Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rune Factory Frontier (Wii)

I wrote last week about how games like Killzone and Gears of War (and the most recent Resident Evil) are somehow not games that I enjoy anymore. It took a while for me to condense my feelings into a phrase, but I believe this describes it quite well: I no longer enjoy games that keep humanity at arm's length.

That phrase would make no sense whatsoever to my twenty-five year old self. It might not even make sense to me at thirty-five. It does make sense now, though, even though I don't know whether it's because I'm a father, or because I've aged, or both.

I also mentioned last week that it's difficult for me to enjoy overcaffeinated games because I feel pretty overcaffeinated already.

I'm playing something now, though, that's really the antithesis of those kinds of games. I can't say that it's for everyone, and it might not even be for me if I wasn't playing with Eli 7.8, but it's been a wonderful experience.

The game is Rune Factory Frontier, and it's one of the most peaceful games I've played in many years. The main character is a boy who lives on a farm in a small village. He farms. He fishes. He visits people in the village. He can also forge weapons, or cook, or brew potions, or make jewelry.

There are dungeons to visit, too, but that's never felt like the focus of the game to me--it's all about being a member of the village and just getting along. Oh, and you can tame monsters, too, and catch spirits, and a bunch of other things I'm sure I'm forgetting.

What makes the game interesting is the amount of variety that exists inside the various activities that you can do during the day. Different crops require different levels of attention, and they only grow in certain seasons. Different fish are caught in different bodies of water. There are a huge number of recipes you can cook (with the proper ingredients), along with many different cooking methods. Catch a fish and you can either cook it in a skillet or make sashimi (among other things). When you need energy, you can eat what you've cooked.

The different activities interlock extremely well, and deciding what to do in the course of a day (because time passes steadily) is always interesting.

I've played this game almost every day with Eli 7.8 for the last month, and it's terrifically relaxing, which we both enjoy. Even though it's a single player game, there's always plenty to discuss, so it doesn't really matter which one of us is playing at the time. I think we've spent 25+ hours at this point, and we're still discovering new things almost every day.

If there's one thing that would potentially put people off, it's the pace. It really is quite glacial at the start (be sure to talk to everyone every day, as that's how lots of things are unlocked), and your character's energy level is so low that not much can be done before becoming exhausted.

What kept us going, though, were the details. There's different music for each season, and different weather. The look of the world changes with each season, too, and there are special holiday events each month (with jaunty carnival music). Even simple things, like crops actually growing from day to day, emphasize how dynamic the world is, and it feels quite vibrant.

The relationships between characters are also very interesting. For each character you interact with, there's both a friendship and love "meter" that shows you how the relationship is going. One of the goals in the game is to fall in love with one of the girls and eventually marry her.

Which is awkward.

Most of these characters are teenage girls (I think), and your character seems to be a teenager, too, but both Eli and I fell for older women. He fell for the blacksmith, and I fell for a girl who works in the tavern.

The problems were two-fold. The blacksmith was actually a mother and far too old for our character. How would I explain to Eli 7.8 that the character he wanted to woo was really more of a MILF?

Meanwhile, the girl who worked at the tavern (Rita) turned out to be the wife of the tavern owner. Oops.

Damn. She was smokin' hot, too.

You curry favor with the girls in the traditional way, by speaking to them and giving them gifts (each girl prefers different things). Eli is very funny when it comes to this, because we'll give someone a gift and he'll say "Check the love meter!"

Needless to say, the whole game is remarkably charming and lots and lots of fun. And the story isn't just charming, although I'm not going to give you any spoilers.

If you have kids, particularly in the 6-9 range, and you like to play games with them, then this is absolutely a great purchase. If you don't have kids, but you enjoyed games like Animal Crossing, then this is definitely worth a rental, and even if you didn't like AC, you might rent this anyway, because it's more fun (to me, at least).

Gloria calls it The Game Where You Do Everything You'd Never Do In Real Life, because I farm, and cook, and socialize.

"Baby steps," I said.

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