Review by Fraghappy

"Farming sim is a surprisingly synonymous word with fun"

When many people hear the words ‘farming sim,' they automatically stay away, and to be honest, I don't blame them. Harvest Moon is a series that has been around since the days of the original NES, and still stands as one of the most underrated series to date. Even with the simple graphics and low-quality music of the first few games, which really hasn't improved that much, gameplay has really succeeded in making this series shine. While some of the more recent games have been slightly sub-par, “Back to Nature” stands as another strong contender in the Harvest Moon saga.

Graphics aren't anything to be worshipped, and are ‘cartoony' at best. This is the second game to come in 3D, but it doesn't show much improvement over the first, Harvest Moon 64. Sure, it may not use the full graphics capabilities of the PS1, but that isn't what it is trying to do. I'll admit, it does detract from the quality of the game, but it didn't really make me dislike the game much.

Sound and music pretty much fits in with the graphics, with repetitive songs and sound effects that remind you of Saturday morning cartoons. Each season has its own song, and that song, and only that song plays for the whole season. Yes, it does get very repetitive. This is the obvious low-point of the game, and while it may not be bad enough that you'll be muting the TV, it definitely could have been improved upon greatly.

The storyline doesn't differ much from previous games. As a child, your parents make you spend a summer living on your grandfather's farm. What would be a boring experience for most is made fun by humorous encounters with the various farm life, and the meeting of a young girl, who we never learn the name of. Flash 15 years forward. Your grandfather passes away and leaves the farm to you. It's fallen into disrepair, and it seems that even some of the people in town don't trust you as the rightful owner of the farm. So, it's up to you to turn the shoddy, run-down farm into a prospering ranch, and at the same time befriending the local townspeople. The mayor gives you three years to accomplish this task, and it is a bit daunting at first. Overall, not a great storyline, but not a bad one either.

After the initial praise of the game, you're probably wondering where my feelings about this game come from, and it is gameplay. You'd never expect that life as a farmer could be so fun. Over the course of the day, you work through your daily routine (feeding the animals, watering the crops) and also form bonds with the fellow members of Mineral Town. You begin poor, without many ways to make money, but over time, through hard work, you build up, expanding your farm, gaining new animals, and becoming a respected member of the community. How do you do this?

Perhaps the biggest source of income is crops—in fact they are your only source of income early game, but you can also raise chickens, sheep and cows. A local rancher will also give you a horse, provided that you do take good care of him. You must learn the tools of the trade, and gain skills needed to do your jobs well. Fishing and cooking are other skills you'll need to learn, as well as the ability to woo a girl to become your wife.

Community life is important if you want to be accepted into the village. Various festivals occur over the course of the year, and participation in these is a good way to begin new bonds with fellow townsfolk. Every NPC in the game also has a birthday, and if you can learn the person's likes and dislikes, a birthday surprise can also help you gain a new friend.

Replay value is fairly strong here—something typical of most good sim games. Of course, it can get redundant after awhile, but there are different paths to choose, different friends to make, and different ways to run your farm, making each experience of playing through the game a unique and interesting one. Each game is also endless—a farm apparently lasting forever. I've talked to people who've made it through over a decade with just one farm, though doing that can sometimes get a little boring (there are really only a certain number of things you can do in the game before it gets boring).

Despite the utter lack of adequate graphics designers and composers, Natsume succeeds in making a game that can be a game fun for people of all ages. It comes off as a slightly ‘childish' game if you look on the outside, but deep down it is a compelling and quite addictive game that is really worth the time and money.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 05/19/04

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