|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
Super Nintendo fans will be surprised and pleased to learn that their system, despite being on its last legs, still has a few good games coming out this year. Natsume, publisher of the Lufia role-playing games, now offers gamers Harvest Moon.
The concept sounds like the computer title SimFarm, but has less simulation and more role-playing elements. Players assume the role of a novice farmer in charge of a plot of land, and are challenged to build it into a thriving farm. This must be accomplished in two-and-a-half years, with each year consisting of four 30-day seasons. Each day is twelve game hours — in reality, about ten minutes. Unlike most role-playing games, the world is small, limited to the farm, the local town, and a mountain.
Despite the localized playing field, there's much to do in Harvest Moon. One path to happiness may include winning over one of the five local town girls by giving them gifts, talking to them often, dancing with them at the seasonal festivals, and so on. It may be tempting to wake up in the morning and head to town for this, but there are always chores to be done. Land must be cleared of rocks, brush, and tree stumps, then fenced in, before they can be hoed, seeded, and watered. Wood from those stumps can be used to repair the fences broken in last night's storm, hurricane, or blizzard, or else prairie dogs may steal some chickens. The crops must be harvested and placed in a sale bin before 5:00 PM, as well as the cows and chickens fed. The house can be expanded by speaking to the lumberjacks on the mountain, if enough wood and money are available. The shops are closed on weekends, but don't forget to go to Church and talk to the townspeople for the latest news.
When reviewing Harvest Moon, it must be remembered that it is a 16-bit game in a world of 32- and 64-bit systems. Still, the game's graphics do not measure up to what previous games, like Chrono Trigger, have shown the Super Nintendo capable of. They are small, undetailed, and not very colorful — somewhat reminiscent of EarthBound, another Nintendo role-playing game, but even less impressive. Still, they do suffice in representing the necessary icons. Various shading degrees represent the time of day, and working well into the night, as industrious farmers will, is not a strain on the eyes. The farmer emotes himself well, be it in using tools or expressing fatigue.
Music is tinny and repetitive, limited to one tune for each entire season, or none when it's raining. There are no orchestrated levels of music, as in Final Fantasy III. Sound effects are equally minimal, or noticeably absent, such as when whistling to the dog.
Control is one area in which Harvest Moon has little trouble. All the buttons are assigned to various functions that make it a snap to switch between tools (only two of which may be carried at a time), use them, interact with the environment, and perform other jobs. It is sometimes easy to misplace a vegetable or other object, though, and break it beyond usability. Fortunately, since progress is only saved at the end of each day, it is easy to reset and fix such errors.
The challenge factor is a mixed bag. This is such a unique title in terms of gameplay and goals that it's fun just to have something different for once: no bad guys, no princesses, just salt-of-the-earth success. Early on in the game, there is so much to do, with little time and few tools with which to do it, that gamers will work long days preparing the farm for harvest season. However, most of the major goals are accomplished within the first year, and better tools make the mundane into a chore rather than a challenge.
Overall, Harvest Moon is a unique offering for gamers of a dying platform. Its gameplay will initially engross players, despite low quality in the audio and visual departments. How long they stick with the game after that depends on how dedicated they are to reaping what they sow.
This article is copyright (c) 1997, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 04-Aug-97