I'll admit, I have a lot of bias towards this game. It was a big part of my adolescence. However, in my opinion, this is the definitive Harvest Moon / Rune Factory game.
I played Harvest Moon SNES first, then Rune Factory 3, then 4, 1, and 2. When I got Rune Factory 3 as a present and saw the tagline, "A Fantasy Harvest Moon," that came with a lot of expectations. Honestly, this game met and surpassed those expectations.
Harvest Moon and (by extension) Rune Factory are all about young adults (usually males) moving to a new town and fixing up a dilapidated farm. You have the freedom to take it at your own pace, and the games give you plenty of other stuff you can do to pass the time instead. In Rune Factory, these include mining, foraging for items, fighting monsters, crafting, forging, brewing potions, talking to townspeople, giving gifts to them, participating in festivals, falling in love, going on dates, getting married, and having children. Now, let me tell you how Rune Factory 3 incorporates all this better into its gameplay than any other game in the series.
All Rune Factory games have a plot, but, by far, Rune Factory's is more tied into the gameplay. The combat has again received a huge upgrade, with more unique and fluid moves in fighting enemies, as well as even more spells to use in fighting. The story incorporates each new dungeon as a place that the in-game player-character would actually explore. You are rewarded for forwarding the plot with relevant rewards. You can't start forging or crafting without going through the second dungeon. You aren't taught how to make a wedding ring until the final dungeon is beat. The story is built on relatable and human characters, and the bulletin board requests (along with the mailbox) are great framing devices for character progression. The dungeons are legitimately challenging and give you a feeling of accomplishment for finishing them.
Maybe it seems like my thoughts are kind of jumbled, but that's because so many of this game's mechanics overlap. If you want to beat a dungeon easier, you're going to want to forge some better weaponry. To do that, you need a forge. For a forge, you need to farm or find another way to make enough money, and you need to cut timber to buy the forge. You are also going to need ore to use in the forge. To get ore and timber, you need a hammer and an axe, which you get for free by responding to requests on the bulletin board.
A great addition to the game is the unique dialogue of NPCs every day of the year, giving you incentive to go out and talk to them every day. The bulletin board and mailbox requests, as I mentioned earlier, serve to characterize all of these people even further. If you go through all of the requests (not including simple or battle requests), nearly all of the NPCs will have character development. They'll grow and change.
This game is an ultimate experience in escapism. It's a game where work is easy, everybody is friends with you, and you become rich and powerful. Honestly, for some people, this game will mean very little, but, for others (like me), it will be a special experience where your hard work and dedication pays off in tangible ways.
Is this game perfect? Of course not. One of the most frustrating mechanics was that items that had different quality levels and also weapons didn't stack. That means that normally you can pull up nine of an item and hold that as one inventory slot, but if you have a row of yams that 2 are level 3 and 4 are level 4, you're going to be picking stuff up and sorting it out for days. Your inventory usually consists of like 30% weapons and tools, 30% food and potions, leaving you only 40% space for items you pick up. The furniture you can buy is pointless and kind of gets in your way. The bonus dungeons in the basement have a stupid abrupt difficulty spike. Axel Disaster, a spear magic attack, is completely broken in this game, you equip some high-attack-level weapon and wreck everything in sight with very little risk of being injured.
These, to me, are silly nitpicks. The game itself is the definitive Harvest Moon / Rune Factory experience. Its story and the sense of accomplishment drives you forward, and the characters are well-rounded and have humanity. It's really good. This is why you should play Rune Factory 3.
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