Review by The Manx

"Ah Harvest Moon, how I love thee, let me count the ways..."

I've never had a very good nose for buying console systems. As evidence, I attest that I've been the proud owner of a Turbografx 16, Sega CD, 32X, and Nintendo 64, the later of which I ended up owning five whole games for, three of which I liked at all. This, as I'm sure you've figured out by now, was one of them, and in fact was the entire reason I bought the system in the first place.

It all began when I picked up an issue of Nintendo Power and read about this new strategy game that was quite unique. It had no omnipotent malcontent looking to dominate the world, no hordes of monsters overrunning the land, and no treasures of a bygone magical age the player would need to find and use to bring light back to an imperiled world. It was about a young man trying to make a living off his ancestral farm and start a family, that was it. As you surely know, that was the original Harvest Moon, and for many a gamer looking for something besides a bunch of monsters begging to be slain, it was love at first sight.

That's more or less the premise of Harvest Moon 64 as well, although this marks the introduction of the series to the three-dimensional gaming world. You inherit your grandfather's farm on the outskirts of a rural town and get to work developing the place and trying to make a fortune off the crops, livestock and whatnot that you purchase for the farm. You'll also want to make friends with the nearby villagers, woo an eligible young lady and get started on a family of your own. Ultimately how much you accomplish in each possible endeavor determines how well you did at the end of the game when your dad pays a visit to check up on you.

Doesn't sound like a very intriguing game, I'm sure, if you've never played Harvest Moon before. But the proof is in the pudding, as some weird people I've never met say. I probably don't even have to say it's addictive, and makes you want to play the more you play it. But I want to tell people how much I like this game, so I'll try anyway.

As you'd expect in the business of running a farm, most of your day is taken up by digging plots and seeding and watering them before picking the ripe fruits a few days later (time seems to be sped up in the Harvest Moon universe, as each season is only a month long). Crops ain't the only way to get money, and by planting grass to make feed you can buy cows and chickens to get eggs and milk for a little extra income once they've grown up enough to provide it. This game takes things a bit beyond the original Harvest Moon by allowing you to continue growing things during fall, although as you'd expect the yield's not as big as for warm season crops.

In between waiting for the crops to ripen, however, you can make money foraging for stuff like wild grapes on the mountain between town and the farm. That's good for a little temporary cash, or as a gift for people in town, which is where the real secret to success for the game comes from.

The townspeople are good for gossip, but most of them also run stores that sell vital goods to a wanna be rancher like yourself, from seeds to chicken feed to chickens themselves. Befriending as many people as you can with gifts is one of the big things you get judged on at the end of the game, but also was an interesting touch in that if you give someone the right kind of food as a gift they'll tell you some kind of recipe, another part of the judging process. Granted you can't actually do anything with those recipes unless you play Back to Nature, but that's a different game and a different review. There's also wooing a wife, but that speaks for itself. There's new festivals like a horse and dog race, in addition to the ones where everyone shows up, has a little something to eat and then there's a big festival dance like in the original game. Nice little touches like that keep the game interesting without having any monsters to kill.

Graphically speaking the game ain't too bad, but didn't knock me out of my chair either. I still like the way it looks, though. Sound was an up and down thing, with some decent music played depending on what season it is, though I found that the sound effects merely indicated that I had hit a tree stump or a rock with the tool in my hand and didn't much of anything beyond letting me know stuff like that. But as in any good game, the gameplay is engrossing, the control is solid and that's why you keep playing it regardless of what the graphics and sound might be like.

Harvest Moon is a classic for the ages, especially for the discerning gamer who'd like more out of his gaming than games where you run around and shoot people. People like that are still out there, and I'm one of them.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 06/24/04

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