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Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
Review By: Siou Choy
 
Developer:  Victor Interactive Software
Publisher:  Natsume
# Of Players:  1
Genre:  RPG/Simulation
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  11-19-03

Hearken to the call of nature!  Well, that too, unless you care to explain away those obnoxious stains on your pants.  But all you tired, worn out city folk who just find yourselves a’wishin’ for a simpler life, Harvest Moon: Back to Nature may be the answer to your virtual dreams.  Now, there h’aint no need to worry about all o’ that hustlin’ an’ bustlin’ of city life; ‘cause y’all kin just set yourselves back and enjoy the calm and fulfilling (if not necessarily financially rewarding) lifestyle of the American farmer.  The option to play country music in the background is completely optional, I totally understand your feelings about it…

You play as a young Hee Haw fan (just lovin’ them Hee Haw Honeys, yessir…that Kathie Lee were a hot one, you betcha) that has just inherited his grandfather’s farm (isn’t this the plot in all the Harvest Moon games?).  The farm has fallen on some hard times, and will require a lot of work before it could return to operational status.  The townspeople have ever so generously given you three years to restore the farm and bring it back to its former prosperous state.  At the end of the three years, the town will decide if they want you to stay on (oh, thank you, o magnanimous ones!  Does this mean I get to attend the barn dance and go cow tipping with you too?).   During those three years you can make friends with people in the village (or not, it’s totally up to you) and should you be so inclined, take on a wife.  If you’re a real keener yuppie type, you can even go so far as to have yourself a child, though I personally wouldn’t recommend that course of action…

Just like with a real farm, the Harvest Moon experience you were expecting will require a bit of hard work to get to.  First you have to get things up to snuff, clearing weeds, rocks and fallen tree limbs or stumps.  Only then can you begin planting crops and raising animals.  Tending to the farm can be hard work.  Of course, when you get tired, you can soak in the local spring to replenish some energy before putting your nose back to the grindstone.  If you push yourself too hard, you’ll end up passing out and wake up late next morning, meaning somebody’s not getting a visit, some necessities aren’t getting bought, some crops aren’t getting harvested, or some animals aren’t getting fed.  Shame on you!

Tending a farm all by your lonesome can be a daunting task.  This means you also have to befriend the local “Harvest Spirits” (basically, a bunch of lazy, greedy elves), who depending on how well and often you bribe them, should be willing to help you with a few tasks around the farm.  And they must have a good union, because as lousy a job as they do, and as much as they strike out (just wait till you catch them sleeping on the job, budum), they’re the only game in town.  Unless you’d rather do it all yourself, mind you.  Mmm-hmm.  I didn’t think so.

The animals in Harvest Moon are also a real handful.  Just like the real thing, they can frustrate the hell out of you by refusing to move out of your way, trapping you between them while they chew cud and scarf down grass.  They can also be pretty temperamental, just like the elves or the girls in town.  Do the wrong thing, and those hearts drop abysmally low, or just never rise in the first place.  This is about the only thing keeping you from having fun by taking an axe or hoe to their heads, just to hear them yell (really gets the frustrations out, but you pay for it in hearts).

Think that’s enough?  We’re just getting started.  Just like they do on a real farm, you’ll have to rotate your crops based on each growing season.  What that means to all you city-bred types is that crops like turnips and potatoes can only be grown in the spring, while onions and tomatoes are in season during summer.  And not every season has a high earner, either, so you’d best stock up and work hard when the money crops grow, or you’ll be starving yourself (and your cattle) when you hit leaner times.

Then there’s your social calendar (trust me, there just aren’t enough hyper-accelerated hours in the Harvest Moon day to live your virtual life to its fullest – but you’ll discover that soon enough).  Throughout the year, there will be several village festivals and events you can take part in - at least three per season.  Some of these provide you with an opportunity to show off your animals, like dog and horse races and contests over how healthy your cow or sheep is.  There’s even a festival to show off how tough your chicken is (or to be more direct about it, what is colloquially known as a cockfight).  Show your ASPCA volunteer friends to the door and throw down your bets…

Reaching the end of the three years in Harvest Moon can be a daunting task, and not only in the sense of all this requiring a lot of time and effort on your part, either.   As you begin to achieve your goals (bigger house and barn, large, productive farm, marriage), the events begin to repeat themselves, with little novelty and nothing new to discover.  Plain and simple, at this point (at whatever point in the game’s timeline you happen to achieve it), the game begins to feel repetitive and somewhat pointless, to say the least.   Now, the diehards among us who just have to play it through to the end, can continue to play.  Just don’t expect that baby to ever grow up.  And you can forget those hopeless dreams of that wife you married ever lifting a finger to help out on the farm (so you’d best pick some real eye candy, kid).  And if that’s not a powerful life lesson for these post-feminist times, nothing is…

HIGHS:

  • More relaxing, yet addictive fun than you’d ever imagine from such an absurd premise.
  • Cute graphics.
  • Plenty to do and achieve, and sufficiently hard to do it, serving to keep you involved for a fairly long stretch.
  • Farming without the poverty or farm animal stench.

LOWS:

  • Once those goals are achieved, though, watch out – nothing new left to discover, and no reason to continue playing.
  • The whole wooing and marriage thing seems rather pointless, except as something else to do along the way.  Why are you breaking your ass to hook up with this person, when all she winds up doing is hanging around the house as window dressing (and get your minds out of the gutter, this is an “E” rated game)?

FINAL VERDICT:

Harvest Moon: Back to Nature is a perfect, if seemingly unlikely addition to simulation or RPG fans’ personal libraries.  Extremely addictive and fun, with cute graphics and silly, appropriately innocuous music, Harvest Moon provides an excellent relaxation tool.  This really makes the game stand out in contrast to practically everything else being offered in today’s market, saturated to overflowing with adrenaline overload and stress-inducing drama.  And for those among us harboring a secret desire to pursue an agricultural profession, Harvest Moon offers the chance to be a farmer without getting your hands dirty (and while keeping your pockets full, minus the game’s asking price).  Harvest Moon: Back to Nature can’t be recommended enough.

Overall Score: 9.0

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