Review by Destination
I feel ripped off in today's world. I work my ass off day after day at a job I really don't like, just to come home with a little bit of money and a headache. Then I look at how good some others have it, example being the main character in Natsume's unforgettable Harvest Moon series. How could a simple farmer have it so good? He is surrounded by plenty of hot girls, makes a load of money finding stuff growing around the land, and gets to go to a lot of fun festivals. Where are all these things in the real world? Oh well, I can certainly forget it. Harvest Moon 64 has enough unique moments to cover both sides of reality, with a charm that will pull you in and not let go until the end. Who knew a farming simulation could be so intriguing?
That's right, a farming simulation.
You never knew what you were in for when you took this job. Supposedly your grandfather dies and leaves you with a quaint little farm within a remote village. Being as old as he was, he could never really keep up with all the duties of the farm. He leaves you to pick up where he left off, and expects you to turn the farm into some gaudy monstrosity. Now you have your cottage, stables, pens, watering hole, and everything that you need to get started in your glorious new occupation. Along with the necessities, you also have a dog to look after; one of many future animals you will be caring for. You have three years to upgrade your farm, get married, make friends, and roll in as much dough as you can. So, get out your shovel and pail and get busy; there is plenty of work to be done.
A simulation's outcome is determined based on the player's dedication and execution. It is this kind of exclusive game-play that allows simulation oriented games to take precedence over role-playing games in terms of fusing with that virtual character. With this trait comes an addiction that will grab you and not let you go until it has taken full effect. An effect that begins as soon as you do, and ends when the final credits roll. However, the game is not simple, and will certainly not hand everything to you on a silver platter. You must set distinct goals in order to build your farm successfully. Do you want to be a lazy procrastinator who lives off wild plants and alcohol, or do you want to be a success with a huge house and income? Your choices will affect the conclusion, and just like in reality, you can't change the past.
The game moves about in seasons, with thirty days being set to fall, summer, spring, and winter. Days will go by quickly as the game moves in an accelerated pattern; what is one minute in real time will be a little over an hour in your virtual world. It is this fast moving time system that will force you to plan your daily tasks wisely. Want to spend the day weeding out the garden and chopping down stumps? Well, go ahead, but watch your endurance meter closely, because doing too much work outside could exhaust you and leave you sick the next day. So, instead, why not take a trip down to the bar for some drinks. Just be careful not to spend too much money. As you can gather, Harvest Moon 64 is all about decisions, and it is the elements that make up these decisions that make the game unique.
An experienced farmer cannot work without the necessities, and Harvest Moon 64 will provide just enough resources to get you started. You have your basic tools, such as the hoe, hammer, axe, and watering can, which will help you take on certain chores and tasks. Each tool is an integral part of your success and works in a particularly strategic manner. For example, you use the hammer and axe to clear boulders and stumps out of the way. Next you'll use the hoe to till some land, plant some seeds on the cultivated ground, and then follow up with the watering can to hydrate them. What is interesting about the seed system is that you can make certain patterns of tilled earth in which to plant your seeds. And how well you design these patterns can affect the plant's ongoing growth. On another note, tools are upgradeable, and if you use them enough, you will soon find yourself with a collection of super items. There are plenty of secrets to be found within the game, and the rewards will reveal themselves to those who work for them.
The farm is certainly not the only part of the game in which you will be involved with. You live in a community containing many people with varying personalities, jobs, and daily lives. Why not wave hello to the mail carrier as he makes his rounds around the valley, stop by and pick up some lunch from the local baker, or just wink at the babe working at the nightly bar. You can fully interact with all of the villagers, and that interaction takes up a substantial part of your daily life. Aside from stopping by occasionally, they will also invite you to festivals such as the dog races, the horse races, and other interactive events. These festivals are awesome, simple to control, and can even earn you some recognition. However, they are easy to miss, so mark your calendar, and make sure you attend.
From this bustling community, you will also have a large selection of women. There are five different women in the community, each with their own distinct traits. From the shy librarian Maria, to the tomboyish livestock owner Ann, each girl is so much different from the other, and you will end up trying to match up with the one that best fits your personality. For example, a guy that likes to drink and tends to stay up really late, will most likely choose the bartender to be his spouse. Besides some of the guys who show up to get drunk, you will notice the beautiful waitress serving the beverages. After a couple of attempts to make conversation, you will realize she is the secluded type who doesn't want anything to do with you. Aside from your everyday duties, you will try to turn her inherent bashfulness aside and get to know her better. Welcome to the next aspect of Harvest Moon 64 -- the realm of marriage.
Past simulation titles have never focused on marriage as much as Harvest Moon does. In those games, your wife was little more than a show piece. However, this is assuredly not the scenario here; your wife will become a part of your everyday life around the farm. Doing chores, such as putting eggs away in the shipping crate (and dropping them as well), is among several activities your wife will be doing as you go about your day. She even goes to festivals with you and offers you something special on your birthday and anniversary. And if you manage to keep your wife happy long enough, you can eventually have a child together. Congratulations, you are now a father.
The premise of child care is actually easier than it sounds, and you will begin to form a bond with your kid, as time goes on. There definitely could have been a bit more to this portion of the game, but there is enough on the table to help you forget about it. Aside from crawling around the house and bothering your spouse, your child will also have a happiness meter. Paying him enough attention regularly will keep his appreciation of you high, and will also help in keeping the wife happy. What is disappointing is that your child can only be a boy, and never grows up beyond the toddler stage. Nevertheless, the positives far outweigh the negatives in this department, and you will honestly be having too much fun to care.
For their time, the visuals are actually a bit below the Nintendo 64's standards. The environments and structures of the game are muddled and hard to make out from a distance. Water effects look fine though, and the character models look cute with their two-lines-for-eyes design. The interactive dialogue screen makes up for the poor graphics overall. The screen shows a well-drawn picture of your character and the emotion they're portraying. Also, the small clip scenes involved with some of the character stories are executed well and will help you appreciate the graphics for what they are.
By the way, do not forget to laugh at the hilarious misspellings of words that Natsume is famous for. Grammar errors, incorrect word usage, and fragments are all catchable throughout discussions, but they only add to the apparent light humor the game possesses.
Harvest Moon 64's audio presentation is solid, just like most of its features. Each season has its own musical theme that will loop when you go into certain areas, and every one of the themes is memorable. From the hummable tempo of spring and summer to the passionate mellowness that circles over the fallen snow in winter, the music in Harvest Moon 64 will keep you entranced throughout. Delving into the sound effects, everything sounds as realistic as it should. Whether you're chopping with an axe, slicing with a sickle, or throwing a rock into a lake, all the sound effects sound exactly as they do in real life. There is no voice acting to speak of, but if there was, it would honestly take away from the quiet atmosphere emanating from the quaint little world.
Harvest Moon 64 is an underrated masterpiece. A wide variety of character events, a deep marriage system, and an addicting lifestyle all make this as good as it gets, adding up to easily over sixty hours of fun. As in all simulations, everyday chores have the potential to get repetitive. Harvest Moon 64's many features and fun tasks make everyday chores fresh every time you do them. There are plenty of things to keep you busy and the best part is that the game continues even after you complete the three year trial. So you can continue enjoying the festivals, making money, and watching characters change and evolve. Choices are the foundation of Harvest Moon 64, just like in any other open ended role-playing title. The choices you make create a personal experience that doesn't get boring like most of its competition. An experience that you will remember for a long time.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 11/04/04, Updated 08/28/06
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