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Rune Factory Frontier - First Impressions
I like plenty of video game traits that the general public does, and thus, I like plenty of mainstream video games. A good strategy game here and there, an adrenaline filled action-adventure game, a sweeping RPG epic: these are all good things. They are the popular equivalent of summer blockbusters, or of pornography that involves an attractive man and woman copulating fervently. They are easy to relate to, understand, and enjoy. Liking them marks you as normal, as acceptable, and not liking them marks you as a person of suspect character and motives. God of War. Dawn of War. Resident Evil. These are good, popular games made up of good, acceptable components.

And then there are the other video game traits I like. Crafting. Farming. More crafting. Home building. Social interactions. And, in what is probably a unconscious cry for help, grinding. The midget-tranny bondage porn of the video game world, in a sense. The stuff so odd and niche that if you talk about it, your friends look at you oddly. The stuff that, should you find a good source of it, you fawn over for weeks as you try to convince your friends that it is really awesome guys seriously you'll like it if you just give it a try. These are not the summer blockbusters, but the cult hits that weren't really even a hit with a cult. The games that you swear only you understand, and that only understand you. Because of this, when you find them, they're all the more wonderful, because it feels like someone made them just for you. But they're kind of shameful, too.

Such is Rune Factory Frontier, perhaps the second legit game game I've bought for the Wii. To be fair, there are apparently three of these Harvest Moon spin offs on the Nintendo DS, and their aforementioned parent series, Harvest Moon (which, incidentally, I have no fondness for in my limited contact with it), certainly has plenty of entries. So I guess I can take some comfort in knowing I'm not the only one - I'm just the only one I know.

Before getting to the all-important features of the game, I think it's actually better to discuss something more important: the ethos of the game. RFF is a mood piece. It is like Shenmue, except with a floating whale made out of stone instead of a Tokyo suburb. With farming instead of running errands. When I first played Shenmue, I did it expecting a Street Fighter meets JRPG epic made of equal parts fighting, exploring, and leveling up. I hated it. A year later, I felt the need for a sort of autumn-lonely, melancholy experience, and I pulled Shenmue out of the pile, and I loved it. RFF is like that, except that instead of a lonely, melancholy game that feels just like a trip to Japan, you have an idyllic, peaceful, no-pressure game full of pleasant activities and no stress and lots of relaxation in a bright, wonderful fantasy world. As with Shenmue, I just want to go there and live inside the game for awhile. It's pleasant escapism.

The game begins with traveling to find a missing friend, and eventually running into her in a small town. She has decided to move there, and she wants you to stay, and as luck would have it, there's an old abandoned farmhouse and plot of land right next door to her that's in disrepair that you can just have. When this scenario was laid out before me, I figured I'd be starting from just above scratch: a beaten up wood shack with holes in the wall, a door barely on its hinges, cracked windows, some real rural ghetto type shit. When I was escorted to the house I began to understand that RFF is a happy place. The farmhouse was in perfect condition, all stone and wood, as peaceful and rustic and cozy as could be. It only had one room, but it had a table with a lovely tablecloth, a tiny kitchen, a sleepy bed and an inviting fireplace, and everything in it and about it is just so.

And that is, in a nutshell, the mood of the game. Every house is warm and cozy and a sort of dream home on a small, fantasy scale. The village is quaint and lovely, the neighbors friendly, the lake peaceful, the beach pristine, the waves soothing, the ocean waters the perfect shade of blue-green. It is the kind of happy, contented place that you would love to plant some radishes and chop some lumber. It is as idyllic as idyllic comes. It is the kind of place you just want to visit, to live in. Game features aside, that is what RFF really comes down to. It's a happy, low-stress escape.

That said, the features are perfect. One of my friends read the back of the box and said something to the effect of, "man, this game sounds right up your alley." Which it is.

Farming is the mainstay, the starting point. You're given a plot of land, a packet of radish seeds, a watering can, and a cheap hoe to get down to business with (heehee). You can till, plant, and water your way into some money, but you'll need to form relationships with the various inhabitants of the town to get access to new tools and features. There are stores where you can buy more seeds, food items, pieces of equipment, and more. There's a guy who will offer to expand your house at a hefty cost, a few women who will give you a couple recipe books - one for food, one for tools - and more than a few eligible bachelorettes. As I later learned, on Sundays, a traveling would-be artist comes to town and will sell you kitchen appliances, a stove, a small forge, a little lab, paintings, furnishings, and much more.

You can cook, you can smith, you can make potions. Upon watering a beanstalk sprout, you can visit the floating sentient stone whale in the sky and explore the dungeon contained within, which means you can also hack, slash, delve, and collect treasure. You level up your character, you level up your skills, you buy better gear, you craft better gear, and you can even capture and tend to flocks of monsters, who will lay eggs, water your fields, and go into battle with you. There are holidays and birthdays, and there are seasons and weather. There is the obligatory Japanese hot spring bath, and there is a mysterious clock tower. The characters are always either blushing, blushing really hard, or as red as fucking beets. What more can a game offer?

I'm only a handful of hours into RFF, not even done with my first season, but I already know that I will love it. I knew that I would love it as soon as I read a summary blurb of the features the game had, which is why I bought it based on little more than that information. This is a game that caters to such a tiny, specific demographic that if you are in it, you need know little more than that this game is made for you to have sufficient cause to buy it. The fact that the game has a perfectly cozy, idyllic setting is but the cherry atop the sundae.

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Diablo 3 - Improvements, Changes, and Problems

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Explosions in the Sky - Live 4/11/11