Harvest Moon – Friends of Mineral Town GBA Review
What could be better than harvesting crops, tending to animals and chatting up girls..? Natsume have it made with this great little role-playing sim…
Pretty and cartoony, though the animation is a little stiff and limited. The environments have translated from the isometric view of the Psone version of the game nicely, although some areas just look out of proportion due to the birds-eye view. All in all quite nice and among the best you will see on the GBA, but not as impressive as, say, Golden Sun.
I told a friend the concept of Harvest Moon once. You get up at 6.00 am. You dig up the ground, plant seeds, water them every day til you can pick the crops and sell them. You feed, pet and talk to your animals so that they will grow to love you and give you better eggs/milk/? (what DOES a dog give you anyway?) You chat up the town girls. You go to bed. You wake up at 6.00am.
He wasn’t riveted by the idea.
In all honesty, most people will turn down games like Harvest Moon because it just sounds so mundane. And, I suppose, if you stop mid-game and think about it, it is. But its stopping in the first place that’s the tough part. The game is marvellously addictive. Taking care of all of the various elements that make up your farm will take a while in every game day (which last around 15 minutes), but its not ridiculously lengthy. Plus, the feeling of achievement you will feel when your potato crop finally flowers is a real joy. The stuff you sell is picked up daily, so getting everything done before the pick-up is important.
You start out the game with a small house to live in, as well as the basics like a hen house and barn. Your buildings can be extended, after you have gathered lumber by chopping trees, by talking to Gotz, the local woodsman. This is important in order to get enough livestock to really bring in a profit, and to make your house more habitable (no woman will want to move in with you if you live in a hut with no cooker – it’s what they live for, for crying out loud). As well as this, your house contains your bed (doh) for ending the day, a diary to save progress (although there is a save option in the menu screen, so you will probably never use it) and, most importantly – the TV. This is a great touch; pressing A and then a directional button will bring up one of 4 channels. There is the news, which tells you the key events and things to look out for for the month; the Farm Help channel which bestows you with good tips (for more info you can check the bookcase for tutorials, or the library); the show channel, which shows a different programme every day (make sure not to miss the first episodes of the epilepsy-inducing Mechabot show, as I have no idea what is going on now); and, most importantly, the weather channel. This tells you how the nest days weather will go: if its sunny you will have to water crops, and can let your animals out; if its raining you have to bring them in but don’t have to water; if there’s a storm you have to lock all your animals safely away and bring in the dog. On storm days in particular, its important to enlist the help of the local harvest sprites to take care of things while you’re locked in your house; these little creatures will take care of your crops and animals for a specific amount of time if you bribe them with items to become “friends”. Little do they realise the way that they are being used. Missing feeding your animals on storm days – or any days – may result in them becoming sick, which means a whooping bill for medicine. Similarly, you yourself can become sick by working too hard, too late or on bad conditions; this is shown with a series of short animations of your character struggling. Rest will help, or a quick boost of beneficial drugs from the hospital; otherwise you may collapse and have to spend a whole day resting.
Its not all slogging away on the farm though. You have to befriend the other occupants of Mineral Town, otherwise they will boot you out of their community once your trial period of 3 years is up. Its not tough; bring them nice gifts like bread and eggs, while ensuring you never wrap a rock or poison mushroom and offer it as a present and you will be fine. The tough part is getting a wife.
There are 5 possible choices of potential bride in the town, all of which have another bloke vying for their attention; hence its up to you to snatch them away and laugh contemptuously at their spurned admirer. Everyone in the town likes a certain thing more than any other object, and giving it to them will get you into their good books very quickly; the girls are more complex, and have extensive lists of things they love, like, can put up with and hate. Naturally, showering them with tulips when they really want earrings wont help your cause. You can effectively chat up ALL of the girls in town, although it will leave you very poor and stressed. After your bribes of flowers and jewellery (or wine in the case of local drunkard Karen) have paid off, you will have a wife (and later a bonny child) to sit around your house doing very little to help you in your chores. Ah, the joys of life.
There are a number of events that you can attend during the year, all of which are displayed on your wall calendar; going to these will increase favour towards you, and are generally just good fun to watch, if not participate in. Sadly, you are rather limited in what you can actually take part in in the first year, and many of the events just see you turning up, the mayor saying that they are starting the event, and then a dialogue box popping up saying “The event is over! That was fun!” Quite. As well as these, it’s good to learn the birthdays of the townfolk; everyone has a birthday at some point in the year, and bringing them presents on this day will boost favour and make you a real part of the community. Which, lets face it, is what you really want to achieve.
The use of the GBA’s limited buttons is really very impressive in this game; holding down the L shoulder button “shifts” the function of the other buttons, effectively doubling the available commands. There are a few grammatical mistakes in this version of the game, and at one point my fishing rod’s characters were all messed up in the description, but these are no big loss.
Very pleasant ambient tunes change with time of day and location, and are faithfully recreated from the PlayStation game. The other sounds, such as the movement of tools and the animals, are equally pleasing, and do a nice job of creating a cheery environment. Sadly, the speech text is accompanied by a bleeping noise a-la Golden Sun, which can be somewhat irritating.
Every year has 120 days, each lasting around 15 minutes, and doesn’t really effectively end. That’s a lot of game time. Of course, after a while you will begin to see repetitions of things that have already been said, although nowhere near the extent of, say Animal Crossing; at least everyone has something completely different to say. Whether you can be bothered to play year after year doing pretty much the same things is up to you, but just living out a single year will kill a lot of time – and in that space you probably won’t have seen marriage, an extended house etc etc etc. Befriending people will also open up new cutscenes for them and new doors into their private rooms which were inaccessible at the start of the game, so its well worth the effort to work harder at the game. As well as this, there will be connectivity between this and the GameCube game depending on how far through each you are.
A great game unlike anything else on the GBA at the moment; and it really does offer some involving gameplay through the clever use of button layout. This is certainly one to try out for all of the depth it offers, not to mention the amount of gametime you will get out of it.