Review: Harvest Moon DS Cute (Nintendo DS)

Harvest Moon DS Cute
Genre: RPG/Dating Sim/Farming Sim
Developer: Marvelous
Publisher: Natsume
Release Date: 03/25/08

Harvest Moon is one of those franchises that continues to attract and retain fans despite, and perhaps because of, the fact that the games are largely the same from one iteration to the next. Like Pokemon, it’s adorable and full of personality; like Fire Emblem, it’s simple in concept, but complex in actual implementation; like King of Fighters, it’s a game that manages to be entertaining each and every single time it comes around; and like all three, fans embrace consistency and in most cases loathe change (largely because in most cases the changes are bad).

Harvest Moon DS Cute itself is the fourth HM product to find its way to the Nintendo DS in the past few years, and the second actual HM title (the other two games being Rune Factory, which was HM in a fantasy, D&D-esque setting, and Puzzle de Harvest Moon, which we’ve addressed previously) to be released. That said, HMDSC is more or less a “for girls” version of the earlier (and aptly named) DS release, Harvest Moon DS. As such, if you own that version of the game, you may not really need to own this one, but if you missed that one, or you’re still looking for some farming action, HMDSC manages to change around enough to make it an interesting title in its own right, though not enough to make it a different game.

The story, as it is, in HMDSC more or less mirrors the story in the original HMDS: the Harvest Goddess has been turned to stone, and she and the Harvest Sprites have been sent to another dimension, and you have to work extra hard around the town to retrieve all 101 sprites and the Goddess. In the male version, you were really just an innocent bystander of sorts who got stuck with the job because you were there, but in this version the reason is more directly tied to you: the Harvest Goddess was trying to motivate your character to work, and after getting into an insult fight with the Harvest King, the same thing happens. Since the Harvest Goddess was trying to motivate you to work in the first place, you are now tasked by the Harvest King to work hard so as to bring her back, so she can presumably come back and start harping on you to work hard again.

I wouldn’t personally find that motivational, but hey, whatever works.

This core story of the game is really only here to establish why you’re playing, mind you; otherwise, it fades into the background, content to pop up now and again as you rescue more sprites and during certain events. The real story of the game is up to you to tell, based on what sorts of interactions you have with the townsfolk, who you marry (if you marry at all), how well you build your farm up, what sorts of town events you interact with, and so on. To that end, the characters and their little world are rather charming, and so long as you’re not expecting the greatest love story ever told, the characters and their lives are quite adorable all in all. The game does feel a bit TOO familiar if you’ve played the original HMDS, though there are new events incorporated (you ARE a girl, after all, and are thus wooing the guys of the town this time around), and really, more or less the same basic idea of a story has been incorporated in almost every HM title ever made, but hey, Snow White is older than most of us and that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. About the only thing that is really a downside to this game is that, honestly, the characters in Mineral Town are (arguably) more interesting, but if you happen to have a copy of Friends of Mineral Town, you can marry them too, so woo.

Visually, HMDSC looks functionally identical to pretty much every other non 3D HM title since Back to Nature, though that’s not meant to be a criticism. The graphics look quite acceptable on the DS console, and the various items and characters in the game are instantly recognizable. Everything in the game has a distinct personality and flair to it and looks quite reasonable overall. Aurally, HMDSC has a lively, upbeat soundtrack that matches the feel of the game nicely enough, and the various sound effects sound and feel appropriate, if not spot-on perfect (anything you hit with a hammer sounds pretty much the same, for instance; the effect works, but it’s not like a rock would make the same noise every time it hits something). Of course, if you’ve played HMDC, this will be nothing new, but that’s really par for the course here, so that we’re all together with this.

Now, Harvest Moon as a franchise (both in the core games, and to a certain extent as well with the spin-off titles) pretty much incorporates a fairly universal gameplay style, but if you’ve somehow managed to miss the games until this point, allow me to try and sum it up as best I can. The game elapses in a series of days, in this case thirty per season, and in those thirty days, you’re essentially tasked to run your farm to the best of your ability and make a profit however you can. On the farm itself, you can plant, water and harvest crops as well as care for and reap the profits from various types of animals (cattle, sheep, chickens, etc). By properly maintaining your farm, you turn a profit from whatever you ship out from it, which in turn allows you to upgrade your facilities and work tools, as well as build or buy all sorts of neat tools and upgrades for use on the farm. If farming all day doesn’t sound like your cup of coffee, you can go fishing, chop wood and break rocks for materials to sell or use for building, claim various and sundry consumables from around town to sell, chat up the locals (and try to woo the beau of your choice), or go into the mine on the outside of town and poke around looking for valuable ores, tools, items and such. In short, it’s a pretty in-depth experience.

And as is the norm, each HM title has its own quirks that make it different from its brethren, and HMDSC is no exception. One of the major gameplay influencing elements this time around is the recovery of the 101 Harvest Sprites, both because of what all is involved and because of what it means for you. Essentially, as you progress through the game, you will meet various milestones that earn you Harvest Sprites, each of whom falls into a group that can perform various tasks. The Sprites can do any number of things, from healing your fatigue and stamina (which dictate the amount of work you can do in a day) and running the casino in the Harvest Sprite tree (where you can gamble to earn medals, which are used for prizes and, more importantly, to pay the Sprites for jobs done) to maintaining your plants and animals at your farm. You’ll want to accomplish the various milestones as quickly as possible, mind you, as the Sprites are absolutely vital to running your farm successfully later in the game. As noted above, your character has a limited amount of Stamina and Fatigue, and as you do work, these values deplete. When they hit zero, well, you pass out. The thing is, there’s only so much work your stats allow you to do in a day, and even with various equipable accessories that can tell you how much stamina and fatigue you have left, or even better, can INCREASE those values above their normal amounts, you’ll still need help around the farm. Thus, doing the appropriate things to bring the Sprites back into this world means that they can help you in your tasks, and the more Sprites in a group, the more and better work they can do. This gives you pretty clear goals to strive for and makes progress on your farm worth more than just a statistic; the better you’re doing, the more Sprites you bring back to this world. Oh, and the Sprite locations and milestones seem more or less identical to those in HMDS, so if you’ve played that (or have a guide you want to follow) the same rules apply here.

Another thing HMDSC has in its repertoire of changes is its touch screen functionality. Simply put, the touch-screen use is an outstanding boon for this game simply because of what and how it offers options to you. The top screen on the DS is where your character and the game world appear, and you control all of your actions using the D-pad and buttons. With the bottom screen, you control the basic screens you’d normally have to go to the menu to use in other titles, as well as a few others you’d not normally have access to in other titles. The Rucksack (think of it as your inventory) shows the greatest change this time around; items are stackable (which means that there’s not so much use for a Shipping Basket, which you would use in other games to store items to sell), and you can equip and manipulate everything with the stylus, meaning that if you want a tool or food item or whatever, you simply tap it, then the equipment location, and BAM, you got it. This is, simply put, OUTSTANDING, whether you’ve played the older titles or not. You can also view the map on the second screen while moving around, use various television programs (which can offer farming help, weather for the following day, music players, shopping, and so on), view your stats for yourself, your animals and your farm, and save, which can be done at any time (and there are two slots, which is also fantastic).

Generally speaking, though, a lot of the awesome factor of most HM titles is not JUST in the idea of farming and raising animals and such, and like its predecessors, HMDSC offers a ton of extras to goof around with. There are all sorts of crazy things to unlock, from various high quality accessories that improve your stats to blessed tools and a freaking sword (which you do actually need in this game as you fight things in the mines, yes really) to multiple mines that feature high-value materials and wish-granting balls and so on. Notwithstanding that you can pretty much play any given game for multiple years, meaning you can totally max out your farm if this thing appeals to you, or you can restart multiple times and marry every one of the suitors in town as you wish, and if this is the sort of game for you, you’ll have MONTHS of fun just doing everything you can in the game. And even if you’re not interested in draining every last drop out of the product, that’s okay too, as there’s still plenty to do on one go-round, and the game is generally easy enough to work with that less experienced players should be able to accomplish lots without too much effort, but hardcore players can look forward to multiple thousand-floor mines that they can screw around in.

So, y’know, whatever makes you happy.

Of course, all of this is already in HMDS, so it stands to reason that HMDSC offers you as a player more than just the ability to play as a girl, as a few more novel tricks have been added into the product. You are offered a choice between two avatars to play as at the beginning of the game, based on a series of questions you answer (where one answer gets you a point towards Claire, the blonde protagonist from the Mineral Town games, another gets you a point towards Pony, the pony-tailed brunette from the Wonderful Life series, and the third choice means “I don’t care”), and throughout the game you can change your character’s clothing from your home, both from a set of default outfits as well as from other outfits you can acquire by shopping and such. You can also change your wallpaper in your house to one of several different patterns through much the same means. A few things have also been changed or fixed between this version and HMDSC; marrying folks from Mineral Town doesn’t end your game any more, for instance, which is certainly good to know if you would prefer to marry a guy from Mineral Town over the guys from Forget-Me-Not Valley.

And that’s really about it.

Needless to say, if you already own HMDS, HMDSC is not something you need to own, simply because in most respects, it’s an identical title, and in several respects, it’s actually a less in-depth experience. In HMDS, for instance, jewelry mined from the excavation site can be given to the town girls as gifts to win their hearts… in HMDSC, this can be done to earn them as friends, but the guys in town aren’t interested in brooches and earrings, obviously, which makes things a bit more difficult. Also, in HMDS, the player had the option, if they owned Friends of Mineral Town (or More Friends of Mineral Town) for the GBA, of marrying any one of FOURTEEN different characters; five from Forget-Me-Not Valley, five from Mineral Town, the Harvest Goddess, the Harvest Witch, a mermaid and a princess who were all in the game in some context. In HMDSC, that number drops to eleven, including a character who was added just for this version, but excluding the aforementioned four special characters; the Japanese version allowed you to become BFF with them, but this seems to have been removed, at least partially, from the US release, though Natsume has yet to comment on it one way or the other. If it was removed, it’s obvious as to why (two girls, living in the same house, united by a “Best Friends” ceremony… do the math), but also rather… limiting, seeing as how it’s additional content for the player to aim for, and considering many members of the HM fanbase are diehards who pay attention to the Japanese releases, well, at least letting them know one way or the other (if not including the option outright) would have certainly saved them a lot of speculation and, in some cases, money. Considering the arguments I’ve seen on Gamefaqs about it, it’s obviously an issue, and probably should’ve been addressed.

And honestly, save for some dialogue changes between character interactions, there really isn’t much of a reason why both games couldn’t have been combined into one cartridge. This isn’t like Pokemon games where the two different games feature a whole ton of different options across them; the two games are, with the exception of dialogue changes and some bug fixes, identical products, and there are no significant changes from one to the other to motivate you to buy HMDSC if you own HMDS. If you were specifically waiting for the girl version of the game, then this is certainly what you were looking for, but it’s not all that new and exciting an experience in comparison to its brother. After the PSP release of Harvest Moon Boy and Girl (which was, admittedly, a re-release of Back to Nature and its female counterpart), it’s kind of hard to go back to seeing separate releases of male and female versions of the game, especially when there are minimal differences between them.

It also bears noting that this game really, really is Harvest Moon, warts and all, and if you’re tired of Harvest Moon, this will nothing to change your mind. This is, by no stretch of the imagination, a bad thing for fans of the series who love everything HM does as a franchise, but for those who tired of the games and are hoping for the series to receive some sort of shot in the arm, this game isn’t the one you’re looking for. And while the game is quite enjoyable for those who know what to expect, those who do not may find the game unfulfilling, as the experience doesn’t really change much (save by becoming more complex) as you go along, meaning the first day of the first year, your goals and activities are much the same as they are the first day of the fourth year. It’s neat to get your first chickens and cows and such, but after a while the game transitions into a point where managing the farm is as much “doing your chores” as it is playing a game, and while that may well appeal to some, others will find it an odd concept and won’t embrace it.

Harvest Moon DS Cute ends up being a solid and enjoyable portable experience for the Nintendo DS that will absolutely be up your alley if you haven’t played the male version (or found yourself craving more) and have an interest in Harvest Moon. The gameplay itself is pretty damn good, the experience is a lot of fun, the characters are interesting, and there’s a whole lot of depth and variety to the experience. Those who own Harvest Moon DS need not pick this one up unless they want to play from the female perspective, and those who are worn out on Harvest Moon in general won’t find a reason to buy this, as it’s a pure Harvest Moon experience. But for fans, that’s exactly what they’re looking for, and for those who have never played it, this ends up being one of the best.

The Scores:
Graphics: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: GOOD
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE

Final Score: DECENT.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Harvest Moon DS Cute is pure Harvest Moon goodness, from the cute visuals and interesting characters to the involved interaction and the fantastic depth, and it incorporates new DS specific controls that make the experience even better. Those who have played Harvest Moon DS won’t have much of a reason to snap this up, as it’s more or less identical, and those who are burned out on Harvest Moon in general won’t find anything here to draw them back in, but fans will love it to death and new players couldn’t ask for a better version to check out first.



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2 responses to “Review: Harvest Moon DS Cute (Nintendo DS)”

  1. […] in most cases loathe change (largely because in most cases the changes are bad).” – Me, from my Harvest Moon DS Cute […]

  2. […] that offers a lot of charm and depth in a small package. I’ve personally had the chance to review Harvest Moon DS Cute and Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness for the site, but I’ve played through more than a few of […]

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