Review by Zauron
"Read this if you're concerned about the bad reviews on GameFAQs!"
I apologize for the length of this review, but if you're at all interested in Harvest Moon and not sure if you should get this version of it, I highly recommend you read through it.
To start, I played the SNES, Gameboy, and N64 versions of Harvest Moon. I didn't play this version for a very long time because of the bad reviews I read here on GameFAQs (I generally trust bad reviews over good ones, doh!). I wish I'd never read those reviews, because of all the lost time playing HM64 when I could have been playing this much better game! The things they complain about are minor and the game is far superior to all previous Harvest Moon games! Don't believe me? Read on.
First, since this is the main reason I'm writing this review, I'm going to address some of the complaints the negative reviewers made (they were all comparing it to the N64 version). Below is each complaint and my response to it.
Complaint #1: Graphics aren't that great.
Answer: They are exactly the same as the N64, except that they don't have the annoying dropping polygons in the bottom left hand corner of the screen that the N64 version had (which really bugged me). The only difference is you can't rotate your farm, but you can see an awesome zoomed-out bird's-eye view of it at any time which really helps. Complaints of not being able to see behind certain objects are silly, there's only a couple spots where you even can go behind things and even then it flashes an icon to show where you are. I've never once lost an item behind an object and I've played the game through. Anyway I'm not sure what kind of graphics they were expecting from a Harvest Moon game?
Complaint #2: The music gets old and the characters don't talk out loud, only text.
Answer: Again, same as the N64 version, except the music doesn't start over every time you change screens (man that was annoying in HM64!) so they don't bug you as much. I also think the music is better, except perhaps the Fall season on-the-farm tune.
Complaint #3: Movement is difficult.
Answer: I will admit, it will probably take some people a few minutes to adapt to the controls (it took me about 15 seconds). The problem is that the game is in a diagonal perspective but you only have 4 movement directions (which direction you go from pushing different directions on the pad is customizable though). However, HM:BTN brings back a much loved feature of the SNES version - if you hold down the run button, your character continues to run in the direction he's facing without having to hold that direction on the pad. You can just tap different directions when you want to move a different way if you want, which can save a lot of sore thumbs (I wish all games did this!!). Anyway, if you've played any games from the SNES era or earlier, the controls should not be a problem.
Complaint #4: Characters move too fast to talk to them or give them items.
Answer: They only move fast when they are changing to a different area (like from their home to the store, a realism feature that's quite cool since they don't just warp places but actually have to walk there, makes the town seem more alive and real.) Even then, you can run faster then they can, and if you read the instructions found in the bookcase of your house, you'll find that pressing either whistle button (Dog or Horse) causes them to stop and wait to see what you want. So catching people is not a problem. Most of the time you will be interacting with them when they are holding still anyway, they don't change locations that often.
Complaint #5: Town layout and the families being different than in HM64.
Answer: So? This is the same for every version, they always change around the families and who does what. Just because it's not the same as the N64 version doesn't mean it's a bad arrangement, I liked the family arrangements better myself, made more sense. As for the town layout, it's not that complicated and there is a nice map feature that shows everywhere and your current location at any time when you press Select. I mean really, there's only like 8 buildings, most of them right next to each other, how hard is that?
Complaint #6: Don't like the farm layout.
Answer: Actually, once you get into the game and stop complaining that it isn't an exact clone of HM64, you'll find the layout is great. Everything is conveniently placed and it's easy to set up a routine with little wasted time. The main complaint I saw with this is that the chicken coop is in a different section then the Barn - well, this is actually a big help! Why? Because the chicken coop is right next to the exit of your farm leading to the wilderness and mountains, where you go to forage (the barn is next to the opposite exit that leads immediatly into town, it's quicker to get to town or wilderness from your farm than it was in HM64). It's much more convenient to just go in the chicken coop and deposit your foraged items into the shipping bin there (thus benefiting from the stopped time as well) then to cross the farm to the main shipping bin and barn. I liked how foraging was much less of a pain then in previous games, especially with the much better Rucksack controls...
I think the big problem these reviewers had is they had only ever played the N64 version, and when this version wasn't exactly the same but with a couple new features, they decided it must suck. I bet if they'd played all the versions they would have loved this one just as much as the rest of us.
Now that that's out of the way, let me tell you the many ways that this game is superior to HM64, and other HM games in general.
- The Rucksack is much easier to use. Instead of having to press Start and go to an inventory screen every time you want to change items, you can press one key and it will immediatly take the first item out of the rucksack. Press the same key again and it will switch to the next item. This same key also puts items you pick up into the rucksack. A second key switches between tools in your rucksack very quickly. The inventory screen from HM64 is still there if you want it, but it's MUCH quicker to use these keys (pressing Start every time you wanted to change a tool or take out a different item in HM64 was a big pain and one of the biggest complaints I had about the game, so this feature is GREAT!) With this system harvesting, foraging, feeding animals, and many other tasks like fence building are much faster and easier.
- On screen clock/calander that can be turned off if you want. No having to press Start just to see what time it is on a lame analog clock. A nice digital clock with date and season included is shown up in the corner, so you can see what time it is at a glance. Very nice!
- The Harvest Sprites can actually help you on the farm (and you actually see them running around the farm doing the work, like picking the vegetables and running over and depositing them) and you have control over when they help you and what tasks they do, and the work they do is only limited by their fondness of you. They also get better at farm work with practice, but it's not required you make use of them (although you probably should if you are ever inflicted with a hurricane and need your animals cared for).
- Neat and useful items like a Dogball you can throw to train your dog for the races, and a portable Basket you can throw up to 30 items in then dump the basket's contents into a shipping bin. The basket is better than the horse since it doesn't move around and you can use it for more than just crops, like ores found in the mine, fish, milk and eggs, etc. and it really speeds up harvesting (you can still use the horse's saddlebags if you want though, in fact you can even dump the Basket's contents into the horse's saddlebags for even faster harvesting!)
- You can actually cook recipes in your kitchen (up to 64 unique recipes which actually closely match real world recipes) that require you to buy kitchen tools and collect the required ingredients (which finally gives you a reason to plant the less profitable crops sometimes, since you need a wide variety of crops for your recipes! Free hint: Try to get a kitchen as soon as you can so you can start saving crops in the Fridge, and save at least one small stone from the field in the Cupboard for the Roasted Potatoes recipe.) You can also mess around with the recipes yourself (add different seasonings and ingredients) and use your best creation in a cooking contest! Recipes can be eaten or given as gifts, and are even sometimes used in events and secrets. There's also a variety of ways to discover them, although most are given to you by townspeople that you become friends with or seen on the cooking channel on TV.
- A well organized status screen that has all sorts of useful information, available at any time when you pause the game. It includes overall score, current cash, # of power berries, # of recipes cooked (you have to actually cook them at least once to get them counted toward the overall score and this number), wife, dog, horse, and kid love meters (1-10), every animal (chicken, sheep, and cow) you own with name, age, status, and how much it likes you (1-10). Amount of chicken feed, fodder, fish food, lumber, and fish you have, how much each of the harvest sprites like you and what tasks they are currently doing for you (and for how long), the level of each of your main tools, a breakdown of your monthly profits and expenditures, and how many of each type of produce you've shipped so far. Try getting that much information quickly out of HM64, I dare you!
- Tons more events, secrets, and things to do than in previous HM games. I could list neat little additions all day. With Back to Nature you know you're not missing out on any cool Harvest Moon feature ^_^. This is by far the most complete and polished version of Harvest Moon, and I can't think of any way they could have improved it gameplay wise. It also includes all of HM64's neat features like the Hothouse.
As for the other review stuff...
Graphics - They're not going to amaze you or anything, but they get the job done. I was particularly impressed that every single recipe has it's own unique graphic when you cook it.
Sound - About what you'd expect from this type of game.
Gameplay - I think I covered that pretty well up above. It's great! The best Harvest Moon game by far!
Story - Standard HM type story, although it is a bit more in depth than the previous ones with even a tiny bit of mystery.
Replayability - It's Harvest Moon, of course it's got great replayability :).
Buy or Rent? - I'd say Buy, there's no way you could get everything out of this game in one rental period, you'd end up paying more than the cost of the game in rental fees to master it!
Overall - I think this game is great but it does start to get repetitive and tedious after you've bought everything and your farm is doing well enough that your are rich and married.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/09/01, Updated 08/04/01
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