US readers may scoff at the "First Impressions" title of this article as Rune Factory Frontier has been available in the Western hemisphere for nearly a year, but as always European gamers are left waiting for any Harvest Moon-related titles. However, farming fans need not fret much longer, as Rune Factory Frontier is due for release in the near future, and looks set to be the Wii's definitive agricultural experience.
Following on from the superb Rune Factory on DS, the Wii version features a similar combination of RPG and farming elements as its predecessor. It may sound like an odd mix but it works well, fleshing out the monotony of farming with combat and tempering the dungeon grinds with some soothing seed sowing. There's some depth to the RPG features too - you can craft your own armour, weapons and tools using different ores and other items, with the strength depending on your proficiency in each discipline. You can create fire swords, icy spears as well as all manner of watering cans, fishing rods and more. Placing this ability in your character's hands, rather than that of a local blacksmith, was a wise design choice.
Don't worry, though - there's still plenty of side characters offering various services, including the traditional lumberjack, inns, a bath house and shops. The inclusion of combat hasn't dampened the social element of the series, with each character having friendship and romance bars that are visible through a menu, and the usual exchange of pleasantries and presents is always encouraged. Pleasingly the game veers somewhat away from the series' recurring female characters, although you'll recognise some of the prospective wives from the game's DS appearance.
Even in this incomplete build, it's worth pointing out some of the beautiful graphics on display in Rune Factory Frontier. There's an emphasis on detail and building convincing scenes with increased foliage and a well-chosen palette that makes this game probably the best-looking entry in the Harvest Moon series to date. The initial dungeons suffer from being just a little too brown, but there's more than enough green and blue above ground to atone, and you can always brighten up those dungeons by growing some flowers down there.
With plenty of the addictive farming the series is renowned for and the addition of surprisingly rewarding RPG elements, Rune Factory Frontier could be the definitive Harvest Moon game for Wii. We'll find out when it's released on European shores this quarter.