Review by Relle
"I have a new respect for farmers...and a burning hatred for Natsume"
The title and score might be a bit misleading. Harvest Moon is a farm life simulation game that's great fun if you're a sim fan, and worth a look if you're not. Harvest Moon provides all the challenges, rewards and pitfalls of farm life while throwing in a healthy dose of fun stuff to do on the side. Why my hatred for Natsume? Because those bastards got me addicted, that's why! The number of games I can play for more than a few hours at a time can be counted on one hand. Harvest Moon is one of those games. When you literally spend all day playing, you know someone did something right.
It's always hard to review GBA graphics, because they're mostly the same. The sprites are moderately detailed, and the farm, town and mountain have some variety to them. It's a clean-looking game, but like with most, there's nothing terribly jaw-dropping about a bunch of sprites.
Repetitive. Well, I shouldn't start out like that. The music is fine by itself, the problem is you'll hear certain tunes (like the one playing on your farm) quite a lot, and it may drive you batty if you don't like it from the start. The sound effects are mostly barnyard noises for the menus and such, like a dog barking, a chicken clucking, etc. It's cute, but cute only goes so far.
Alright, here's the real meat of the deal. An old man died and left you his farm, so it's up to you to make something out of it. Story? We don't need no stinkin' story! This is a sim game, after all. I never got into the Harvest Moon series when it started on SNES, because I thought the two-year limit was pretty stupid. Seven years later, there's no time limit, and suddenly everyone who's anyone is into this series. So, here we go!
Pretty much everything you can imagine doing on a farm can be done here, and much more. Your first task is to clear out your massive field, which has been overrun by rocks, stones, tree branches, and weeds. The A button picks up stuff, while the B button uses your tools. Holding L and pressing B lets you swap tools quickly and easily. Holding R lets you run instead of walk, which is obviously only good for getting somewhere and not for fixing up the place. After cleaning up a healthy portion of it (cleaning all of it would take days and isn't necessary at first) you can use your tools to sow the fields, then plant seeds bought at the store to grow crops. After a few days of watering them, they'll sprout, and you dump them into the shipping bin to sell to this weird guy who comes by once a day to pick up your stuff.
That's the basic basic drift of the game. There's so much more to do, it's staggering. For starters, you plant different stuff based on the season. Time passes rather quickly, or at least it seems to when you're running around. Your farm neighbors a hot springs, chicken farm, Mineral Town (hence the game title) a mountain, and a blacksmith. At first there isn't a lot to do around town, so your best bet is to walk around, talk to people, (after you've planted and/or watered your crops, that is) and explore. After a while, you might think of settling down. Yep, that's right, you can get married. Charm a sweet young girl with the right gifts and the right events, and you'll find yourself hitched for life. No divorce in this game, so choose wisely.
You can also mine for ore, which can be used to upgrade your tools and make them more efficient. You can only upgrade tools to a certain level depending on your experience with them, so you've got to use them a lot in order to get them upgraded. There's also fishing to be done, though that's purely for profit. You also have livestock to worry about, and while they require daily feeding and attention, the milk, wool and eggs they provide will net you quite a bit of money.
In addition, there's horse racing, festivals, quizzes, birthdays to remember (you forget your wife's birthday, you're screwed...figuratively, that is) and a host of other stuff too complex to get into. Plain and simple, there's a lot to uncover. The time limit that took place during the early game(s) is gone now, so you have unlimited time to farm, fish, mine, woo the ladies, or whatever else. If you do a poor job at farming, simply start collecting honey every day till you have enough cash to buy seeds and start over. It's the unending lifestyle that hooks you. You can quite literally spend months and even years exploring this game before you've discovered everything it has to offer. The only downside I can think of is it can seem repetitive in the beginning, since your low-grade tools force you to do things one square at a time. But damn, if it doesn't hook you, but good...now if you'll excuse me, I have to find a gift for Karen, my future bride-to-be.
Endless. There's no limit to how long you can play, or what you can do. Obviously eventually you'll become incredibly wealthy and have no need of the farm life, but that will take quite a lot of hours, and even after you've become filthy rich, you can still find a bride, race horses, go fishing, mining, upgrading your house, spend some of those millions on a summer cottage, and a crapload of hidden stuff you'll spend months searching for. Harvest Moon is Natsume's answer to farming on the go, and what an answer it is!
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/17/03, Updated 11/20/03
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