It's hard to know where to start with Rune Factory: Frontier. You're just given a small homestead, a plot of land and a dummy's guide to agriculture, but after that you're on your own.
Normal adventure game convention would have an epic cut scene kick in, showing a settlement coming under attack from big bad imperialist forces, or a nasty curse throwing you into another dimension. You'd have a launch pad for the game, in other words. In Rune Factory there's no such leg-up, so you have to put some serious graft in at the beginning to build a picture of what you must do.
This is Frontier's strength and weakness. Having near total freedom to do what you wish in your own time frame is still a rare thing, especially when it's done this well. The flipside is that to anyone who is not a longstanding Rune Factory fan, or well versed in role-playing games in general, this is not the most accessible, easy-to-follow experience, despite the country bumpkin stylings. After all, this is a game with back-breaking daily chores as one of its central features.
The Good Life
Rune Factory started life as a spin-off of the lovely Harvest Moon series, with the Farmer Giles tendencies becoming stronger with each subsequent game. But despite this heritage, Frontier is self-sufficient in every way, with its own standalone story meaning you don't have to know the series inside out in order to follow the story.
You've just got to find it first which, given the complete lack of signposting, might take some time. It's not a Bad Thing, but when you have to take a scattergun approach to investigation at the beginning of a game, newcomers are in danger of being put off. First impressions and all that. Imagine meeting Shigeru Miyamoto for the first time and dismissing him as a banjo-twanging nut. Imagine then what you'd be writing off.
If Frontier were considered a banjo-twanging nut you'd be writing off one of the most cleverly conceived, wide-ranging games on the Wii. In the first two hours alone (five days in game time, as one real time second is one game minute) we'd cleared, tilled and cultivated our field to yield a crop of turnips; got to know everyone in our home of Trampoli; helped nurse a sick traveller; and signed up the local builder to plan an extension to our house. Oh, and we witnessed a giant bean stalk erupt from the ground to reach Whale Island, hovering over town (the story has you trying to prevent this island smashing into the village, though it's up to you how and when you go about it). It's very easy to see why this is a game that could easily take you past the 100 hour mark. Prepare to invest a lot of time.
Frontier takes on a whole new dimension when you venture out of Trampoli Village and hit your first battle, for it adds a dungeon crawler string to its social-farming bow. Every skill you develop, whether it's digging, harvesting or decapitating giant scorpions with a broadsword, levels-up as you practice it, so there's no call to 'spend' experience points in particular categories. You improve specific stats the more you use a particular item, be it a watering can or a scythe, plus your overall experience level ticks round at the same time. Given the huge amount of ground you'll need to cover, it's a relief to not have to bother number crunching, and there's still a proper sense of progress too.
Reward also comes in financial form, from a sideline of your choice. You could concentrate on growing food, keeping livestock or becoming adept at mixing medicines, or you could sell the rare items you come across on your travels to keep cash flowing in. You could also fish, forge weaponry, mine for minerals or become an expert cook. The choices are staggering and each speciality is rounded enough to provide you with loads to get stuck into. And if you prove especially great at, say, making strawberry jam, it might just win you favour with a lovely local lady too.