Review: Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town
Genre: Farming Sim / RPG
Release Date: 7/26/05
It seems that for as long as video games have been popular, so have sim games. Entire series are devoted to developing cities, building theme parks, constructing railroads, learning how to fly, racing cars, and interacting with imaginary people. But while there are any number of flight simulators or city/park/building sims, there has never quite been a series like Harvest Moon.
Harvest Moon has made an appearance on almost every major console produced since the Super Nintendo, including games on the Playstation, PS2, Nintendo 64, Gameboy, GBC, and GBA. There is even a version on the Nintendo DS and an upcoming PSP title. But just what is it that makes this game so popular? I mean, it’s a farming sim with aspects of a dating sim tossed in for good measure. And last I checked, most folks don’t wake up every morning wishing they were going to work on a farm.
I’ll be honest… I don’t get the appeal of Harvest Moon. For that matter, this game was the first that I have ever played in the series, so it could be that I’m starting off on the wrong foot. After playing it for several days I found the game to be boring, repetitive, and monotonous. Although I was surprised at just how complex the game could be once you delved further into it.
But even though I didn’t enjoy the game very much, I still appreciate it for what it is. It’s just not my cup of tea. So, with that said, how does the game actually stack up when put through the IP score card?
Just to make things easier, I am going to refer to this game just as Harvest Moon. No reason to type out the whole name every time.
Anyway, Harvest Moon lets you name and then take control of a girl, who, tired of city life, decides to purchase a farm and move to the country. However, the farm mentioned in an article in the local paper is far from ideal. It’s overgrown with weeds, filled with debris, and completely fallow. But you’re not going to let that deter you.
Determined to build yourself a wonderful life, you set about cleaning up the place, planting crops, meeting the town locals, and exploring the nearby countryside. Eventually you might even find yourself a nice young man to settle down and make babies with.
And that’s it. Buy farm, fix farm, grow stuff, and make nice with others. Not much in the way of story, but then again this is a sim. Its open ended gameplay allows you to create your own story, as you get to chose how to play the game.
Just don’t go into this expecting Shakespeare.
Story Rating: 3/10
Graphically, Harvest Moon is fairly simple. It doesn’t use the full power of the GBA, but it still manages to look quite nice. All of the buildings are nicely detailed, and each of the townsfolk have their own unique appearance. The sprites used to represent each of the animals and objects are crisp and easy to tell apart.
While talking with each of the individuals in town, a portrait picture will pop up. These change based on the mood of the person, although they are not animated. However, they do a great job of conveying the appearance of each character, and really help to distinguish each of the townsfolk.
For the most part, colors are bright and clear, although there are some areas of the game where the palette seems to be dulled down quite a bit. This is mostly due to the passage of time and the changing light, which is handled well.
There isn’t much in the way of effects, but the little bit you will see is adequate. Rain fall is quite nicely represented, but dust kicked up by a horse’s hooves or other effects are nothing special.
Overall the graphics are perfectly suitable for the game, but nothing overly impressive in terms of what the GBA can do.
Graphics Rating: 6/10
This is the first area of the game where it really started to grate on my nerves. Both the sound effects and the music are incredibly repetitive, and eventually quite annoying.
For starters, there are only a few pieces of music that you will hear throughout the game. One for your farm, one for the town, and a few others scattered about during special events or scenes. And I admit, the music is a little catchy at first. But then you start to realize that it repeats the same chords roughly every minute and a half. Over, and over, and over, and over again, until finally you just want to hear something different. And since most of your time will be spent either working on your farm or wandering the town, you won’t be hearing much in the way of variety.
The actual sound effects are almost as bad, starting with just moving your character around. I’m not sure who came up with the sound for walking around, but after a while it started to remind me of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and the scenes where Arthur is being followed around by the fellow mashing the two coconut halves together. And last I checked, your character doesn’t have hooves.
Other sounds also suffer from too much recurrence due to the fact that the game itself is incredibly repetitive. Till the earth, plant seeds, water every single square individually… It’s ridiculous. Fortunately these are less offensive than the standard walking noise, but you’ll still be tempted to mute your speakers after a while.
Most other sounds in the game, such as your dog barking, a horse’s whinny, or a chicken’s clucking, are all perfectly adequate, and for the most part, not nearly as repetitive. Except when cycling through menus, where for whatever reason they decided to use dog and chicken noises for every selection.
At any rate, the sound is serviceable, but has such a high occurrence rate that it begins to grate on the nerves after a bit. And there really does need to be more in the way of musical selections.
Sound Rating: 4/10
4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY
I was actually surprised at how deep the gameplay can get for this game. There is certainly more to do than just grow crops and raise animals, but at the same time, everything is based around those activities.
The controls themselves are pretty straight forward. I mean, come on, how complex of a control scheme can you have on the GBA anyway? The B button uses whatever item you have equipped, while the A button allows you to interact with other people and objects, or toss whatever item you might be holding. The R button allows you to run, and the L button calls out to people. Various button combinations also serve a purpose. For example, holding L and hitting B allows you to cycle through your equipable items.
Hitting Start pulls up the in game menu, where you can see quite a bit of useful information, from the items you are currently carrying to a map of the town to your fiscal performance for the past few weeks. Navigating the menus is as easy as hitting A to select and B to cancel.
The gameplay itself is fairly solid, but is harmed by its repetitive nature. As mentioned earlier, your basic day will consist of planting, maintaining, and harvesting crops, as well as caring for any animals you might have and occasionally making a jaunt into town. Every day starts at 6:00 AM game time, and ends when you decide to turn in for the night. Every 10 minutes is roughly 5 seconds, so you can expect the average day to last for about 6 or 7 minutes. Although time does freeze when you enter a store or house, or participate in a special event, so you can take your time there.
Since your main objective is to enhance your farm, you’ll be spending plenty of time dealing with your crops. Clearing debris is as simple as using a scythe, hammer, or axe, depending on what you’re trying to remove. Every tool can be upgraded at the local blacksmith provided you have the right amount of ores and cash needed, allowing you to remove bigger rocks or large stumps. Ores can be gathered at a nearby mine by simply using your hammer to break open the rocks found there.
Once a section of your field is clear, you can till the soil with your hoe and then plant seeds which can be purchased at the local supermarket, or from the merchant Won who has some more exotic varieties on hand. Once you spread the seeds, which lay down in a 3×3 square area, you will need to water them. Unfortunately you can only water one square at a time, so this can take a while depending on how many plants you have going at once. After a few days, your plants will be ready to be harvested, at which point you can drop the fruits of your labor in a nearby shipping box and earn cash.
Of course, farming is only one aspect of the game. You can also raise sheep, chickens, cows, and horses. You’ll have to save up to purchase these animals though, so you’ll have to farm for a little while to get started. Caring for each animal requires various amounts of time and different tasks depending on how many of each you have. For example, chickens require you to give them feed every day, as well as collect their eggs, and potentially care for any eggs you might decide to incubate.
Between farming and raising livestock, you can easily run out of time during the day. And if you don’t keep some food on hand, you might also run out of energy and end up in the hospital from exhaustion. What little time you do have left can be spend wandering around the town, interacting with various townsfolk, and participating in the occasional special event. Each store has differing hours of operation, so you’ll need to pay attention to what time and what day of the week it is. Additionally, certain events will only occur on certain days, and making friends with various individuals can only occur at certain times. It will be up to you to figure out when these are though.
Special events are marked on your calendar in your house. These range from baking competitions to horse races to various other activities. Participation in these events varies depending on how far along in the game you are and how much money you have. For example, if you have a fully grown horse, you can race with it. Otherwise you can only choose to place bets, or just watch the races.
As you interact with the townsfolk you’ll meet a number of boys with little heart icons on their chests (and three that don’t). These are all potential husbands, and you’ll need to figure out how to woo each one. But be careful, as the other single gals around the town might have their eyes on your potential mate as well. Gaining the affection of one of the boys involves completing a series of events that occur at different times in order to raise your friendship level. These events can be triggered as the heart icons change color, and you will need to go through four of them before the young bachelor will be willing to marry you.
There are a number of other mini games, activities, and options that you can explore. These include playing the Harvest Goddesses counting game, befriending the Harvest Goddess, and befriending and hiring Harvest Sprites to help you do farm work. Gain enough reputation with the sprites or the Goddess, and you can earn various rewards and even assistance in wooing the boy of your choice.
As you can see, there is a lot to do, from the basic care of your farm to the special events, mini games, and bachelor hunting. However, everything is incredibly repetitive, especially in the early part of the game where you are working to increase your funds. And until you are in a position to hire on some sprites, you’ll have to do all the work for yourself almost every day. This hurt the game a lot in my eyes, but I can also see where it is a necessary part of the farm sim experience.
In the end, I can’t fault the game too much, as it has a good control scheme and fairly open ended gameplay. Though as I mentioned above, it’s just not for me.
Control and Gameplay Score: 8/10
Because Harvest Moon is an open ended game, there isn’t much in the way of an ending, per say. For all intents and purposes, you just keep going until you want to stop, making your own goals along the way.
However, once you have gone as far as you wish to, there are a few reasons to come back to the game again. Perhaps the first time though you decided to focus entirely on growing crops, so the next time you can spend more time working with animals. Or maybe you ended up marrying Grey and now you’re curious what Kai is like. For that matter, there are eight bachelors total, so you could feasibly go after each one. Or it could be that you just want to start from scratch and do things a little differently.
Either way, Harvest Moon has a decent replay value, although it’s entirely based on what you want to do and how you want to play the game. The options are there though, for those who want to take them.
Replayability Score: 6/10
Well, it’s a sim. You can’t die. You can’t lose. Hell, you can’t even win, per say. You just keep playing until you decide to stop.
I suppose the main goal of the game, at least in the short term, is to earn money and improve your farm. You start off with about 500 gold and some tools, and it’s up to you to go about making your fortune. However, even if you spend all your money and end up with no crops to show for it, you can always head for the hills and forage for items to drop in your pickup box. As such, its almost impossible to have a day go by where you don’t earn some money, or at least have the option for making some easy cash.
The game isn’t difficult at all. Just time consuming. Things never get harder or easier, although you may find yourself juggling more activities per day as you progress. To that end, it’s really hard to put a score here. It’s neither perfectly balanced, nor is it completely unbalanced. To be fair, we’ll just split the difference.
Balance Score: 5/10
Well, as I said earlier, this is another entry in a fairly long running series of games. Additionally, it’s basically a direct follow up to the previous GBA title, Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, except that this time you are playing a girl instead of a boy.
On the other hand, how many other farming sims do you know of on the market? Yeah, that’s what I thought. So while other types of sims may be a dime a dozen, Harvest Moon is the only one of its kind.
Originality Score: 6/10
I’ve all ready made it clear that I really didn’t like this game very much personally. It is way too repetitive, and just not the kind of game that I find enjoyable.
However, that being said, I can see where a person could pick this up and really go to town. Crops tend to grow fairly quickly and it won’t take long for you to start seeing results. Money is fairly easy to come by, and within a pretty short span of time you’ll be getting upgrades, pulling in plenty of cash, and wooing the boy of your dreams.
Since everything is fairly quick, it won’t take too long for you to reach the point where you have done everything in the game, except for marry each of the possible bachelors. As such, the short term addictiveness is fairly high, but don’t expect it to stick around very long.
9. APPEAL FACTOR
Who here wants to play a farming sim where you avatar is a girl?
Seriously, the average gamer isn’t even going to give this game a second glance. They’ll be too busy hunting down the latest copy of “Super Fast Driving 12” or “Kill Everyone In Sight 23”. And to a certain extent, I can’t really blame them. Harvest Moon has a pretty niche audience and I don’t think very many people are going to stumble on to it by accident. They’ll need to be introduced by a friend or encouraged by a review.
Who will like it? Long time fans of the genre and females in particular. After all, this games target audience is the fairer sex. Something tells me that there aren’t very many boys out there who find the idea of looking for a husband very appealing.
Appeal Factor Score: 3/10
Ok, so if you run through the scores, Harvest Moon is a pretty average game. Personally, I didn’t like it. Under normal circumstances I probably never would have picked it up. Too much repetition, too much monotony, and too much boredom. Yes, there are plenty of things to do in the game, but none of it appeals to me.
There are no extras within the game, no unlockable content, and nothing beyond the standard gameplay. The one area where I do have to give the game some credit though is in its fairly thorough tutorial system. One of the disadvantages of renting your games online is the absence of an instruction manual, so it’s always nice to see a solid introduction to the gameplay within the game itself. And once you’ve got the controls down, everything else is pretty intuitive, or at least easy to figure out.
So while I didn’t like the game very much myself, I can see where this would be pretty enjoyable to a small section of people. Those of you who are all ready familiar with and enjoy the Harvest Moon series are sure to find hours of entertainment here. As for everyone else? Well, if you are really curious, go for a rental. Just don’t expect to blow anything up.
Miscellaneous Score: 5/10
Appeal Factor: 3
Final Score: 5.5 (Average)