventures around town. In the first two hours of the game — all I was allowed to play for this preview — those adventures mostly consisted of ingratiating myself with the community. Sometimes neighbors give me a new tool (an axe to cut the stumps out of my garden, for one) but more often than not it was some new seeds or a chest to store my gear.
Things started to get more interesting toward the end of my play session, when the lovely innkeeper (whom I hope to make my wolf-man anime husband, what with Rune Factory 5 being the first game in the series to allow same-sex relationships) told me his sister was missing. This quest sent me into a dungeon in the woods, which felt like a whole new game. I was still constantly collecting resources, but the dungeon had transformed my farming/errand simulator into an action game. Suddenly I was dashing around arenas, slashing at goblins and those evil sheep, looking for wolf-husband’s lost sister, and getting my first glimpse at the story’s central conflict, which has something to do with the hybrid humans turning into monsters.
There’s a lot going on in Rune Factory 5, and it can all feel like a mashup of seven different games. But it’s all connected through a delightfully addicting Skyrim-esque progression system. As a member of SEED, I have loads of skills, and I level each of them up just by practicing each respective one. I improve my fighting skills by killing enemies with my longsword, sure. I also simply walk, or throw items into faraway chests to upgrade my “Walking” and “Throwing” skills. Sometimes, a single farming session can get me multiple upgrades. There’s even a Sleeping stat that goes up if I get my character to bed on time.
It’s a bit silly to level up in Love, which improves my “love magic” (I’m not exactly sure what that is, but I do know I’m going to try it on the hot wolf-man innkeeper, if he’s into it), but it also gives my actions weight. I only have so much energy in a day before I need to either sleep or use a consumable. Knowing that whatever I do — even walking to my destination — will help me progress something kept me proactive for my entire preview period.
In my limited experience, Rune Factory 5’s scattered pieces don’t always work. In one moment, the farming is quick and efficient. But in another, it feels too fiddly, and takes too long to plant seeds in the correct spot. The inventory navigation is speedy, but placing different items in my pockets and pulling them back out is extremely tedious. The game’s performance also takes a nosedive when I leave my room to explore the village, even if it eventually stabilizes.
But there’s a distinct charm to each of the villagers in Rune Factory 5, and I still found a great deal of joy checking on and tending to my farm each morning. And of course, the dopamine drip of the “Skill Up” notification ensured I was never bored. I’m unsure if all of that is enough to sustain me for what promises to be a lengthy campaign, but just a few hours in, I’m excited to see how high my Sleeping skill can go.