Review by Master Cube 10
"A True PSOne Classic that is Definitely Worth the Money"
The Harvest Moon series has been a fairly popular series since the first installment for the SNES nearly two decades ago. This farming simulation game has offered a different type of game than the norm, appealing to gamers of all varieties. Harvest Moon: Back to Nature is largely considered to be one of the better Harvest Moon games, often compared to HM:64, but, like most HM games, it is not without its flaws or criticisms. The purpose of my review is to provide an upgraded take on the game since my initial review (nearly ten years ago) given the release this game on the PlayStation Network as a PSOne Classic and revival of interest in it.
In Harvest Moon games, your goal is generally to build, or otherwise revive, a farm within an tight-knit village. Originally you start off with a farm often overrun with weeds and other debris, are given limited resources, but have enough land and opportunities to turn this farm into a prosperous one while garnishing the affection of the other villagers. Throughout this journey you are able to befriend villagers, choose a spouse, and (in some installments) make positive alterations to the village on your quest to be a successful farmer and accepted villager. In some HM games, the success of the village as a whole relies upon how well you run your farm, and you are responsible for reviving the village as well as the farm. In Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, you are put in charge of a farm once ran by your (now deceased) grandfather and given three years to rebuild it. If you fail, you are asked to permanently leave the village.
While the graphics do not accurately reflect what the PlayStation is (or, I suppose, was) capable of, they do the job. They are fairly crisp, vibrant, and certainly not an eyesore.
The sound in this game is pretty good, but limited and repetitive. Its can get annoying hearing the same song over and over for 30 straight working days. The songs are still enjoyable if you get past the repetitive part.
You have a tremendous amount to do early on and can choose what pace you want to play, which will ultimately determine how difficult or relaxing the game will be. While you are 'only' given three years to succeed before being forced out of the village, it is entirely possible (see some of the guides on GFAQs) to complete most everything within the first year of the game. At a more leisurely pace, you should be able to finish most aspects of the game in two years. Even if you have not accomplished most things by the third year, you are only forced out of the village if you haven't met a few, easy to satisfy, conditions.
There are four seasons in this game consisting of 30 days each. Time passes in the game at a rate of about 30 real time seconds for every in-game hour, and time passes when you are actively playing the game and are not in a building, a conversation with a village, the mines, at a festival, or the menu/pause screen. You start out with 100 stamina and 0 fatigue, and stamina wanes every time you use one of your tools (the tools you start out with are an axe, hammer, hoe, sickle, and watering can). Once your stamina is drained, your fatigue begins to increase quickly, and your character will pass out if fatigue reaches 100. You can increase stamina and reduce fatigue temporarily by eating, visiting the spa, or sleeping (which brings about the next day in the game). You can increase your stamina permanently by acquiring power berries that are available in the game through various methods, and one mystic berry helps tremendously with the fatigue issue. The game expects you to sleep every night at around midnight, and punishes you if you are not by either causing you to wake up late the next day, or having you wake up with less stamina/more fatigue.
Tools are leveled up naturally through use, but require the work of the village blacksmith to actually upgrade them permanently (a neat system, in my opinion). An improved tool allows you to do more work with that took in one stroke (for example, the highest level of watering can waters a 5x3 area of land instead of just one plot of soil, as the basic does), is more efficient in terms of stamina (although you use more stamina to use the upgraded tool, you get more work done for less overall output), and, in the case of the hammer and axe, allows you to clear debris that the basic tools cannot.
The main resources in the game are gold, feed, and lumber. Gold is needed to, obviously, purchase most things in the game (whether that be a service from one of the villagers, an item from the market/another store, etc.) Feed/fodder is needed to feed your chickens, cows, and sheep, and lumber is needed to expand the buildings on your farm (extend your house, twice, expand your barn, expand your coop, and build a greenhouse).
Villager affection is raise by interacting with them on a daily basis, attending village festivals that occur approximately once a week, through certain special events, and giving them gifts. For most of the villagers, having them like you does not accomplish anything. However, there are some villagers (primarily the bachelorettes) that have perks/events that are only unlocked if they like you enough, and you can only marry one of the five eligible women of the village if they are quite fond of you.
The gameplay is very enjoyable. Early on you are limited in what you can accomplish in a day. You begin with a farm that is riddled with weeds, logs, tree stumps, and rocks (some of which you cannot clear until you have your tools upgraded). Your only animal is a puppy, and you have limited money. On the plus side, you have an assortment of tools that will help you clear off your fields and plant crops in the first few days. You also have access to a mine that is a great source of income in the first season (due to the stamina/fatigue recover spa being just a few steps from the mine, and that time does not actively pass while you are in the mine). You will find, however, that your stamina is very limited at these early stages, and your tools are rather inefficient.
Your initial days will mostly be spend clearing your fields, planting a few crops, foraging the forest for vegetation that you can give as gifts/sell/eat, perhaps mining, and introducing yourself to the villagers (while getting accustomed to the game mechanics and becoming familiar with the villagers and the village layout). Eventually you'll earn enough money through foraging/farming/mining to where you'll have more options for what you want to do in a given day.. You can purchase animals (chickens, cows, sheep, a horse), buy a larger rucksack, purchase a basket for easier shipping of goods, begin expanding the buildings on your farm, purchase more seeds, upgrade your tools, etc. At this point you can also decide how you want to play the game. Do you want to be a hardcore farmer? Do you want to spend a lot of time mining? Do you want to interact more with the villagers and befriend them? Do you want to have as many animals as possible? Do you want to fish all day? Your decision will probably be a mix of these, as the game expects you to play a balanced style, however you are ultimately free to play however you wish.
As you progress further in the game, your farm will start looking pretty impressive. You can fill it with crops, flowers, grass, and even fence animals outside using logs as a makeshift pen. You can befriend and hire seven Harvest Sprites to aid you with farm work, and you may even find a couple of the bachelorettes taking a fancy to you (if you put in the effort). You can start being more active in the festivals, enrolling your animals in them to compete for prizes, winning other individual/team festivals for yourself, and taking the girls out on romantic dates. In addition, your coop and barn can be filled with animals producing products for you on a daily basis.
The two major downsides, in my opinion, to this game are the inevitable repetitiveness and the lack of instructions. While the game is VERY enjoyable early on (depending on how much you push yourself, this can be for a few seasons, or maybe two-three years), at some point you'll realize you are doing the exact same thing, everyday. The novelty will wear off, and you'll realize you've accomplished most things in the game. The problem here is that, while things seem expensive at first, after you purchase a few necessary items and upgrade your tools, you can easily make enough in one season to cover the costs of everything else in the game. Simply, once you achieve the means to farm on a larger scale, and can access the more expensive items in the game, they become superfluous as there is nothing more to buy. Two classic examples of this are the produce makers and the hothouse. The produce makers cost a fortunate to make (from the blacksmith) and allow you to turn milk, eggs, and wool into processed products to earn more money and use in recipes. However, by the time you can afford these, you don't need more money as there is nothing left to purchase. The fact that they require ore mined only in winter (the fourth season of the game) and cost a fortune mean that, if you are capable of purchasing them, you don't really need them for profits anymore. The hothouse, similarly, is the last expansion you can get from the carpenter, costs a lot of gold/wood, and gives you an indoor climate to raise crops year-round. However, by the time you can purchase this,there is little left to purchase. My recommendation is to play at a slower pace, and try to enjoy the first couple years as much as possible without pushing yourself. If you push too hard - you'll burn out by the first year and have little left to do. The other issue is the mechanics system and the high learning curve. While the game is relatively simple, little is explained to you early on and a strong understanding of the mechanics is required to ensure you do not screw up. For example, it is very easy to accidentally throw an item on the ground (causing it to be lost forever) or accidentally give a villager a gift you did not mean to. If you're not facing a villager properly when holding an item, it is also easy to throw the item on the ground, which can be frustrating. Some events require you to give certain items to villagers, but if you give them to the villagers as you would a normal gift, they will accept it as a gift but not as part of the event. It is easy to accidentally use a tool on your animals, harming them, and, if you don't understand the stamina/fatigue system, you will find it a lot harder to manage the game. Additionally, if you don't have knowledge of villagers' schedules and whatnot, you may find yourself running around town aimlessly, wasting valuable hours of in-game time. The game requires you to have a good understanding of the mechanics and villagers' schedules to play efficiently, and I encourage you to read up on these prior to playing your first day in the game.
While the game starts off slowly and you may feel overwhelmed with all there is to do, once you acquire the means and resources to access the more expensive items in the game, you will quickly realize the money you are earning is no longer very useful to you. While there are still a lot of aspects to the game (marriage, child-raising, etc.) that will take longer to complete, money quickly becomes useless if you do not pace yourself the first year or two. After the third year of the game (when the mayor decides if you can stay or not), you may find yourself with little motivation to play. The game does get repetitive fairly quickly, however it is extremely enjoyable if you play in short sessions and do not try to achieve everything within the first couple seasons.
Final Verdict, 9/10
The game is definitely a classic and worth a digital purchase. Like many games, playing in short amounts of time (a few days a session) will ultimately lead to more enjoyment, and you should find yourself in love with this game. It's also a good game to start with if you are new to the series (as is HM:64), as some of the more recent HM games have expanded a lot of the elements in this game to keep you entertained longer. This game is, essentially, HM in its simplest, purest, unpolished form, but is overall very captivating and enjoyable.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/09/04, Updated 02/19/13
Game Release: Harvest Moon: Back to Nature (US, 11/22/00)
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