Review by Aegis Shield
An elusive diamond in the rough
Harvest Moon has always been one of those series that is generally off the radar, yet most of it's iterations are praised by those (who are lucky enough to even nab a copy) that experience them. Sure, some hate it's gameplay, but the fact that it successfully pulls off the life of a farmer and the world that revolves around him/her is quite amazing. Harvest Moon 64 is no exception; as it's first 3D incarnation unto the series, this title is quite the catch. The daunting task of actually finding a copy is simply worth it, for it's quirkiness and depth will keep the player busy for hours on end.
Concept and Story
You are Jack, a young man who has recently inherited a farm from his deceased grandfather. You've been away for quite some time, and the people are amazed as to how you've grown up. The farm is riddled with many common obstructions-stumps, rocks, and weeds-that the agricultural community loathes. Jack's task is to create the farm into a viable prospect and appease the spirit of your loving grandfather, as well as Jack's strict father. Outside of the farm, a whole world is unfolding. Love interests, rivals for those interests, and people whose personalities cover an entire stratum of emotions can be found. Some are content with their lot; some are struggling for a living. How you interact with these people will change the events of this game, for better or worse. The story is fairly simple, there is nothing too broad or cliche to find. It is quite quaint, in a sense, and that's a good thing.
Graphical Presentation and Audio
Despite being the first 3D foray into the series, it still pulls off the charm the originals on Game Boy and SNES possessed. The character models are cute little doo-dad's that remind me of clay/play-dough, and the environments remind me of a watercolor painting that just goes with the flow. There is nothing too dim nor too sharp, it is a perfect blend of colors that don't task the hardware of the Nintendo 64 too much.
The audio is quite catchy as well. Nearly every area in the game has it's own style of music. The seasons and time of day also affect what sounds are emitted as well. For example, my favorite tune, the music that surrounds Fall, gives off a vibe that just yearns for Jack to explore the mountains and socialize with the villagers. Harvest Moon 64 could definitely benefit from a larger soundtrack, but what you hear is what you get, and it is certainly above average.
Gameplay and Difficulty
The basic gameplay structure is very similar to its predecessors; this is not a bad thing at all. You start off with your dog, a minuscule amount of money, and only a few key tools like a hoe, hammer, sickle, etc. Your job is to get the farm into ship-shape in your first year, and you will be judged how well you took handled this task by your father. After that, you're practically free to do as you wish, provided you don't run down the farm yourself.
About Farming and Living
Farming is a relatively simple affair. You must till the field, sow the seeds, and water them once a day. Some crops take longer than others, but they yield more profit. All crops are seasonal, like in real life. The further you progress into your life, the easier it gets, for your tools will become 'upgraded' through use. The ultimate goal of farming is, in my opinion, getting your own green house, which allows you to plant all crops and flowers at the same time, regardless of season. With money comes the ability to upgrade your house in numerous ways as well, which proceeds towards giving you a better 'rating' at the end of the year. Life does take place in it's own random course, proved by the many people who can come visit you on the farm, including weather, both fair and destructive.
You will also be able to raise livestock such as chickens and cows. Treat them well and they'll yield eggs and milk to sell. My only real problem with the livestock is the fact that they must be taken indoors before it rains, and with animals, this could take a while.
About socializing and your free time
Once the somewhat monotonous tasks that need to be done are finished - you are free to explore such various areas as Flower Bud Village, Moon Mountain, the Vineyard, etc. All of these places are bustling with activity, and the friendly townspeople will love to get to know you. Create friendships with the ladies by giving them gifts, or anger the populace by giving them weeds, poisonous mushrooms, and the like. It's your life, do with it as you wish. In the end, if you have been good enough to one of the five cute ladies, marriage can occur, as well as a child. The dialogue of the various citizens of the game is very entertaining, and not to be missed as well.
Free time can be spent in numerous ways. If you're low on cash, gathering the flora on Moon Mountain can yield a small profit. You can do such leisurely activities as fishing, wooing the ladies, or even drink at the local pub! During the year, some holidays will take place as well, including Egg Day (Easter), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and local holidays like the Firefly Festival and local horse and dog races.
Don't forget that the life of a farmer is laborious and long. But if you persist in your labors, the fruits of it will lead to bigger and better things.
The difficulty?? Well, as a simulation title, the difficulty isn't exactly easy to percept. The learning curve is very easy, and you only really need a good sense of responsibility and work ethic, as well as some skill in money-keeping.
Bonuses, Sidequests, and Miscellaneous
Harvest Moon is full of surprises and secrets. And (most harmless) glitches. There are several sidequests to be found in this title, and most offer a decent payoff for your effort. Harvest Moon 64 also features several cutscenes during your adventure through life at random times; most depend on your relationship with that particular individual.
Harvest Moon games are definitely not for everyone, but for those who enjoy other life simulators such as Animal Crossing, I definitely recommend those individuals to try and pick this gem up. With a unique, simple story, a memorable cast, appeasing graphics, somewhat soothing music, and most importantly, gameplay that will last you quite some time - Harvest Moon 64 is a game any self-respecting Nintendo 64 owner should acquire.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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