JRPG fans have had their fair share of long delays between beloved franchises’ games. Final Fantasy fans spent a decade hoping and wishing for the release 2016’s Final Fantasy XV. Same for Kingdom Hearts fans, who just finished a 13-year wait when Kingdom Hearts 3 finally was released earlier this year. Part of loving games with complicated long stories is waiting for the long and rocky development cycles to be completed. But what if the game you long for was last actively talked about 7 years before. Before Studio closures and IP takeovers. Before a rebuilt team made another style game, and the game’s producer went off to make his own subsidiary studio. That’s the story of Rune Factory 5. Appearing out of nowhere, when the fandom had long ago abandoned hope that this game would ever arrive.
This resurrection story is why I’d argue that Rune Factory 5 announcement is the biggest news to come from February’s Nintendo Direct. Nintendo can predictably be counted on to re-master and re-imagine old games for new consoles (especially Zelda games). Rune Factory 5 was necromancy pure and simple. The added bonus of getting a fully realized and remastered Rune Factory 4 is the cherry on top of this delicious and unexpected sundae. I’ll admit that even when RF4 Special was announced, the last thing I thought was that it was a confirmation of Rune Factory 5’s existence. I felt it — like so many remastered games before it — was a test balloon.
Let’s go back to a time to before Stardew Valley took over the farm simulation genre and brought mainstream attention to the small cozy genre. Rune Factory 4 was released in Japan for 3DS in 2012. The game was beloved and sold well enough in its first few weeks that longtime series producer Yoshifumi Hashimoto felt confident to let the series fans know that Rune Factory 5 had been greenlit. Fans were thrilled. This excitement, however, would be short-lived. A few short weeks after the North American launch of Rune Factory 4, Neverland, the studio who owned the IP and made the game, filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations. Marvelous, the series publisher, picked up the IP and the team that made Rune Factory. Because of this, fans were admittedly shocked when the European Release of Rune Factory 4 was abruptly canceled. The region locked nature of the 3DS meant thousands of fans were stranded, with no way to play without buying a whole new North American or Japanese 3DS.
Speculation of the series return flared up a few months later when the Rune Factory team teased they had a new game coming out. That game would not be the mythical Rune Factory 5. Instead, it was Lords of Magna: Maiden Heaven. The team wanted to stretch their legs, and instead of the dungeon crawling farming game we’ve come to love them for, they gave us a strategy and inn management game. Around this time, the team was also able to score a moral victory when Rune Factory 4 caught on in the west, leading to all physical copies of the game to be sold out for a period.
Shortly after Lords of Magna’s announcement. XSEED, the localization company that has brought many Marvelous titles to the west, announced there would be an eShop exclusive version of Rune Factory 4 headed to Europe. A few months later, at the end of 2014, the XSEED team delivered Rune Factory 4 to Europe — well over a year after the North American release.
This would be the last big news the Rune Factory fandom would have until February 2019. 2015 would see Hashimoto and XSEED bring Story of Seasons (the re-branded name of Harvest Moon) to North America after a successful Japanese launch in 2013, and Rune Factory fans would hold their breath and speculate that 2016 would be their year. Many Rune Factory fans I know (myself included) thought that Rune Factory 4 would be the series swan song when the logical time of Rune Factory 5 was filled with yet another Story of Seasons game.
It’s now been four years of speculation, hope, and not understanding how a game that sold so well could be left this way. This isn’t a case where a series slowly sold less than the game before it: Rune Factory 4 topped 200,000 copies sold in Japan. And that was before Stardew Valley came and gave us a simplified easy to digest version of Rune Factory’s formula. I hope that Stardew’s success and the rise of Otomes on iOS give Rune Factory 4 Special and Rune Factory 5 a broader base of fans who love farming, romance, and raising monsters. Rune Factory 4 Special is coming out on Nintendo Switch in Japan on July 25th, 2019. It’s North American and European release is still slated as later in 2019. Rune Factory 5 is rumored to be coming to Japan as soon as 2020. Check back here for updates on Rune Factory 4 Special and 5.