Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland
Harvest Moon is one of those games that gives you hope for gaming. It is, almost certainly without a doubt, the most unlikely success in the history of the modern console market. Who on earth would have ever thought that a farming simulation series could have spawned five different iterations on four different consoles, PlayStation 2 being the most recent recipient with Harvest Moon: Save The Homeland, drawing the same cult of dedicated fans every time? In a business dominated by retreads and rehashes, it's a surprising flash of originality.
Its appeal, admittedly, is more limited than that of some games. There are plenty of gamers out there who, for whatever reason, just can't sink into the rhythm of single-handledly managing your own agribusiness empire. They're welcome to their opinions. For our part, the only problem with the Harvest Moon experience is that we don't have enough free time for it. Like any really good sim, this is one that can suck your hours right down the drain, through layer after layer of things to do and see.
Yeah, sure, most of those things involve basic manual labor and manipulating cow udders. You wanna make something of it?
This is, as mentioned above, a farming simulation. Unlike most sims, though, you actually perform the tasks set before you, twitch style, rather than giving orders and watching the results unfold indirectly. The camera focuses on your little farmer avatar, a young man taking over his grandfather's ranch, and you trot about the screen using tools and manipulating the features of your environment.
So what can you do? Lots of things. To begin with, you have a shovel, a watering can, and some seeds. Till the soil plot by plot, plant some veggies, water them from your well, and wait. Soon you'll have produce that you can sell at the store. With the money thus earned, more agricultural possibilities arise. Diversify your crops, perhaps, going from simple potatos to tomatos and corn. Alternatively, you can save a little cash and buy chickens or cows -- animals can be bred and sold, and those eggs and milk have many uses. There's also a lot to do as far as interacting with the world outside your farm. You can gather wild fruit, mine ores, adopt a pet dog, chat up the local girls, and much more.
One of the neat things about the way the game is structured is how you gradually discover the successive levels of the sim. As you start out, all you have to deal with is a little farming, learning how to keep your crops alive and producing. Once that becomes de rigeur, it's about time to get into animal husbandry -- you learn how to keep your dog happy, then the chickens, then the cows, then the horse. If you ever bore of that end of things, you probably have enough money to build a kitchen and start cooking. Once you can cook, hey, you can start bringing cakes to the girls...
That succession of layers is a fine piece of design. Many sim games (the Koei war simulations spring to mind) throw you right into the middle of things without any help, or at most a brief tutorial that you probably didn't pay much attention to anyway. While it moves in real time from day to day, Harvest Moon is structured to gradually introduce you to its many elements, and you can progress at your own pace if you don't feel like building an empire right off. The fatigue system actually encourages you to take it easy, in fact, since you can only do so much in a day before your little farming avatar gets tired and needs a nap. Anyway, there's not much to shove you along -- after all, it's not like there's any sort of immediate threat. Luckily, the Hsiung-Nu are not programmed to pillage your farm and raze it to the earth, although now that I think about it, that might be a pretty cool feature for the next edition...
But no, that would spoil the atmosphere. Perhaps the neatest thing about Harvest Moon is that atmosphere, the tranquil routine that settles in. Milk the cow, feed the dog, water the corn, go to the store, pet the dog, get married, have a kid, save the village from development by finding the rare butterflies, live happily ever after. If that's not fun, what on earth is?
Harvest Moon is 3D now, for whatever you deem that to be worth. Honestly, I could have had it either way, since the shift in graphical presentation hasn't changed a thing as far as how the game plays. The small world is still structured in the same fashion (farm here, town here, forest here, mountains here), and finding your way around isn't any trouble at all, thanks to a very friendly camera control on the right analog stick. There are a few cases where the camera will resist movement in a particular direction, since there aren't any routines to handle seeing through buildings, but if you move the character just a little bit, it should become unstuck directly.
As far as what that camera shows you, the modeling is certainly very simple, but the smooth, cel-shaded characters are stylistically faithful descendants of the old 2D designs, and there are certainly very few problems with framerate or other glitches. These graphics are too simple to screw up. They simply do their job, the chickens flapping about the yard, the cows lumbering about agreeably, and everyone still tossing up little emoticon balloons with which to communicate more complex emotions (since the text is pretty simple).
The text, incidentally, is the source of one of my few complaints with Harvest Moon's design. Some sequences let you fast-forward through text, but others insist that you wait for long conversations to play out at a very slow crawl. The introduction to the game is a prime offender here -- listening to the Harvest Goddess and her gnomes chat away gets more than a little dull when the text...just...crawls and all I want to do is start planting. Oh, well, it's over soon enough in the greater scheme of things.
Well, my dog makes a pretty cute little "arf" noise. Other than that, not much going on here. The background music is very light even at its most intense levels (after all, there aren't so many momentous moments here), generally just providing a peaceful synthesized accompaniment to the day-to-day affairs of managing the farm. The effects suite certainly does its thing, though, simple though the task laid before the designers may be, and you do come upon some nicely pleasant or somber tunes for special occasions --there's a nice track that plays whenever my chickens die, which unfortunately seems to be happening far too often.
source PS2 IGN
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