Harvest Moon DS Review

First there was stitch ’em ups, then life ’em ups, now Nintendo have presented us with a new instalment of a long-running franchise – the Harvest Moon farm ’em up.

Having been a fan of Harvest Moon, both on its Snes and Gameboy Color incarnations, I was extremely keen to get my hands on a copy of Harvest Moon DS. Imagining utilising the touch-screen to use tools, pick crops and care for my animals gave me a warm glow inside. I was expecting something along the lines of Animal Crossing. What is presented is a game that seems more basic by far in some areas, yet almost too complex in others.

So once I saw an imported copy in my local independent games emporium, I snapped it up. Keen to relive past glories of farming yore, I slapped the cartridge into my trusty Lite and switched on. Cue one of the longest and more arduous starting sequences of any DS game I have yet experienced. It’s never-ending, and frankly ridiculous, premise seemed sure to continue for far longer than I intended on playing the game. If it’s cutting edge plot-lines and characterisation you’re looking for, I would suggest you go elsewhere.

The plot, so much as it as, revolves around the Harvest Goddess, who has been zapped into another dimension by a not-so-evil witch. I say not so evil, because immediately after banishing her foe into the next dimension, she becomes instantly regretful and attempts to send the Harvest Goddess’s minions, the Harvest Sprites to go get her. True to form, she zaps them into another dimension as well. Honestly…

However, (conveniently) you (the player) happen to saunter up to the scene of the crime. The witch tasks you with rescuing the Harvest Goddess, so that she can continue her un-remitting battle of good vs. evil etc. etc. In order to do this, the player will have to rescue all one hundred and one harvest sprites from the ether beyond. This great feat of magical prowess is achieved by completing farm chores. Handy that, considering this is a farming game.

Anyway, you’d think that having sat through all that, the game would back off and let you play. Nope, as you now have to be introduced to a number of concepts, including harvest sprite assist system and others (more on this later).

An interesting point to note is the number of references made to older, GBA incarnations of the franchise. The game drops hints of the existence of the two older games released to the GBA during the extended intro, as well as allowing connectivity between the GBA cartridge and the DS game when both are inserted into the console. Having never played these incarnations (or to be honest, known of their existence), I cannot really comment regarding this. However, it is the first time I’ve seen something like this featured in a DS game, but it feels like a sneaky bit of stealth advertising to make people buy outdated games.

Anyway, once the game releases you from the starting sequence, it’s time to get to work. All the usual Harvest Moon staples are present, from tilling land to plant crops, which must then be watered and eventually harvested, to raising livestock for profit. Players can also go mining to raise extra cash and to find ores to use to upgrade tools. You begin with a dog, a cat and two bags of seeds. From there on, it’s up to you to generate enough cash to make your farm thrive.

It seems important to point out here that Harvest Moon looks just like any other Harvest Moon game ever created for handheld consoles. There has been no attempt made to introduce 3D graphics or characters any more complicated than pixelated sprites. It is only possible to play from a male perspective, both in terms of the player’s avatar and the dating potentials present in the village. This seems rather limited, especially following the success of Animal Crossing, which proved that good graphics and varied characters are possible in a handheld game.

Indeed, the game also feels rather limited in its characterisation. There has been little attempt to make the other in-game characters anything more than decoration. The usual business with dating and marriage is present, but attempting to start conversations with other characters is a pointless exercise. They will repeat the same piece of dialogue over and over, until you’re sick of it. Tracking down which character lives where, and also where the businesses that aren’t listed via the telephone system through with you make the majority of your purchases is arduous in the extreme. The map has no handy labels (i.e. those found in the Animal Crossing maps), and the businesses themselves have no signs outside to indicate where they are.

Another gripe is that the Power Berries of the previous games have been dropped, replaced instead with a Stamina/Fatigue system, of which the stats cannot be raised. They can only be boosted during the day by eating various foods and plants, but this soon gets arduous. A cooking system is available, once the necessary bits and bobs have been collected, but it’s far too much effort to go through all the trial-and-error to work out.

The farming tasks themselves, however, are highly entertaining. While planting and growing crops is always a bit boring, raising animals is a joy. Even designing your farm is fun, as you have to gather resources and money before choosing where the carpenter will build the various barns and animal sheds you need. The ability to customize your environment like this is a nice addition to the series, and gives the player a real sense of developing their own farm. Also nice is the fact that you are no longer restricted to planting crops on your own land. Throughout the valley, there are a number of plots available for cultivation. Some of these vary in soil quality, and therefore the rate at which crops grow and their quality depends on where you site them. This adds a little to the experience of crop farming, giving you a bit to puzzle over when planting anew.

The lack of any meaningful touchscreen interaction is disappointing. The majority of the game is controlled by the analogue buttons, with the touch-screen only used for navigating menus and for stroking your animals (once the right tool has been purchased). Compared to Animal Crossing, this is very disappointing.

Another major downside of the game is the amount of glitches. In my game, I have experienced disappearing pets, disappearing townspeople, disappearing items and more crashes than I can count. The final straw came when I managed to accidentally set off a glitch that filled my coffers with over 1,000,000,000 units of currency, making the whole premise of the game (farm for money) obsolete. Once you’ve got unlimited cash, there’s not much point in growing things any more, and so the appeal of doing so just wears off.

All in all, however, this is an entertaining game, which has eaten up a considerable amount of my spare time. While limited in some respects, it is sufficiently deep to be enjoyable. A great addition to the Harvest Moon franchise, but a slightly disappointing addition to the DS library.