"Best Looking Harvest Moon Yet"

Graphics: Average

Many fans of the Harvest Moon series of games may give the graphics of Save the Homeland a ''10'' because they are simply the best graphics in a Harvest Moon game to date. However, to be fair to those who have never played a Harvest Moon game before it is best to say that the graphics in Save the Homeland are merely average for the PlayStation 2. That does not mean that the graphics are bad or flawed. They just don’t give one the eye candy and wow factor of games like Metal Gear Solid 2, Jak and Daxter, and Final Fantasy X.

The characters are cel-shaded. This look really suits the game very well. The character animation is adequate for the most part. The gestures that the characters make during conversations seem a bit stiff to me. Facial expressions are simple and rapidly change to indicate the emotional state of the characters. Don’t expect the subtle character animations and emotions of Ico or Silent Hill 2. Think more along the lines of the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

The environments are fairly small and simple. This at least keeps the loading times to a minimum. But this brings up a question: If Naughty Dog can create a huge world in Jak and Daxter and have no loading times at all during the game, why couldn’t the developers of this Harvest Moon game eliminate the loading times with the relatively small world it has? Oh, well…

In line with the cel-shaded, cartoonish look of the characters, the environments are bright and colorful. The textures are simple and a bit blurry. Items that you can pick up and use are easy to see. Things that are supposed to be rounded are not blocky in any way. There is no slowdown in the frame rate, not that it would affect the gameplay.

Sound: Average

If you’ve played other Harvest Moon games, then you pretty much know what to expect from this one. You have your standard in-game sound effects which do the job just fine. Then you have the songs that change from one season to the next. There are tunes that play when you are in certain areas. One of my favorites is the tune of the goddess lake. After a while you may find yourself humming one of these tunes at work or school. At sunset the music stops and you hear the sounds of crickets, owls, and other night creatures. On rainy days you just hear … rain. Duh!

Unfortunately, there is no voice acting. I don’t mind reading text. One part of the game that could have really benefited from some voice acting was the introductory sequence. Sitting through all that slow text waiting to get to the meat of the game was tedious! But, I suppose if we had had to wait for spoken dialog to be added to this game, it would not have come out this year at all. As such it is a minor complaint, and I’m glad to be playing this game now. And speaking of playing…

Gameplay: Great!

One doesn’t play Harvest Moon for the graphics or music. It’s all about how it plays. If you’ve played other Harvest Moon games before, then you know the drill. You start with a farm and a little cash. You buy seeds, till the soil, and plant the seeds. You water them over time as they sprout and mature. Finally, you harvest the crops for profit or gifts. Harvest Moon is a game that rewards the generous soul. If the game was only about making a profitable farm, then it would be just another dull sim.

Where this game really shines is in its character interaction. You have to get to know the people and give them gifts. As you befriend your new neighbors, certain subplots will open up allowing you to affect the outcome of the game. A prime example of this in Save the Homeland is how you acquire a horse. In Harvest Moon 64 you were simply given a horse, and it didn’t have too much of an impact on the gameplay. This time though you have to become friends with Bob who owns the Brownie Farm and works at the Farmer’s Shop. You do part time work for him. Once you earn his trust, you get a horse. Just don’t let any of your animals stay sick, or Bob will be very upset!

And speaking of animals, you can have poultry and cattle. Your hens will lay eggs which you can sell, give as gifts, use in recipes, or put in the incubator. You really only need to buy the first chicken. After that just use the incubator regularly until you have a full hen house. Just don’t ask me how the eggs get fertilized! When you save up enough money, you can buy a cow. It will be a young cow, so it won’t produce milk at first. The amount of milk that your cow produces will depend on how happy your cow is. Keeping your animals happy involves more than just giving them food. You will have to interact with them on a regular basis. This means picking up your dog and carrying him around, brushing your cows and horse, and letting them stay outside in nice weather. Never, ever leave them out in the rain! A happy cow produces lots of profitable milk. A happy horse will let you ride it. A happy dog will learn to do tricks.

Lest you should think that it’s all about the animals, the townsfolk will keep you busy as well. Depending on who you become friends with and where you go, certain mini-quests will become available. The instruction manual details nine possible endings that you can have if you accomplish certain tasks.

Since Harvest Moon is about running a farm, time and seasons play an important role. Inside buildings such as your house or barn or a store, game time doesn’t change. When you go outside, game time progresses at a normal rate. A typical game day may last ten minutes depending on how much time you spend inside and outside. You start out in your house at 6 am every day. Once you go outside to tend to your crops, feed the dog, ride your horse, milk your cows, etc., the clock starts ticking. After the chores are done, it’s time to look for berries, go fishing, chat with neighbors, do part time work, sell produce, give gifts, and so on. Before you know it, the day is gone and you have to get back home. You won’t have enough time or energy to get everything done all at once. So, you have to do a little at a time each day. When I’m playing this game, I’m thinking, ''Just one more day and I’ll quit.'' I finish that day and think, ''Okay, just one more…''

Each season lasts thirty days. Naturally, there are four seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. So, each year lasts 120 days. You are given one game year to fulfill the requirements for one of the nine endings. When one year is up and you have achieved at least one of the endings, you get to start over and try for a different ending, but you don’t have to rebuild your farm from scratch. Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland promises many hours of gameplay.

Conclusion:

This game is a fine addition to the Harvest Moon series. It has not received much hype like some other games released around the same time. I for one bought this game and Rogue Leader for the Gamecube at the same time. Up until now I have spent far more time playing Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland than Rogue Leader. Yes, Rogue Leader has much better graphics and sound, and it is a good game overall. However, Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland draws you in and sucks away your time. Rather than disjointed, repetitive gameplay with frequent ''GAME OVER'' screens, Harvest Moon provides an addictive continuity that will keep you coming back to see what happens next. All in all I feel that this is a worthy title to own. But, if you have doubts, at least give it a rental and a few hours of your time.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/02/01, Updated 12/02/01


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