When Nintendo described this game as having “streamlined controls”, it seemed like a warning. Making things easier can be a great way to attract new players to a video game, but unless the controls are tweaked in just the right way, the game will end up being boring. Is this game suitable for the ardent Harvest Moon fan and the newcomer alike, or is it simply tedious and lacking in entertainment value?
A severe snowstorm causes you to become lost. A voice beckons you into a house, and you sleep there for the night. Upon waking up, you hear a voice calling for help. Following the voice, you enter the snow-covered farm and discover a Harvest Sprite. This Sprite, Rowan, tells you that you are in the Lost Valley and that it is stuck in a perpetual winter. The Harvest Goddess is the one who is supposed to control the seasons, but she lost the bracelet which gave her her power. Rowan just so happens to have this bracelet, and immediately entrusts the task of delivering it to the Harvest Goddess to you. Your goal now is to build a farm, grow and harvest all kinds of things and raise animals, meeting all sorts of people along the way.
If this game is any indication, Natsume has not yet made the distinction between ‘easy’ and ‘fun’. Streamlining a game does not automatically equate to producing an entertaining and engaging game. You cannot dig or raise the block you are standing on, meaning that you often have to create a new platform for you to be able to dig or fill a certain spot. Digging or filling blocks otherwise is easy enough with the game’s simple controls, but the system should be less restrictive. Players with plenty of patience may not have a bad time working on their farm, but the developers made some other poor decisions when designing the gameplay. When a block of land dries out, you have to water each individual block one by one. In other games that feature farming, you do not have to press the ‘A’ button when watering every single block.
As you make progress in the game, more and more Harvest Sprites will wake up and offer to help you with various tasks. One Sprite, Dewy, is supposed to water your fields for you. He does, but only about 10 blocks at a time. If you watch him, you will see a few blocks get watered only to see an equal or greater amount of blocks dry out in the time it took him to water those few blocks, unless you have things growing in just a few blocks. This means that it is actually more efficient to water each block of land one at a time, a monotonous task which can take up an entire in-game day.
You can increase your friendship percentage with the people you meet by doing requests for them. There is almost no sense of fulfilment when meeting these requests; completing them seems more like making a business transaction than making friends with people. It does not help that it takes hours for their dialogue options to change, and the random number generator has a tendency to pick the same line of dialogue several times in a row when you are talking to someone. There is a dating-sim element to this game, but there are only three archetypes to choose from as romantic partners and the interactions are extremely limited. There is apparently no same-sex option.
There is another problem which, to a certain extent, depends on how you play the game. Often you will not have the items nor the means to grow/acquire the items that are requested. This means that requests might be left in your queue for many in-game weeks. Of course, if you already have the requested items in your bag, you can complete a request in a matter of seconds.
Visuals and Audio
The 3D feature can only be turned on for the title screen, but in this game stereoscopic 3D would be a gimmick, not a genuinely useful or entertaining feature. The tree textures are progressively rendered when the camera is panning across the farm during the opening scenes of the game, although this problem may not be present when the game is played using a New Nintendo 3DS. Either way, it really does not make for a good start to the game. Moving the camera into the right position is often a matter of precision, but this may vary for each player depending on the exact layout of your farm.
There are a few bugs which might entertain players for a few seconds. If you walk into a player from the right angle, you will walk straight through them. Your cow might get stuck and have some sort of spasm as it walks to the troughs in your barn. Also, upon completing a quest, the hitboxes of NPCs often extend several blocks in front of them, meaning that you can talk to them despite being four blocks away from them. There do not seem to be any glitches that can be exploited, but one may wonder whether or not there was some kind of selection bias when the QA team was selected.
The character designs are passable but nothing special. It is disappointing that you cannot customise your avatar at the very beginning of the game, but you can eventually buy a wardrobe which will allow you to wear different clothes. Unfortunately, the wardrobe requires a few types of materials and a lot of money. If you are strapped for cash, weekends are a great time to go fishing, as fish can be sold at a decent price.
The soundtrack features just a few pieces of music, but the songs are not bad and a couple are quite pleasant to listen to. The songs all loop after just 30-60 seconds though, so you are going to have a problem if you get sick of any of the songs. The sound effects are nothing to write home about, but some of them sound as if they are being played through several audio channels.
Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley has its moments, but playing it is a matter of patience. The challenge is not in defeating a boss several levels higher than you or completing a challenge in a limited time-frame, but in dealing with the boredom that will most likely creep up on you at some point and make you wonder what the point of doing anything in the game is. It does not offer anything that cannot be found anywhere else; all it offers is a long diversion. This game is for only the most dedicated Harvest Moon fans and those who can deal with dozens of hours of tedious and monotonous gameplay.
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