Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns
Developer: Marvelous Entertainment Inc.
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Platform: 3DS (reviewed), DS
Release Date: 29th June
Price: £29.99 – Available Here
Arriving as the umpteenth Harvest Moon game but the first on 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns needed to find another slightly different way to do the same thing. Its gimmick: the titular ‘Two Towns’. Most Harvest Moon games let you grow crops, others allowed you to rear animals, and a number of them encouraged you to do both. Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns is different in that both aspects of farming are present, but you are forced to choose between the life of a livestock farmer or an agricultural farmer from the very beginning when the mayors of the two towns of Bluebell and Konohana ask where you’ll be staying.
As the Harvest Goddess explains to you, relations between Bluebell and Konohana are strained. A long time age their relationship couldn’t have been better; Bluebell was yin to Konohana’s yang, the two types of farming complemented each other and a tunnel through the mountain promoted prosperity through the townsfolk trading and socialising amongst themselves.
But some things were said which shouldn’t have been said until they came to the conclusion they didn’t want to see each other anymore. The Harvest Goddess closed off the mountain underpass and many years down the line the two towns still don’t get along, a though it’s tradition more than anything else, and while there is still access going over the mountain, the only time they tend to come together now is for a food festival on top of the mountain.
It’s this food festival that the whole game revolves around. You may have thought the theme was rearing animals or growing crops, but in actual fact these are just ways of cultivating ingredients for the cooking event. Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns sees an extra emphasis put on cooking; no longer is it just a method to recover some of your stamina. As the plucky young farmer tasked with improving relations between the two settlements by the Harvest Goddess, you use this regular food festival (which takes the format of a competition, with a new category of dish each week) to piece together the old friendship.
When the game starts out and the townsfolk are doing their introductory waffle and explaining the various processes, it can be hard to see how Harvest Moon can be described as addictive. And then it gets its hooks in. Once you’ve got past the ‘how to’s, the meetings and the greetings, this small virtual safe haven can get a hold on you. There’s something about it that appeals to the hoarder in each of us, a satisfaction to converting a crop watered everyday for five days into hard-earned gold, becoming rich in the process.
As your wealth grows, so does the scale of your operation. As an agricultural farmer, you plant a wider range of seeds and have a larger crop yield as you go on. Or if you are a livestock farmer, you can breed your animals by leaving them with the Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns equivalent of the daycare lady in Pokemon. Upgrading your horse and cart so it can carry more will help with running errands also.
Although it mostly comes back to cooking and the food festival, there are lots of different elements to gameplay like in other Harvest Moon titles. As well as a farming sim it’s a village sim, so in addition to caring for livestock and harvesting crops (there is the option to swap farming disciplines should you regret your first choice), interacting with the towns’ inhabitants can potentially fill some of your time. The more you talk to them the more you’ll get to know their favourite things, so you’ll know what gifts to give them if you’re looking to get in someone’s good books or woo a spouse. They also set you errands to keep you busy, and although it isn’t the most exciting part of the game owing to the dull dialogue and limited character animation, the odd-looking cast is charming it its own way.
There is some exploring to be done, as the mountain path constitutes for the wilderness, offering a space big enough to create a mild sense of adventure initially but small enough to get to grips with fairly quickly. God knows what kind of ecosystem it is as there’s everything from monkeys to ducks to bears lurking out there, but it provides a good spot for fishing and bug-catching, two other past times in the world of Harvest Moon, and for scavenging for resources such as cooking ingredients.
Visuals & Audio:
The game may not make full use of what the 3DS is capable of, but it has no problem creating a visually inviting world nevertheless. A bright palette of colours and two very different themed towns cover the graphics front, and it’s surprising how, despite being simple, techniques such as the one used atop the mountain for a sense of scale and a pretty backdrop. The music remains almost constant throughout, a cheery jungle you would expect from such a title. It’s unobtrusive enough not to grow irritating too hastily.
Based in a setting that doesn’t do too much to shake up the tried and tested formula for Harvest Moon, The Tale of Two Towns doesn’t make for a particularly special Harvest Moon game, with more appeal for first timers than those familiar with the franchise. It has the balance of menial, everyday tasks and the overall goal of uniting the two towns, as well as plenty of accumulating and upgrading stuff and expanding your repertoire or recipes, even if the bed-at-the-end-of-the-day save system doesn’t make it a game you could play on the go. The fact that nothing really happens will put some people off, but those looking to lead the simple (virtual) life, this cute village sim has been around the black and knows its cows from its bulls.