Two readers posted comments to which I would like to respond in an actual post. Both basically asked me my own personal opinion of the merits of Rune Factory 2 as compared to the original Rune Factory and other Harvest Moon games.
From the first reader: 'Recently I found myself with fascinated with the whole farming game genre. So, in your opinion which game is 'better' and explain why?
I'm conflicted of getting into the Harvest Moon series or the whole Rune Factory series.'
From the second reader: 'I also never even completed the first requests in Gen 2 for Julia, Barrett, or Herman... It just seems to me that you should have to complete some of these tasks in order to defeat the final boss and beat the game.
All that said, I can't wait for RF 3. I'm just wondering what your thoughts are on some of these things and on the game overall compared to RF 1.'
First, I would like to go on record once again in stating that I never played ANY Harvest Moon game that I did not enjoy thoroughly. I do prefer games that allow the player to 'live' his/her life without pressure of conforming to a specific timetable, but although 'Save the Homeland' and 'Innocent Life' both required the player to complete tasks in a specific time period, they nonetheless were wonderful games. This is ironic, in a way, because I am a player who tries to complete all goals at the earliest possible opportunity. Even so, I like the idea that a player can take one year to court and marry his/her heart's desire or take a decade to do it. That is very much like real life after all.
Where Rune Factory and Rune Factory 2 are concerned, I think that a player who is accustomed to traditional RPGs may not realise how much both games truly are part of the Harvest Moon genre.
Harvest Moon games are NOT linear in nature. RPGS tend to be fairly linear. Rune Factory and Rune Factory 2 have very definite plots and goals but the player is given almost total freedom to choose when, how or if he/she wishes to complete the story.
If you wished, you could stay in the 1st Generation in Rune Factory 2, living happily as a farmer in Alvarna, with only the occasional earthquake to remind you that there was a nebulous threat somewhere in the future. You could tame the Monsters who produce Ranch products, reach 10 hearts with every one in Alvarna and focus on growing the rare Crops rather than moving into the future. If you did this, you would be playing a classical Harvest Moon game.
I think this is where some players misunderstand the concept of Rune Factory. The plot and the combat aspects of the game are 'frills' in a sense. The fundamental game is Harvest Moon. 'Beating' the ultimate Boss isn't the purpose of this game, either in Rune Factory or in Rune Factory 2. The purpose of the game is to restore the farm and to create a decent life for yourself.
The player who feels a little cheated because he really did not NEED to make the most powerful weapons in order to defeat the Boss may not be aware of the role that 'Cookbooks' play in any Harvest Moon game. In a sense, Harvest Moon is based on completing Items Lists. You obtain or make every possible item in the game not because each has a distinct purpose in the sense of plot but because doing so represents 100% completion. In most Harvest Moon games, there are 'secret' items that are discovered by oblique means.
Many players of 'Friends of Mineral Town' and 'More Friends of Mineral Town' may not ever have known of the existence of 'X Wool', for example. The 'Gold' Crops in Rune Factory 2 are secret items. Recipes include them as ingredients but it may be only through exhaustive research and experimentation that players stumble upon them.
The 'Secret Concerto' in the 1st Generation is a clue that ultimately can lead you towards the 'Inquisitive Waltz'. There always are clues to the secrets in Harvest Moon games, although you have to pay attention. Sometimes it is nothing more than a single statement by a character at a specific heart level.
The plot is important in Rune Factory and Rune Factory 2 but ultimately, these games are about a world and the people who inhabit that world. Characters in Rune Factory 2 speak of individuals in the original Rune Factory. This is very typical of Harvest Moon where people who lived in Mineral Town would speak of Forget-Me-Not Valley long before players had any opportunity to experience an intersection between the two.
When I compare Rune Factory with Rune Factory 2, I detect more of 'Harvest Moon' in the sequel than in the original. There is so much quirky humour, sly little asides and detailed character studies in Rune Factory 2. Although it takes the player through two generations and therefore includes an incredible plot structure in its way, it concentrates more on the individual personalities of the characters in Alvarna than on the drama of the Caves. Rune Factory was more 'plot-driven' in a sense than the sequel.
All Harvest Moon games have a plot and definite goals. For example, in Harvest Moon DS/Cute DS, your goal is to rescue all 101 Sprites. This is not necessary in order to enjoy the game, but it represents the same sort of 100% completion philosophy that appeals to players of Harvest Moon. You really only need to rescue 60 Sprites in order to bring the Harvest Goddess back to the Valley, which is one of the requirements for marriage in HM DS/Cute DS. As previously stated, Harvest Moon is NOT linear.
Rune Factory 2 is one of my favourite games at this point, but it is difficult to rate Harvest Moon games. I adored Harvest Moon DS and Cute DS, because I loved the way those games combined the characters of 'A Wonderful Life' with the characters of Mineral Town. 'Island of Happiness' is another incredible game and may be the ultimate 'farming simulation' game, with its strict realistic requirements for crops and the ability to grow grains like rice. I loved the way Island of Happiness incorporated actual rice paddies into the farming experience.
For sheer beauty, however, I could not imagine any game more breathtaking than Rune Factory 2. THe original was exquisite but the sequel is even better. It is a world that constantly delights the eye. The music is wonderful and the landscapes are magical.
For a player who never played any Harvest Moon game before, however, I would be inclined to recommend something easier than 'Island of Happiness' for 'starters'. The farming and ranching aspects of Rune Factory 2 actually are easier for a novice than Island of Happiness. If you are not interested in combat at all, though, you probably should play Harvest Moon DS or Harvest Moon Cute DS. Either would be a fantastic introduction to Harvest Moon. If you like combat and the element of fantasy, then play Rune Factory or Rune Factory 2. I actually would recommend Rune Factory 2 above the original for a player who is more interested in simulation farming than in a traditional RPG. For the RPG player, the original Rune Factory is more 'true to form' but for any true Harvest Moon fan, I think the sequel is even better.