Review by Fein
"One of the most ironic games I've ever played."
You got no money to go out on a friday night, you get a carry out and...
Play Harvest Moon?. This is a game which takes courage to admit you like, something you'll secretly loan to your friends and pledge them to fealty not to laugh. It's fun, addictive and repetitive in all the right places and everyone will at least attempt this game and some will enjoy it and some will defend their maturity and condemn it. I like it from time to time, when I feel like simulating a farmer that is...
The Harvest Moon series has been known for being innovating and innocent and most of all - appealing to the wrong fanbase. Yes, kids may buy this game but teenagers are the ones who buy them first and even have them pre ordered. To defend this, Harvest Moon has been called "an RPG for the family" which it is not I'm afraid. It doesn't have any RPG quality about it whatsoever and if it was, then it's the worst RPG ever made. In my opinion of course.
Despite that, Harvest Moon is a decent and well bread simulation that, let's face it, get's repetitive just like any other game in it's genre. The idea of building up your professional and personal life in any game sounds rewarding. What you get is a mixed package of fun, but limited because it's only at a certain time you'll play this game in it's entirety.
One man and his dog, his chickens, his sheep and his cows. Oh, and his five girlfriends.
One of the lamest things about Harvest Moon is the plot. You play a silent nameless boy who once was let down by his parents to go on a holiday and instead is sent to his Grandfathers farm where he suprises himself by enjoying the stay. He bonds with the chickens and the cows and the horse!. Okay, and yeah the little girl he plays with on th mountains who makes him promise to come back one day too. Hmph. The nameless boy returns to Mineral Village after his Grandfather dies and takes over the farm in condition from the Mario lookalike Mayor that he gets the farm running and bustling like it used to be and that he befriends the villagers. And with that, the nameless kid takes his hoe (the tool that is) and starts to rebuild the farm and his sanity after realising what he has chosen. May-be.
As you can see, it spells out boring with in block capitals, it's surname being childish. And that's true. No swearing or controversial issues other than a monkey running wild and people not paying the shopkeeper ever occurs in the game. Even kids will want something more with an edge. It's all so innocent and has little appeal or interest, in fact if it wasn't for the courting and cooking, the game would be written off altogether.
Character wise you're at a huge loss also. The main character, whose parents must have delayed naming him, is mute and has no personality whatsoever and the characters in the village seem as if they're happy versions of the people from Straw Dogs. The only characters you'll take notice of is the five girls you can get to marry - which they all seem like children so....you don't need me to go on with this do you?. Just don't take it seriously, don't revel in the plot because basically, it's dull. And I'm sure older gamers enjoying this agree with me.
Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go
The best thing about Harvest Moon is definetly the gameplay because of it's innovation. Your basic route of gaming is on your farm, where you have your field which you have to clean and plant and take care of your chickens, cows and horses. Other than that you have to explore the mountains nearby for produce and herbs to sell or use as presents and you can optionally take part in the village festivals which are also quite fun. Your completion of the game is determined by the percentage of your farm, which goes up by your success in crops, number of hearts your dog, horse and wife has and the number of your animals.
Farming can prove to be the boring side of the gameplay, but it is the most demanding. You start off by using the basic tools of the hoe, scythe, axe and pick to clean the weeds, lumber and stone off the field - which tires you down, and accessive work can actually put you in hospital. You also need to plant seeds to grow crops and sell them off or use them for cooking ingredients. You have a great choice of what to plant from various vegetables to fruit to flowers. Each has their own value in price.
The game spans through three years and four seasons. You progress through Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn, each having their advantages and disadvantages. You have to plant different crops in the season as they only grow in specific ones.
You have to upgrade your tools by using them and getting the right ore to do so. Giving them to the blacksmith will improve them and make the work even easier. You can also but other tools such as a brush for your horse, sheep and cows. A milker and scissors, to cut the sheeps fur.
Livestock is also vital to the development of the farm. You can have up to ten chickens (egg factory) and 25 of cows or sheep (wool and milk). You have to talk to them, clean them, feed them and generally take care of them everyday to build up their hearts to improve the quality of the things the chickens lay, and the milk and wool the cows and sheep produce. You can have fish also, and your horse and dog requires attention everyday. Also.
But the farm structure also can be upgraded by fitting extensions to make the size of the barn, the chicken house and your own home bigger and better. You hold more animals when the barn and chicken house are bigger and you are enabled to choose a wife when your house is upgraded. This costs lot's of money and lumber, which you will have to upgrade your axe to chop the wood in the forest.
Relationships is another thing. You have to talk to the people of Mineral Village to build a substansial relationship but also give them gifts. Those could be home made dishes or flowers, herbs or whatever you've found. Especially important is giving the girls presents to build their "hearts" up. Basically, they start on black and progress to red. When they achieve a red heart, she is in love and will marry you. After you've married, you can even have a child.
The village festivals are a hoot too. You have horse races, in which you can participate and bet on and dog races. There is swimming contests to my favourite - the tomato festival. This is where you join a team and pelt each other with tomatoes. These are optional, so if you find them boring, you don't need to attend but they hefty improve the relationship balance.
However, once you've married it can become a little boring and the only thing to play for will be the cutscenes and the development between the other characters. Ironically, after that, you'll find it hard to discover any more depth in Harvest Moon. But for the while that you will play it, it's something you can go back to when you feel like it. The gameplay could be improved, but for innovation, it competes with The Sims franchise.
And hey, if you do get bored, you can always beat your animals up using your tools. No kidding.
Whack a mole!. Oh no, it's the nameless kid, false alarm!.
The graphics of the game don't exactly shine and they are resiliant to the 3D cartoon kid's feel. Some of the graphics are just plain bad, and inexcuseable. You'll feel only more of dislike towards the game as they are blotchy and unsatisfying. Yes, it was the PSX, but they could have made better use of the engine. Metal Gear Solid for God's sake.
Character designs resemble something from the victorian ages messed up with The Smurfs. The heads are incredibly bloated, with the bodies looking like a stick holding up a bladder. They have no facial features except little black dots for eyes, looking as if they belong in the Magic Roundabout. However, when the dialogue box opens, you can see colorful drawings of them, in which their faces change depending on which emotion they are feeling. Oh and did I forget to mention that the nameless kid wears his blue and orange hat with his white tuxedo on his wedding day?.
The locations and surroundings are not much better either. The 3D is the same used to that of the N64 version except more glitchy. The character moving on them doesn't blend in very well more work could have certainly been applied. For example, one scene where the nameless kid and his girlfriend are looking to the moon and the camera moves up to show it to show a poorly painted background that would belong on panto. Seriously, times are changing, so should games.
Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na - you get it....
Yes!. Please tell me I wasn't the only one who had the TV on mute when that stupid dumb introductary song was on. Geez. No kid I know would be singing that. Anyway, the music is practically the same. Yuck, yuck and vomit on the carpet if you didn't make it to the toilet.
Sound effects are stupid. You have the very occassional "whoop" sound every time you jump and the "Btt" sound when you throw something. There is no voice acting, thank God but the department of sound when you use your tools, open doors, the rain and the animal noises are good - meaning you don't hear some producer high on pot making moo and baa noises into a microphone. No, he was in the background screaming when he heard them.
Musically, it's not my thing. I'd say that the music for each season fits the theme but it's so shabby and dull. The music in the village is repetitive and cheesy that you will never turn up your volume again. Really, there wasn't even one piece of music I actually liked in the game but you could pin point that down to personal prefference. But for kids, they could hum along to it before they move on to real music I suppose. I suppose - meaning I hope not.
So, on the saturday morning, whatcha got planned?.
Harvest Moon: Friends Of Mineral Town!?. Ah. You see, Back To Nature is fun in it's prime and doesn't stretch too far, meaning it stays in the catergory of being inoffensive and sometimes, boring. You could call it shallow, and then you can't. It's a mixture of both. The innovation is definetly intact and worth playing if you're both a fan of simulation and RPG's (Fans will like it even though it isn't one.).
It's definetly worth the buy for the gameplay alone, but if you like the full hog in a game then Harvest Moon will disappoint you here. In it's series, it doesn't compare to the N64 version or to the new Gamecube installment. Back To Nature is either a hazard or a wonder depending on how much you actually enjoy the franchise of Harvest Moon.
My only fault was that it wasn't enough to prevent it from being repetitive, though the content should have helped that problem. The execution of grabbing your attention hardly works and for that and the poor graphics, plot and sound - Back To Nature is probably best left at the bottom of a collection - providing you've actually bought it. If you buy it, don't expect to not be bored in the hour and a half after you've started playing it. Buy the Gameboy versions, or the Gamecube version and if you do have the N64 version (confused?) then do not buy this game. It isn't much different. And if you do buy this game and find out you rather didn't like it then....
Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na.....
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/14/04, Updated 07/30/04
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