The famous last lines from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ‘Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink’ sum up my experience reviewing Rune Factory: Oceans. A game stocked full of ideas and gameplay styles but sadly unable to give a worthwhile experience insisting that the sheer number of ideas alone crammed into the game will carry it to success.
Rune Factory: Oceansis a sister series to the Harvest moon games of the past ten years and has graced the NDS, Wii and has now been ported to the PS3.The game starts with our hero Azel and heroine Sonia starting a new day on Finis island to be transported (randomly) to an alternate Finis island in the future, (Or is it the past?) and in the process our duo have been declined two bodies and now have to both inhabit Azel’s body (even more random). The new island is inhabited with a host of new NPCs and places to explore.
From that starting point the game takes shape, forming a patchwork quilt of gameplay variety, giving you many small snippets of other games like Harvest moon, Monster Hunter,and even some elements of Zelda. All of which are held under the action RPG banner, you have a plethora of traditional fetch quests in town running errands for your neighbours. You can tame and train animals you come across after exploring exotic islands in the huge ocean surrounding Finis island, while fulfilling any agricultural fantasies by planting and harvesting a multitude of crops. That’s not all, there are elements of friendship and romance incorporated when you fancy whoring yourself around town.
The exploration element is handled by your huge golem which you inherit after the first hour or so of gameplay. Ymir is your mobile base allowing you to travel the oceans and discover new islands and locations, while also taking on any sea monsters / enemies Godzilla style. From Ymir (or Brian as I named my golem) you can launch raids on islands to take down or tame a multitude of monsters while exploring these foreign lands in search of treasure and perhaps locations to plant your future potato crop. This is where things start to fall apart, as you will find these elements which are supposed to be the main objective of the game a bit lacking.
The combat itself is nothing but a monotonous button bashing extravaganza where all thought has been removed from the experience; I actually found the taming mechanic to be more engaging as getting your enemies to stay still while you get out your brush (yes I said brush) and tame them with your coat grooming skills to be more challenging. You have a number of armaments to choose from giving you a flurry of different combos when you fancy a mix up in your fighting style but this again is a cosmetic change and isn’t backed up with deeper game play.
The harvesting mechanic is also one which has been reined in creatively; the harvesting itself is very simplified with next to no management or maintenance of crops required, reducing the harvesting mechanic to a single transaction. That is you plant your crops and get your produce out at the end with next to no effort, only a small amount of watering is needed no preparation or tilling the land or anything of that nature. The developer Neverland again has made a major misstep removing the main elements of Harvest Moon which I’m sure will disappoint fans. The same goes for the quests and romance options which are again very simplistic and generic executions which don’t really offer anything new or engaging to the player.
The monster taming aspect is probably the most fleshed out giving you a nice selection of animals and the added bonus of allowing them to work for you, which is a nice pay off after keeping them happy in their very own monster barn in Brian’s (Ymir’s) belly. They can help tend your crops but also help by following you on adventures exploring new islands if you wish.
The design of the interface was another major annoyance of mine, from the score or more of menus to cycle through to get to where you want, it does become a chore trying to select something as simple as a weapon or power up. Aha but you also have four quick select wheels to choose from each having eight slots giving you thirty-two options, on top of the hideously designed menus. I found this counterintuitive to the name ‘quick select’ and having to navigate more menus to quickly select a weapon or item did break up the game’s flow and my patience.
Speaking of interruptions the cut scenes are again more of an eye rolling, grip tightening annoyance mixing written and spoken dialogue at random while not effectively explaining the story very well, what you are meant to do for a quest or how the game mechanics work. This is a major oversight for developers these days and does come across as sloppy. As a result I would often find myself wandering around Finis island talking to everyone just to see if the quest I thought I was carrying out actually concerned them as no way point or quest marker was to be found anywhere on the minimap or user interface. Your quest log is your main source of information, (when you can find it in the menus) but when the quest log entries are akin to the cryptic crossword in the observer it can infuriate you at times.
The quality of the game graphically is passable seeing as it is a Wii port but again doesn’t dazzle you in any way. The sickly sweet anime style of Rune Factory: Oceans certainly won’t appeal to all either as nearly every character male or female looks like a girl for some reason.
Rune Factory: Oceans is a game which seems to have overstretched its developers or perhaps its developers ideas. Neverland has fallen into the trap of more choice means a better game but we all know that isn’t strictly true especially when the execution offers no real reason for the player to engage with the game. Shallow mini games and mindless button mashing just don’t appeal these days without excellent game design. Couple the lacklustre gameplay with a rough interface and rather rubbish story and I’m sorry Neverland but that just won’t quench anyone’s action RPG thirst these days.