Rune Factory 4 was long considered the crown jewel of the Rune Factory series, and fans were delighted to see it escape Nintendo 3DS Jail and receive updated ports across a variety of modern systems. XSeed and Marvelous decided to look back a bit further and give the same treatment to Rune Factory 3, an oft-forgotten middle child of the series. How does the remaster shape up on the Nintendo Switch?
The sad truth is that fans and newcomers alike will have to deal with this being a remaster of an old Nintendo DS title. That means chibi 3D models against 2D backgrounds, with 2D icons representing your items or crops. It might be underwhelming for some to see at first glance. The upside is that this is the best this art style has looked for this series since the Rune Factory 4 remaster; the 3D models look crisp and detailed, a far cry from the blurry models on the old DS screen, and the icons are accentuated, bright, and easy to see against the backgrounds. While they may be pre-drawn, the backgrounds are lush and vibrant, with clear demarcations of where you can walk and where you can’t. Some foreground effects can get in the way of seeing what’s available—sometimes, a tree in a dungeon would have more fruit than I expected that I couldn’t see for layered cruft. But otherwise, despite itself, Rune Factory 3 Special reminds us of how good a game can look when it uses 3D models on a 2D background—it really is a lost art.
Other setbacks players will have to contend with include a lack of player customization options compared to Rune Factory 4 and 5; you can only play as a male character, and you can only romance women in the game. There are no options for same-sex relationships (even though some bachelors would make for perfect paramours—alas, poor Gaius). This is again a limitation of porting a very old Nintendo DS title; I imagine there wasn’t any way to program in new romance options. But following in the wake of the two later Rune Factory titles, this is nevertheless a downer. You can swap your player character’s outfit with clothes you buy in-game, however; there’s even a new bonus outfit based on Rune Factory 5 available if you’ve got Rune Factory 5 save data. The outfits even read fairly well, given the isometric perspective.
Past that, any other nitpick will be quality-of-life matters players have taken for granted in later Rune Factory titles. There’s no lock-on mechanic for fighting monsters, so you’ll just be swinging away and praying your hits connect. If you eat Recipe Bread, but your skill levels need to be higher, you lose the bread and whatever money you invested in it (I hope you’re not short on cash). You can only tackle one mission daily from the message board in town, technically two if you use the mailbox at your house. Monster taming, a series staple, also works differently: instead of using a Petting Glove or a dedicated spell to tame your monsters, you have to earn their affection by gifting them food—food that, of course, you have to cook yourself, requiring more resource investment if you want to tame monsters and gain access to their services (harvesting eggs, wool, milk, or just hiring them to help out in the field).
But, let’s be frank for a minute: anyone playing a Rune Factory game will be ready for some jank. It’s our domain; we’ve been raised in it since we first popped those cartridges into our DSes. There are still plenty of things to enjoy in Rune Factory 3 Special. Chief among them is the new dialogue recorded for the entire cast—special credit to Casey Mongillo for pulling double duty as the protagonist and his Wooly-form. Speaking of, the protagonist can turn into a Wooly. Fitting into the game’s central theme, your Woolification (name pending) has to be carefully managed: you can do it at any time, but it’s best not to do it around your human neighbors. Likewise, your non-humanoid friends likely won’t appreciate you walking around as anything but one of those adorable, fluffy, not-human critters. Your Wooly form also has combat abilities, unique attacks, and even a fun grappling system for when monsters are left prone.
Rune Factory 3 also has its handle on the series’ standard Skill system: basically, all of your actions or weapon proficiencies are tied to a skill. Increasing your rank in this skill not only increases the damage that attack does or grants you access to better weapon recipes but they are also tied to a stat. Walk around a ton? That’ll buff up your base stamina and health sooner or later. Rune Factory 3 also pioneers a nifty new system where using a certain kind of weapon for long enough grants you access to unique moves for that weapon, like an extended combo or charge-up attacks. Best of all, there’s more incentive for your crops: not only will fully-grown crops potentially drop Rune Points for extra stamina, but they might also drop Rune Sprites, which can permanently increase one of your stats. So, if you don’t want to spend hours grinding in combat, literally doing anything else in the game can also ensure your character gets better at things.
Honestly, the gameplay loop in Rune Factory 3 Special remains engaging and addicting. Wake up, do some chores, mingle with the locals, and do some more errands. Even early on, when your options, stamina, and funds are limited, there’s always something fun to do—your tasks always feel exciting and varied. Everything feels rewarding in a way.
Longtime fans will undoubtedly appreciate that Rune Factory 3 Special gives us all a second chance at a forgotten entry to the series without having to shell out effectively new-game prices for an old used copy on the DS—especially with the updated graphics. And while I’d have a hard time recommending newcomers start with Rune Factory 3 Special over, say, Rune Factory 4 Special or the recent Rune Factory 5, it’s a solid choice nonetheless and one that is sure to work its way into your heart.