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When I first played Harvest Moon, I was practically a child. Plowing the land, planting seeds, watering them, tending to animals, harvesting crops, and throwing them in a basket to receive a chunk of money was pleasantly easy. I thought that was why so many farmers were usually wealthy.
And then, by a twist of fate, when I was 18, my father bought a small ranch. One week I decided to help the caretaker with some chores. After all, I had experience managing a farm (I was not that delusional). Needless to say, it wasn’t easy. With Harvestella, art imitated life but added some cheat codes to make it easier.
Farming games are entertaining because they turn an arduous process into something light and pleasant. It’s satisfying to see your crops growing, your animals happy, and your farm expanding without getting sunburned in the pasture. Harvestella does this and adds a dash of Square Enix flavor in the form of a story-driven action RPG-ish.
Welcome to Farm Life
Character creation is lackluster but has a fantastic addition. It allows the player to choose male, female, or non-binary gender. The game producer, Daisuke Taka, said, “using gender-neutral pronouns takes a relatively small amount of effort, yet the positive impact is huge.” Always good to see the industry evolving with society.
You can name the protagonist, but Ein is their default name. I stayed with it because I liked the name and thought Ryu would feel wrong at home farming and plowing. After finishing the creation, which should take no longer than two minutes, Ein awakens to the sound of a flying girl in an unknown town.
Ein soon discovers that, in the world, there’s a phenomenon in-between the four seasons called Quietus. Giant crystal-like natural objects called Seaslight offer boons to each season. During Quietus, however, these crystals emit hazardous dust that makes one sick if inhaled, so people stay inside.
The protagonist was found unconscious during the Quietus, leading many to say they are lucky to be alive. Soon after, a crystal falls from the sky. Inside of it lies a person. From the get-go, this is the mystery that ticks off. What is Quietus, why are things falling from the sky, what’s our protagonist’s backstory, and why there’s a Hoe in their backpack?
Harvestella is a farming simulation first, an action-RPG second, but a Square Enix game foremost. To sum it up, it’s a story-driven farming-sim action-RPG game. During the first five nights, I was treated to a cutscene to shed some light on its intriguing narrative.
The game also tries to personalize the dialogue by allowing you to choose some response options at various times. Answers do not alter the outcome and only prompt a different response line before returning to the planned script.
The central conflict in the narrative is that the world’s four Seaslights are acting strangely and causing a series of occurrences. These include an increase in monsters, strange buildings popping out of nowhere, and Quietus’s sudden and sporadic arrival.
The protagonist takes on the duty of investigating the Seaslights and finding the reason behind their irregularities.
In the midst of all this are Omens, who appear similar to humans but are covered in futuristic armor that hides their faces. To ordinary people, they are bad news.
To our do-good protagonist, they are possible allies/foes. Besides the enigmatic Omens, we will meet several other characters on our journey. Some will support our cause, and others will threaten it without explaining exactly why in order to thicken the plot.
Save the World or Grow Your Farm
Further along in the story, I met a party member who helped me cross a mountain because our goals were aligned. But as we were advancing, it got late, and I had to return home, which left me wondering what would happen to the said party member.
As you can imagine, nothing. I returned to the mountain, and they diligently waited for me after I took my time watering my crop and scouring for berries.
Harvestella’s farming and main story progression are intertwined and separate simultaneously. Gameplay-wise, you don’t need to farm to explore dungeons and advance the plot. You can survive on the fruits you forage as food. However, these two spectrums of the game complement each other.
While farming, earning some coins and cooking food isn’t mandatory, it will be easier to traverse a dungeon with an upgraded weapon (demands money) and a full belly. Food functions as potions for your health and stamina, two counters that will gradually decrease as you fight your way through dungeons.
On the bright side, there is no time limit in Harvestella, as in the golden days of Harvest Moon. You can take care of your farm without rushing the story and vice versa. If you want to spend hours tending to your farm, building a livestock empire, and cooking all the possible recipes, you can.
And you will if you intend to pour hours into the game. The unraveling of the mysterious plot that permeates the fantasy world of Harvestella can wait since it’s a one-time thing. Once you’re done, you’re done.
This unlimited freedom gives you space to cherish the sidequests. These are the most casual ones possible, like helping to make a gift for friends or finding out why a child is throwing a tantrum.
Most involve no-nonsense characters and offer a mundane but gray moral conclusion. Some heartwarming, some thoughtful. Ultimately, it will still seem like a soap opera, but one that I can stand for.
The Harvest in Harvestella
Farming is as you would expect. You must plow the land, plant seeds, and water them daily. Each seed has its own particularity and varies by season. Rainy days are glorious because they hasten the irrigation process. I learned new crafts by buying books, such as fishing.
Animals are also part of your farm; you better pet them daily to not look like a monster. Through the story, you unlock some helpers to help you on the farm since your farm will slowly get bigger, and you’ll need to do more in the same timeframe. There’s nothing innovative about it. If you played a farming game, you know what to expect.
Our character has a stamina gauge, and once it’s zeroed out, they cannot perform any actions at all. To avoid this, you need to eat. When we eat, we fill the Hunger Gauge, which slowly depletes while stamina regenerates over time. At first, no food is necessary, but as your farm grows, better put Uber Eats on speed dial.
As with most agribusiness games, every day has a time limit. Many actions and places change according to time, such as the functioning of shops or some sidequest requirements. The protagonist’s combat skills decrease as the clock runs out, forcing a sleepy debuff.
If the clock reaches midnight, it stops, and actions are limited. The screen starts to fade out, and the protagonist faints, losing money to the doctor’s fee.
I know the romantic in you is wondering: can we have romance in Harvestella? The answer is yes! The game’s developer, Hiroto Furuya, explained on Twitter that players can have a partner, but to do so, you must complete the main story first.
However, a system called character bonds is introduced early on. Noteworthy side characters and party members offer personal questlines to learn more about their past and motives.
Complete their questline to deepen the bond and unlock special rewards. Bonuses for party members include combat perks and even special skills like double tech. Bonding with NPCs will earn you rare items and esteem for their story.
The Action Improves Over Time
The battle in Harvestella is a run-of-the-mill action-based game. There is no dedicated command to dodge or defend, although some Jobs skills do the trick. I spent most of the time mashing the attack button, unleashing some abilities, and changing jobs whenever they entered cooldown.
Many boss battles remind me of Final Fantasy XIV, where you have an AoE indicator pointing out when they will attack you. In those cases, it’s easy to move away and avoid damage.
All experience gained is counted after sleeping and contributes to the protagonist’s level. Harvestella has jobs, a feature you are already familiar with. You can equip three at a time and seamlessly change them during battle, putting the previous one on a cooldown.
Each enemy defeated provides an amount of JP for the equipped job, which are points used to learn new battle skills. The combat became more and more fun as I acquired more jobs. Why do games always introduce dull jobs first and leave the fun ones for later?
Each enemy has several weaknesses, and if you hit them with one, an icon will appear to show their vulnerability. Changing jobs to exploit this is a clever strategy and adds a dynamic layer to the action.
However, jobs like Mage are borderline useless if all party members are dead. Magic charges too slowly, and the enemy would always smack me before I finished casting.
The equipment system is handled with upgrades. Each party member has a weapon that can be upgraded in the Smithy. Materials and money are required. The protagonist also has a slot for two accessories that give various bonuses.
It would help if you upgraded your weapons, or the game will become too challenging. I died several times because I made silly mistakes, wanted to save food, or neglected upgrades. Food is especially imperative to explore a dungeon without exhausting early on and recovering HP.
Exploring is Amazing but Costly
Harvestella brought back something I was always passionate about in old JRPGs: an overworld map. God, I love those things. Acquiring an airship and exploring every corner of the map in search of secret locations was such a thrill.
Remember how much time we spent treasure hunting with Chocobos in Final Fantasy IX or using the scan in Wild Arms to find new areas? Such fun! Pardon my digression, but I missed it.
The map on Harvestella has an annoying caveat. Time passes as you wander through it, and way too quickly. You can buy mounts to travel faster, but after spending hours tending to your farm and visiting the nearby city, it’s inconvenient to see hours spilling away. This is especially true if you just want to reach the next dungeon.
In Stardew Valley, I got anxious exploring the mine because the deeper I delved, the more time I lost. Despite the ladder shortcuts, I didn’t want to go back and do it all again the next day, so several times my character collapsed while exploring.
In Harvestella, I hoped time would stop in the middle of dungeons, but that’s not the case. Even in them, time continues to run, which creates a sense of urgency in combat zones and frustration if you enter a dungeon too late. And yeah, you also have ladders as shortcuts.
Stamina is also a minor issue during exploration. I had to eat something, even at full HP, to fill my Hunger gauge, or else I wouldn’t be able to attack. And party members won’t attack unless you hit the enemy first, so you see the hassle.
RPGs are all about exploration, and Harvestella sometimes made me feel punished for exploring since time would pass on so fast. Luckily, some point of interest, like gathering, is shown on the map.
Sometimes shiny dots appear in dungeons. These are akin to random events and can give items and recover status or cause them. They would describe an action, like if I wanted to eat a highly suspicious red mushroom or put my hand in an ominous hole.
Since I had to traverse most dungeons several times, these events added variety. Honestly, I wonder if they respawn since it looks pretty random.
The world in Harvestella is relatively tiny in comparison to other overworld JRPGs. There are four main cities, several dungeons, and a couple extra zones. But they are brimming with charm and personality.
The seaside town was my favorite, with its prairie houses overflowing with a casual, summery style. Dungeons have a unique design and gorgeous soundtrack, which adds to the plot’s mystery.
The game does offer a welcome and familiar feature: fast travel. Save points operate as warping posts. You register them by finding one and can quickly traverse to one another as long it’s within the same zone. Conveniently, every save point can take you back to the farm, so it’s a secure haven for late nights.
A Gorgeous but Rehashed Design
Harvestella features a typical Switch game design. It has cartoonish characters and villages, but recycling the assets and the occasional pixel downgrading here or there. The character designs are blatantly identical. Everyone has pretty much the same body model, varying only in clothes, hair, and eyes. Children are a flattened version.
On the bright side, monsters’ designs are peculiar and engaging, primarily the bosses. Not to mention the assortment of items and their accurate descriptions based on reality. Every dish I made gave me ideas to try my hand at cooking.
The score at Harvestella reminds one of staring out the window, watching the trees waving in the yard and the critters running across the lawn. It’s a desirable feeling of serenity and inner peace. It uses wind and stringed instruments, such as the lute and harp.
Many moments are accompanied by a melody, sometimes melancholy, sometimes nostalgic. Boss Battles resurrects the epicness, revealing several soundtracks worthy of inclusion on a motivational hero workout playlist. My favorite is when we face FEARs, the powered version of regular monsters.
Harvestella is the mix of two worlds, farming games, and a story-driven Action RPG. While some games have done this amalgamation, none have emphasized the narrative as much. So my suggestions today are focused on farming games with certain combat elements, albeit simplistic ones.
- Rune Factory
- Stardew Valley
- Story of Seasons
- Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin
Pros & Cons
- Story is intriguing and well-told;
- Party members are weirdly combat-smart;
- Sidequests are heartwarming and surprising;
- Watching your farm grow it’s pleasantly satisfactory;
- Filling the encyclopedia is rewarding and easily trackable;
- There are a lot of activities in-game to meet your money’s worth.
- Combat is a bit dull and repetitive;
- Every character has the same big waist and thin legs design;
- There is a lot of going back and forth in dungeons due to time passage.
I played over 20 hours of Harvestella, reached chapter 4, expanded my farm to the highest level, unlocked the biomes, bonded with my party members, and contributed to the villages in their worldly quests.
Question: How many Chapters are there in Harvestella?
Answer: There are 10 chapters in Harvestella, but some branch into segments. For instance, Chapter 3 has episodes 3A, 3B, and 3C. Devs said you can expect 50 to 60 hours of casual gameplay. Double that amount if you intend to complete the entire encyclopedia.
Question: Can I Solely Play the Farm Part of Harvestella?
Answer: Kind of. While you can dedicate a good chunk of time just farming, gathering, cooking, livestock, and so on, I’m afraid you may need to progress on the story to unlock more buildings.
The Fowler, which is the hen house, needs a type of wood only found in forests, which you open in Chapter 3. You can enjoy your farm, but you will need the main story to unlock its potential to the fullest.
Question: What’s Harvestella Ratio between Farming and Action RPG?
Answer: At first, it’s even. But then, midgame to the end, the action gets more dynamic and the farming more automatic to the point where you barely spend time on your farm.
In your first playthrough, if you play casually and with a balance between both gameplays, you will spend most of your time in dungeons and killing monsters than on the farm. Ultimately, it’s up to you, and whatever floats your boat.
I trekked into Harvestella with minimal expectations. There are so many recent Square Enix releases which underwhelmed me, meaning that I was wary of this one. Right off the bat, I was met with a seemingly average story, seemingly dull gameplay, and a traditional farming life-sim.
However, as I progressed, the game grew increasingly quickly on me. I started having so much fun that I forgot about any other game and devoted myself to increasing my farm and helping the villagers.
Sleeping was my favorite part of the game. I knew I would earn money from yesterday’s shipment as soon as I woke up. Then, I would go on to cook some meals, pet my pets, harvest my crops, ship them away to earn more money, and further expand my farm. Rinse and repeat until I complete the whole encyclopedia.
The bottom line is that games are entertainment, so they must be enjoyable. Harvestella is a hell of a game for those who are farming fans and those who are story-driven action RPG fans. If you are a fan of both genres, then it will be a heavenly experience.