Games are sometimes more fun when you’re not meant to be playing them. The whole idea of doing something more exciting than studying, work or just household chores brings that naughty element that gives the gaming a little more buzz. The GBA is especially guilty in this area, seeing as you can use it in a lecture room, the bog at work, or behind a big book in a library. Why do we do it?
Would you rather do the hoovering than defeat the covenant in Halo?
Would you rather do the dishes than find those last bits of treasure in the Wind Waker?
Would you rather cut the grass than cut the grass in Harvest Moon?
Er….hang on. Something’s wrong with that last one. And it’s not a typo. You see, the Harvest Moon series is very popular abroad, I think we’ve only had one GBC incarnation released here and rightly so. Here, when we think farming, we instantly bring back that old ambrosia advert with that farmer on the cow going “oooh aaarr” along to the tune of “In the Navy”. Ah.
Nevertheless abroad, Harvest Moon games have been regular on most formats. It went from the SNES, to Nintendo 64 and even the Playstation 2 – the version being reviewed here as you might have guessed. Now what baffles me after owning the game for so long is why do I play it? In essence, the game is a chore simulator. Ok maybe cutting down grass with the square button is easier than doing it in real life, but why do it at all?
The game starts off with your character and the farm being named. Then your character (who according to the game is twenty two, though he looks more like ten) runs onto some land to be greeted by three little elven/midget things who tell him that the whole town will be built over to make way for a theme park, so you must revive the farm and bring success back to the drab boring little town so it’s not replaced by something useful and fun. Hence the sub title Save the Homeland.
You start off with your land barren, no animals. Just some fertile soil, grass, a barn, your house and a few tools. From the bit of cash you start off with, it’s down to the flower shop to buy some seeds and grow some crops. The game takes place in seasons, naturally you’ll start off in Spring, and go through the year. Time does pass in the game, in an accelerated manner like Zelda: Majora’s Mask. The period of day will hold great importance, you’ll usually wake up at 6am and the shops won’t be open till about 9am and they close at 5pm. Animals can’t be left out in the dark, you can’t work at night or stay in the bar too long as you’ll get fatigued and be totally useless the next day. The game is complete responsibility; the farm you own is one big hungry tamagotchi.
The first few days of the game will be torture, every morning you’ll get up at six to water the crops individually than go down the shops to sell anything you’ve managed to grow. By the time you’ve done this, you’re nearly out of energy and don’t have enough cash to spare to guy buy some expensive energy restoring food. Not only that but most of the day is gone. This is why, at the beginning, I used to love it when it rained, it was like a blessing and meant I could doss off for the whole day. Avoiding work is so much fun, even virtually. That day I’d go and explore the town fully, picking up berries, herbs and flowers that I could sell and see what everyone else is up to.
You see like the real world, any hard work is nicely paid off. When you’ve finished your work for the day, going around the town and meeting the folk is actually quite relaxing. You’ll sit back in your chair and sigh contently as you leave the farm to meet the other residents. As you gain more and more cash, you can start buying chickens, which are much quicker to take care of than watering your plants so you’ll chop down the majority of your crops, and you can live on selling eggs and the odd corn nob. Soon, you can buy a cow or two, start fishing, build a kitchen and cook your own food. The game is all about self development. Towards the end of the summer, you’ll be rolling in the dough, have a full lively farm and now that you’ve become the Rupert Murdoch of agriculture, its time to gloat around town.
Since I’m rich now, after I leave the cows out to graze and chickens to eat their feed with my faithful dog keeping a watch over everything, at around 9am I look back on the animals and say “see yah suckers! I’m off to chat up ladies!” Since now you’re no longer pre-occupied with farm duties, the game lets you indulge in other side quests like cake or dress competitions. Naturally you’re not the one entering, it’s the women who ask for your help, and living on a farm with only a dog, daisy and a few clucking hens might bring up the desire for another human, preferably of the opposite sex. Cheesy as it sounds, seeing which one will like you best is kinda fun, I sorta took a shine too the flower shop owner and popped in now and again to chat to her or give her a pressie (she really likes honey).
At other times, you’ll just want to run around taking in the relaxing ranch type music and wonder why the nicely cell shaded people and animals and the extremely bland three dimensional style that makes up everything else seems to blend together pretty well.
Unfortunately Harvest Moon is unlikely to receive a European release. If you don’t own an American or enabled Playstation 2, don’t go out in the garden to grow your own spuds because you’ll never play Harvest Moon. It has been confirmed for the Gamecube and will apparently get a PAL release. For those who have access to this game, let me tell you it’s the strangest example of pointless effort which turns out to be fun. Avoid real life chores to do virtual ones. That’s my motto!