Shiro Maekawa on modernising the Rune Factory series amidst the farming games fever
We spoke with series' producer and director about how it's getting more and more difficult to keep track of the farming games being announced.
The trend (the craze?) of farming simulators and farming-enhanced life sims and RPG adventures didn't start in 2022. It could even be said that neither 2020's lockdown had so much to do with it, as Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, Farming Simulator, Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons, or Rune Factory had been there cultivating a significant fan following for so many years already. However, since Gamescom a month ago and more so with the recent Nintendo Direct showcase, we can really talk about an unstoppable blossoming of these games, as there have been so many announcements we've lost count.
Many of these games flowered at the Marvelous Entertainment offices, and that's why we paid them a visit to talk all things Rune Factory with director and producer Shiro Maekawa. Now, it is true that Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life will sprout on the Nintendo Switch in 2023, and that in the same year Rune Factory 3 Special will see the original watered with new features on the same platform, not to mention there's "a new Rune Factory series" being raised. But to keep things in focus, we mostly talked about Rune Factory 5, which released on Nintendo's hybrid system in late March to then release on Steam earlier this summer.
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"We are very sorry to have kept our fans waiting for such a long time for the series to get its latest instalment", says Maekawa-san in the video about the ten years that passed since RF4. "It was very well received when it came out then [in March] and we've just released on Steam as well, so we are so happy that we have our user base intact, and we are looking forward to sharing more stuff with you today".
Back when Rune Factory 5's Western adaptation was announced exactly a year ago, same-sex marriage was highlighted as one of the main features, so we asked the Japanese producer about the reception of such an inclusive option.
"Of course, there have been some negative voices as always but in Japan we feel that most of the feedback was really positive for that, and we knew from previous Rune Factory instalments as well that this was really something that players wanted to see in the game and also that we felt that this has to be included in Rune Factory 5 from the start, especially abroad, since then it was there", says Maekawa.
Besides, as the protagonist join a peacekeeping organisation known as SEED, we wanted to know how that could speak to the current global situation:
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"Yes of course, you are absolutely right that the global environment is currently a little bit unstable and the Rune Factory series has always been this very welcoming, peace loving environment as well for the players, so we wanted that to be their little escape and keep the players coming back to this peace-loving environment, so we hope for our users to keep continuing to pursue to be these peace-keeping rangers so to speak".
And the same could be said about people using fantasy and farming games to evade from reality during the pandemic:
"During the lockdown, of course, there's a lot of games that did very well during that time because people wanted to get to another world, but it's very literal this sense as well for the Rune Factory series because it is literally another world where you are doing these daily tasks, farming and everything and completing tasks, so we really wanted to transport the player to another world and kind of help them escape the hardships of the real world".
However, the Japanese producer still wasn't ready to talk about that mysterious "new Rune Factory series" that was about to be announced:
"It's been about ten years since our last mainline release and we feel that the user base really received it well and we felt that a lot of users really liked what they were seeing", says Maekawa-san when asked about potential new entries in the future and the idea of an online shared world for Rune Factory. "So definitely within Marvelous as well we want to keep evolving the series, so we hope you stay tuned for more announcements coming some time and we hope to keep you updated on future events in the series".
But so much farming and we haven't talked about what makes Rune Factory different: its fantasy RPG aspect. There are monsters and magic, but what we love the most is that you can farm... on a dragon:
"I have been the producer since Rune Factory 4 Special so I can't speak too much of what was going through the minds of the producers at the time for Rune Factory 1", Maekawa laughs when asked about farming on a dragon's mount. "But really the fantasy setting at everything comes originally from [Harvest Moon] Story of Seasons, we really wanted to keep evolving Story of Seasons but add an RPG element to it so that's really why the Rune Factory series then came alive. Adding these RPG elements, widening the range of our user base and really finding for new players to enjoy, that's why it's the Story of Seasons in a new setting".
Have you played Rune Factory 5 already and are you looking forward to playing any of the upcoming farming games?