Harvest Moon (SNES) review
"Maybe this just isn’t my type of game, but despite its superficially inventive premise, I really don’t see how “tedious exercises in monotony” could be anyone’s type of game.
When you’re weaned on all the enchantment, wonder, and parental neglect that flow out of your basic video game world like so many sweat drops and nosebleeds, there comes a time in every boy’s life when he has to strike it out on his own. Some of these lads will fulfill a dread, all-important destiny that they do not yet understand; a charge placed upon their tender shoulders by the capricious designs of fate. Others choose to brave the myriad dangers that lurk beyond the comforts of home only after being inspired by visions of fortune and fame – these visions so often planted there by a scheming villain – or in pursuit of vengeance following some horribly traumatic event – likewise the work of said villain. And then there are the ones who simply dream about getting it on with an overly emotional pink-haired chick that they had a chance encounter with in preschool. Not our boy Jack, though. No, the protagonist of today’s review instead pines for the simple life of an honest farmer, and as such Harvest Moon promises something fresh and innovative to sink your teeth into. Whether it actually delivers on this promise is another matter entirely, something that becomes readily apparent in short order. Jack’s adventure begins innocently enough, just as he’s wordlessly leaving his presumably loving home far, far behind in order to toil away unsupervised at dear old granddad’s abandoned ranch. And let me tell you, he’s got big plants for this site: tomatoes, corn, potatoes . . .
But first you’ll have to clear his sprawling acres of land before the seeds of that future bounty might be sown! And oh man, is that place ever a disaster zone: there are scores of rocks strewn all over the place, chaotic rows of bushes as far as the eye can see, even tree stumps and massive boulders that haphazardly dot the withered landscape. If you’re anything like me, and by that I mean both lazy and given to procrastination, you’ll find that this particular segment of the gameplay just isn’t any fun at all. You can easily fling the bushes to and fro with nary more than a hearty chuckle directed at their puny bushiness, even if their numbers are so great as to virtually choke the earth, but it’ll take a lot more than that before you can rid yourself of all those other impediments. You’ll have to pull out your trusty mallet in order to smash each of the seemingly countless rocks into dust; naturally the boulders will require several blows before they finally give up the ghost, as will the tree stumps whenever you introduce them to your equally trusty axe. Unfortunately, all of this hammering and chopping quickly takes its toll not only on poor little Jack, but on one’s patience as well. See, each swing gradually whittles away our hero’s health meter until he can do little save slump to the ground in exhaustion, and once you’ve expended all his energy (which occurs far too quickly for my liking) you’ll either have to give up your efforts for the day or make constant forays into the nearby mountains, a trite excursion that we’ll examine momentarily.
But it’s not as if anyone’s forcing you to clean up the entire ranch in one go before you can start planting; you could simply tear apart a small area to begin with and then expand upon your holdings should you actually decide to keep playing. And why, one might ask, wouldn’t you wish to keep playing? Because the actual growing of crops is just like every other focal point of this game – tedious and ultimately annoying. Every single morning you’ll rise with the sun and proceed to irrigate each and every one of those seedlings with a dinky little watering can. Not only does this mean that you’ll have to run up and down the rows of dirt to sprinkle each plant one at a time, but you expect plenty of darting back and forth between the ranch’s pond every time your watering can runs dry. Watering plants also happens to cost precious energy, and every time Jack needs to regain his strength you’ll have to run him over to the mountains adjacent to the ranch . . . scamper all the way up their heights . . . a little more scampering . . . and then repeatedly jump in and out of the hot springs at the top in order to recover snippets of health . . . before you scamper back to the ranch and the work that’s still waiting for you there. Continue this exact same routine every single day and your crops will s..l..o..w..l..y begin to develop over the course of several remarkably similar days, until they’re finally ripe for the picking – at last you can collect your profits and subsequently start this routine all over again by buying more seeds! Incidentally, you’ll have to hand-pick one salable vegetable at a time and then carry it over to the delivery bin next to your house. Some of your crops happen to be a ways from the bin? Then I guess you’re going to be running back and forth an awful lot.
Now, none of this is exciting in the least, but the thing that really tears it is the fact that the lion’s share of your playing time is squandered on the above-mentioned cycle day-in, day-out. As your ranch expands, so too does the amount of effort you’ll have to expend in the planting, watering, and harvesting . . . every . . . single . . . day. Plant enough grass seed and you can raise chickens and cows as well, which significantly adds to your income but conversely does the same to your daily workload of repetition. Now you’ll not only toil in the fields every day, but you’ll also have to hustle on over to the barn to give each one of your charges its ration of fodder. And unlike crop raising, you can’t just shirk your chores one rainy Sunday or they’ll refuse to provide you with eggs and milk for a while. Despite all the tireless work you have to put into it, I really don’t see what this game’s design team wanted me to feel I was accomplishing with this. Gosh, now I have enough money to plant a lot more turnips and do even more work every day – now that’s what I call “incentive.”
In the spring and summer seasons you’ll follow this pattern pretty much religiously with the exclusion of the odd rainy day or feeble holiday. Oddly enough, in a way the autumn and winter months are even worse, because you can’t grow anything and thus have practically nothing to do unless you already have livestock to feed or feel like cruising the nearest township looking to pick up chicks. Yes, not only does Jack buy his equipment at a nearby village but he can also drop in from time to time to engage in some inane banter with the local oafs as well as a handful of eligible females just waiting for someone to woo them. There are five girls to choose from, none of which are ever developed beyond a set of stale archetypes: the God-worshipping goodie two-shoes, the tomboy, the animal-lover, and so forth. But wait! Each girl has different tastes, and by delivering gifts like flowers and foodstuffs her affection for Jack will blossom . . . or she’ll secretly wish to bludgeon him over the head with a nearby rake.
For instance, let’s say you’re carrying a big, juicy trout that’s still flopping about in its death throes and you present it to Eve, the saucy barmaid who doesn’t like fish.
Jack: “Here is a fish.”
Eve: “Yuck, I do not like fish.”
Jack: “Oops, my bad.”
Mind you, while this gift-giving will in fact eventually capture that special someone’s heart, it also takes a VERY LONG time. Months will go by seemingly without progress; fortunately you can get a sizable boost to your love life by dancing with your secret sweetheart and optionally buying her a bottle of perfume during the rare holiday festival. Too bad the game’s programmers made all this perfectly useless, because at various times of the year each of the girls will ask you a silly question like:
“Do you believe in God?” (yes / no)
“It'll be showcased at the shop one of these days so please try it.” (hum / I don’t want it)
Not only will choosing the correct response raise your compatibility quite a bit, but then you can just exit the screen and return to answer her question over and over again, to the point where you can max out your love rating with one of the girls in a matter of mere days! Game days that is, which is probably the equivalent of twenty minutes. Kind of defeats the whole point, doesn’t it? It’s blunders like this that make you wonder why they even bothered.
The whole “agricultural simulation” thing may be a novel concept, but as the days crept by in their painfully recurrent fashion, I increasingly began to hope that Jack’s pastoral life would one day come to an abrupt and tragic halt. Perhaps his insignificant flyspeck of a village would suddenly find itself conquered by the legions of Darkness, its dwellings burned to the ground and all its inhabitants heartlessly slaughtered – after all, isn’t that what these tranquil hamlets are for? The leader of this wicked band, himself a pawn of the ultimate power, who in turn would be an unknowing subordinate to the really ultimate power, would doubtlessly also make off with Jack’s helpless betrothed, and maybe even kick his dog for good measure. Then our hero would have to pull out his grandfather’s old rusted sword and set out on an adventuresome quest of self-discovery accompanied by his vengeful canine companion. You know . . . RPG-type things. And while we’re obviously dealing with the Super Nintendo and not the PC Engine, I wouldn’t have said no to some snazzy anime intermissions complete with speech and frequent panty shots.
My hopes were to go unrealized.
Instead one gets to slog through the entire boring process all over again the next year, albeit with improved tools that allow you to maintain an even larger area of crops every day. Hurray. It isn’t until the third summer that the game finally ends, and there’s really very little point in continuing that far, because Harvest Moon simply isn’t fun to play. Rather it becomes inescapably dull and dreary to the point that it feels like a series of chores rather than an amusement. Maybe this just isn’t my type of game, but despite its superficially inventive premise, I really don’t see how “tedious exercises in monotony” could be anyone’s type of game. Perhaps an unbelievably patient sort of player that loves to build up fictitious revenue might be able to coax a little enjoyment into taking sprout, but those with a predilection for action, adventure, or merely a little variety now and again will find that these fields are ultimately barren.
Staff review by Sho (August 06, 2005)
Sho enjoys classic video games, black comedy, and poking people until they explode -- figuratively or otherwise. He also writes a bit.
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