Fantasy would have you believe that the rural life is below the hero. Think of all the country bumpkins whisked from paddocks to battlefields who never return. Frodo? He’s been to Mount Doom! Why would he want to hang out in a glorified rabbit burrow? Tom Cruise in Legend? Stuff the forest, there’s a princess to bed. Wahey!
Rune Factory: Frontier (the first Wii game in the Harvest Moon spin-off series) has no truck with such nonsense. Instead it comes across more as the friendly school careers advisor. You want to be a dungeon-lootin’ adventurer? Fine by him. You want to tend to your tomatoes until you’re old and grey? That’s okay, too.
This is the beauty of Neverland’s game. Technically, you’re in town to prevent a giant whale-shaped rock from falling from the skies above and crushing everyone to death. You can ignore the enemy-packed dungeons and harvest that crop of potatoes to your heart’s content, without ever fearing waking up dead under a ten-mile-long granite aquatic mammal.
You don’t even have to do that. If you’re a ladies’ man you can toil at wooing a local beauty with gifts grown, baked or welded by your fair hand. Though if it’s Selphy the librarian you’re after, we suggest going easy on the metalwork – uptight bookworms just don’t find poison spears as sexy as you’d think. And forget about cold-hearted Bianca. A level-four cherry tart and nothing. Nothing!
If the potential heartbreak – and there will be heartbreak – is too much, you can play shepherd in a spiritual ecosystem (this is the only major addition to the original DS format). The world of Trampoli is home to glowing rune spirits known as Runeys. Ferry them about, adhering to their food chain requirements, and you’ll up their numbers and the town’s prosperity. But beware: unbalance the numbers and genocide is on the cards. It’s a lot like controlling the drug flow around Liberty City. Y’know, only more magical.
The Rune Factory magic is in how all this stitches together. Alone, the four disciplines are enough to eat up weeks of time. Learning the ladies’ routines and courting them; tending to your crops on a daily basis; mining ores to fashion stronger weapons for deeper dungeon delves; mastering the art of spirit relocation. There’s a solid game in each of those activities, and enough to keep you occupied for ages, but together they soar.