Harvest Moon is one of the best examples of Japanese developers’ creative powers. First released for the Super Nintendo in 1997, the game went on to attract a loyal following and spawn many sequels on the Playstation, Gameboy, and other console systems, although it never achieved a best-seller status in ways Final Fantasy enjoys.
As with all excellent unique games, it’s impossible to pigeonhole Harvest Moon into any one genre, because it combines elements from many genres into a very engrossing experience. A good way to think of the game is to think of SimFarm, but on the deepest tactical level, where as a farmer you are concerned not with overall strategic decisions of what crops to grow and supply & demand, but the actual day-to-day hard work of clearing land for farming, plant seeds, milk the cow, and drive to town to sell your produce. The game imposes a time constraint that isn’t too strict, but adds an element of urgency to the game: you are given 2 1/2 years to turn a farm around and make it prosperous.
The game is played from an isometric/overhead perspective. Your alter ego is a cutesy anime farmer who runs around doing farm chores. Since you will have to do a lot of weeding and rock-smashing at the beginning (the farm you start with is in poor shape, to say the least), the game can seem tedious at first. Persevere, though, and you will get a real sense of achievement once Spring comes around, when you can harvest the crops to sell them for a handsome profit. Similar to most console games, interaction with NPCs is a big part of the game. When you go to town, you can talk to the townspeople to get farming tips, funny farm tales, and more. You can even attend festivals (such as New Year and Spring festivals), place bets on local horse and dog racing, and give gifts to the girl of your dreams. Yes, that’s right – what’s a farmer without a nice wife to help care for his home? Woo your choice from five eligible maidens with flowers, gifts, and rocks (yes, rocks – these are strange girls indeed), and you may win her hand in marriage.
Although Harvest Moon may look easy from the cutesy anime graphics, don’t be fooled. You’ll have to do a lot of strategic thinking in the game, whether you are aware of it. Inputs (e.g. seeds and animals) and farm equipment cost money, so you will have to plan ahead of time and take seasonal weather into account. Thankfully, the game eases the learning curve by introducing new elements gradually, so you won’t be immediately overwhelmed by the variety of things you can do. For the first Spring and most of the Summer, you'll be planting potatoes and turnips, and using the money you get from selling them to buy more seeds. By the time Spring comes around again, you'll have to manage your animals as well as your crops. A nice feature is that your tools get upgraded at certain points during the game, making your task much easier.
The best description of Harvest Moon I can think of is that it’s a simulation of a farmer’s life. Which isn’t too far from the truth, because the old adage “reap what you sow” holds true in the game. The game’s open-ended nature (in a sense that you can do whatever you want each day) is a plus, although time limit and an overall goal keeps it from becoming pointless. Harvest Moon should appeal to both fans of “light” strategy games, and fans of original underdogs in general. Two thumbs up, way up!Reviewed by: Underdogs