In you’re into farming simulators, Harvest Moon will be your digital bliss.
Role playing games put a lot of people off and it’s easy to see why. After all, most RPGs rely on repetition, simplistic mechanics that become more and more complex as you progress through the game and a generic story that encourages you (a teenage hero) to save the world from an evil force. Harvest Moon: Back to Nature takes all those elements and throws them out the window, since the mechanics couldn’t be simpler and the story is really mundane but that’s what makes the game so appealing and entertaining.
Welcome to Mineral Town. Your grandfather has passed away and you’ve inherited his farm, the same place where you used to spend entire summers as a child. When you were younger, you had a lot of free time, since your grandfather was too busy taking care of different chores. So you spent a lot of time exploring and quickly befriended a puppy and met a girl your own age. Eventually, you had to move back to the city, but you promised the little girl that you would return someday. That day has finally come and you need to take care of the farm and get it back on its feet in three years or you’ll lose the property. That’s the remarkably simple premise behind Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, one of the most entertaining simulation games I’ve had the chance to play.
One of the first things you should do as soon as you start playing the game is familiarize yourself with Mineral Town. Apart from your farm, you’ll be able to explore other places of interest. You’ll find the blacksmith where you buy tools or improve the ones you have, a library where you can get general information, the supermarket where you buy seeds, the clinic is the place you’re sent to when you’re sick or tired, there’s a mysterious church, a square where festivals take place and the woodcutter allows you to expand your farm, among other places of interest. But this is a farm simulator after all, so you’ll spend a lot of time in your farm, improving your house, cultivating crops, taking care of your horses, chicken, dog, sheep and fish and so on. You’ll also meet girls, collect precious stones, you’ll participate in festivals and you’ll sell the products your farm produces.
Interestingly, Harvest Moon doesn’t explain anything and that’s both a blessing and a curse. What you need yo do is always clear, but the way in which you’re supposed to do it is seldom explained. For instance, you don’t know what your tools do, you don’t know how to maximize your revenue, you don’t have a clear schedule and so on. So little by little and through trial-and-error, you find out how the game works and that’s eminently satisfying. This approach is taken to an extreme sometimes and that’s definitely part of the game’s appeal. There are a lot of secrets in this game, some of which will only be unlocked by a dedicated group of players or by those following a detailed walkthrough. But when you encounter one of these secrets by exploration or sheer luck, the sense of reward you get in return is pretty special. The game explains nothing, but when you figure out its mechanics, you feel rewarded and satisfied.
This does have some throwbacks though. Figuring things out on your own takes a lot of time and there’s no guarantee that you’ll even find out about them, so some players will probably quit playing the game before they see most of its mechanics and secrets (not to mention the end credits.) Luckily, in Harvest Moon: Back to Nature the journey matters more than the destination, so while there’s an end goal, seeing the credits isn’t as gratifying as raising chicken, planting crops, interacting with other people, digging up precious stones and being part of annual festivals.
As in some of the most popular simulation games (The Sims, Farming Simulation and so on,) the activities you perform in Harvest Moon are quite mundane (resting at the local spring, growing and selling vegetables, taking care of animals and so on,) but that doesn’t make them less engaging. In fact, the fact that you don’t save the world in this simulator/RPG is what makes it so refreshingly unique and fun. It can become a little repetitive, but there are always new goals to take into consideration.
In the end, Harvest Moon: Back to Nature is a breath of fresh air for the genre, combining some of the best elements of Final Fantasy and The Sims to create something uniquely entertaining. The premise couldn’t be simpler, but once you enter this farm, you’ll spend dozens of hours growing crops, digging up precious stones, improving your house and interacting with NPCs. Harvest Moon is a riveting farming simulator that will consume several hours of your life at a time and despite its problems, this is an outstanding title that’s difficult to resist.