The Harvest Moon franchise is arguably one of the most prolific brands of the past two decades. Competing with even the likes of Nintendo’s mascots in terms of outings, Harvest Moon’s presentations have become so diverse since its 1996 debut that several bloodlines have been established, one of which has even become a series in its own right. Rune Factory now stands tall alongside Harvest Moon, visiting each videogame console format in turn and bringing with it new innovation with each new title. Making its PlayStation 3 debut with Rune Factory Oceans, the series sees is presented on high-definition (HD) formats for the very first time.
Rune Factory Oceans sees players take control of both Aden and Sonja, lifelong best friends living a peaceful existence on a small island. However, one day they awaken to find themselves afflicted by an ancient curse, with Sonja trapped inside Aden’s body. What’s more, they appear to be trapped in a parallel dimension, with a now unrecognisable version of the island they know and love. The story is delivered in the typically eastern anime manner, with corny characters and touching emotional statements lying around every corner. It’s sickeningly quaint pitch does already have an expansive audience willing to lap it up – especially on the PlayStation 3 – but for some the forceful nature of the cutesypie design may be too much of a barrier to break.
For those who persevere beyond the pastel coloured, sugar coated opening they’ll find the set-up plays right into a familiar Rune Factory – and Harvest Moon for that matter – opening. The player is welcomed to the strange island by a local, who then offers a hand to get you back on your feet. Within minutes you are granted a home, some basic utilities and given an objective to complete. This is the first step towards the farming simulation that both Rune Factory and Harvest Moon, a brand new revision to the mechanic which, in actuality, sees it somewhat diluted. Rather than facing the challenges of finding the right crop to plant at the right time, the player can sail between different locations which each have their own climate, significantly reducing the challenge that is correct management of assets.
With regards to the travelling between islands, ‘sail’ is perhaps the wrong word. Ymir is your golem, and also your friend. You can use him not only to traverse the seas, but also to collect hidden treasure and engage in large scale fisticuffs. The combat in Rune Factory Oceans takes place in real-time, with Aden’s blows feeling remarkably similar to Devil May Cry’s Dante – though with significantly less variety in the combat system – while Ymir is considerably slower and less interesting.
There are plenty of supplemental features aiding the exploration, farming and combat, such as nurturing pet monsters and building relationships, and it fits perfectly together to create an engrossing experience. The overly cute nature of the videogame never dissipates, and as such many gamers may choose to look at one of the many other Rune Factory or Harvest Moon titles for a less overbearing experience, but for those who can contend with the cheerfully wide-eyed outlook – or even welcome it – Rune Factory Oceans never steps a foot wrong.
As Rune Factory Oceans is a conversion of the Wii original, the videogame makes use of the PlayStation Move motion-control input. Here on PlayStation 3 it remains optional as opposed to essential, but nonetheless those gamers with access to the accessory will surely invest in its immediate access in Rune Factory Oceans. The visual quality has received a significant overhaul from its Wii outing however, presenting a brightly coloured HD environments and commendable anime story sequences. The voice acting follows the same sickly sweet pattern as the rest of the videogame’s presentation, though the choice of which lines receive vocal delivery and which are text-based only does seem a little odd at times.
Rune Factory Oceans is an enjoyable videogame experience, though it does seem to be an odd fit for the series. It’s removing some of the established foundations and in place offering a more action-orientated experience, which in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the presentation of the videogame seems to be moving in the other direction. This is a fast-paced action experience bound by mechanics designed for a slower, more relaxing product. There is some degree of choice offered to the player as to which aspect they will pursue most vigorously, but ultimately success will only come from actively engaging in all aspects of the videogame. Rune Factory Oceans is a welcome addition to the Harvest Moon stable, but not one that will be accessible to all of it’s core audience.