The Rune Factory series, a spinoff of the Harvest Moon franchise, eerily responds to all my criticisms of a recent Harvest Moon game. Frontier boasts an impressive cast of likable characters, enjoyable gameplay, solid storytelling, and variety, an element distinctly lacking in some of the Harvest Moon games. Not only do you get to befriend townspeople, cook and take care of your fields, you also fight in dungeons, befriend monsters, and forge your own weapons, tools and equipment. There’s so much to do in fact that is the first part of a double post. The second post will explore the weird gender dynamics in the game, of which there’s much to discuss, but for now I’m going to summarise the game and set out my space-time continuum theories about Frontier.
Alongside the aforementioned range of activities in Rune Factory: Frontier, there is also a surprising degree of flexibility to what you focus on. On Whale Island, you can grow any crop during any season, which is a welcome relief from the long-windedness which so often besieges the Harvest Moon franchise. After playing Frontier, the thought of having to wait a whole year until I get to grow strawberries again seems barbaric. Though the farming is easier than in Harvest Moon games, it is still in-depth and the combat can get pretty challenging at times (especially in the Snow Ruins, ugh). The developers didn’t water down either component of the game, which should keep old fans happy, and new fans engaged.
Basics of the game aside, there is something fishy going on in the Rune Factory universe, and in the town of Trampoli specifically. And, no, I’m not talking about the floating Whale in the sky that chats with you from time to time. Firstly, how old is this town? New festivals spring into existence on a whim – I think there are only two festivals in the year when you first arrive, and that number expands eventually to eleven. That’s what I call cultural development! It’s as if you’re building the town from the ground up. Another odd aspect is the female to male ratio in Trampoli (side note: is a citizen of Trampoli known as a Tramp?). There are a total of 12/13 girls, but only 5 men of marriageable age. To make things weirder, there are no rival marriages or relationships between any of the characters. That means it falls squarely on your shoulders to populate the town of Trampoli with young Tramps. Surely such good luck would only befall a man who is daydreaming, or on certain chemicals.
One of the characters, Kross, a depressive carpenter with a philosophical turn of mind, shows an impressive amount of self-awareness. He describes how the character you play as has no memories before coming to Trampoli, which happens to be, you guessed it, the start of the game. This gets deeper the more you befriend Kross – if you speak to the mailwoman, Annette, she claims not to know who lives in Kross’s house, and late in the game people start talking about seeing a ghost. No one really acknowledges his presence, except the nun/nurse Lara. Very odd. And, as we know, ghosts are spectral manifestations of memories, or the past.
Another related occurrence features Stella, the priestess of the church. She is not terribly interesting (she likes to drink late into the night at the bar, that’s about it). However, if you befriend her, a young woman appears outside Mist’s house. If you talk to her, it becomes apparent that this mysterious woman is a young version of Stella! I’m not the only one to have noticed.
So what in the world is going on? I have my theories. For one, given that Trampoli is a fairly fantastical place where ghost-like creatures called Runeys float around affecting crop growth, why not also a collapse of the space-time continuum? Or a dream? Having recently seen Christopher Nolan’s film Interstellar, the connection between memories, time and space has taken on a whole new dimension for me. In Rune Factory Frontier, there is the subtle suggestion that the fabric of time and space is made up of dreams and memories. Or perhaps Trampoli exists simply in the mind of Raguna, and he could do with a hit of The Ballad of the Windfish.
The dream theory would be a cop out normally, but because it’s explored in such a subtle way I like it – I’m not anticipating a cutscene mid-way through Summer Year 3 featuring Raguna waking up in bed with a cold sweat. My only other cynical explanation is that the bending of time and space is a contrivance to explain the presence of girls from a different town in a previous game (many of the characters in Trampoli are from the original DS game, Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon).
If you’ve always thought video game farming sounds hokey, this game may change your mind. It’s worth it to experience Rune Factory’s well-rounded and satisfying gameplay and the philosophical discussions with your fellow farmers about the multi-colour haze that is Trampoli. Is it all in Raguna’s head? Are all the residents on drugs? Or does the presence of Whale Island bend the space-time continuum? This has been a special report by Maya, friend of Trampoli and honorary Tramp.