This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Harvest Moon: One World.
Jeez, I thought the world of light farming simulators was a gentle, uncomplicated place where turnips always come up in three days and baby cows spontaneously materialize inside barns when the other cows are happy enough, with none of the grim realities of getting plowed up and down the feeding trough by a randy bull. But apparently, there's a lot of copyright fuckery going on in the world of almost-spherical livestock. Okay, I looked this up, and I think I've got the details square: The popular and influential Japanese cutesy farming sim franchise Farm Story was published by Natsume in the West under the name "Harvest Moon"; in 2014, the developer switched publishers, and its games have since been released in the West under the name "Story of Seasons" because Natsume reserved the rights to the name "Harvest Moon" so that they could make their own rival cutesy farming games and call them "Harvest Moon", because they assume those fat, ignorant Westerners have reservoirs of cream gravy instead of brains and won't know the difference.
Well, just dip a biscuit in my skull, because I tried out the new Harvest Moon on Switch. I enjoyed Harvest Moon back on the SNES and have clocked in enough hours in Stardew Valley to raise an actual child or moderately-sized dog, so I was curious to see in precisely what manner Natsume was buggering the franchise's reputation over a feeding trough; quite heartily, it turns out! Harvest Moon: One World is the game, and while it seems to have had some noble intention to sprinkle a little more adventure into the concept so you're not just waking up and urinating on potatoes day in, day out, in doing so, it loses sight of the core appeal of these games, and there's a general air of wrongness about the whole thing, which first started sinking in when it told me to go to the cave and mine some bronze ore. There's no such thing as "bronze ore", you shitwits! It's an alloy; it doesn't occur naturally! It's like telling me to go harvest a cupcake bush.
Anyway, the starting premise is that you're a dude in a world where everyone's forgotten how seeds work. "Oh, so it's like a dystopian future where technology's taken over and everyone eats manufactured nutrient cubes?" Well, that sounds like an interesting concept for a light farming sim, and as such, too interesting to be anywhere near this game. It's actually a standard RPG rural village, where I guess the inhabitants have subsisted up to now sucking the dew off the grass every morning. I say "village"; it's more like two houses on the edge of a cliff.
That's one of many ways this game comes off as insubstantial; another way is how most of the world is an empty corridor maze of repeating grass texture dotted with the odd house or tree that all look like inflatable pool toys, as do the characters, especially the protagonist with their glazed expression and permanent "village idiot" grin that looks incomplete because they forgot to add the line of drool at the corner of the mouth. Anyway, as the one weirdo who still thinks crops grow from seeds, you are tasked by the Goddess of Spring (or someone like that) to travel the world and reintroduce the concept of growing things; and yes, every character in this game does come across as about as stupid as this premise. I mean, for fuck's sake, there are fruit-bearing trees everywhere! What did everyone think those were? Unusually taciturn people with very delicious haircuts?
The reasonable question to ask at this point would be "How does one combine a farming sim with a game about journeying around the world?"; the one certainty about farms is that they kind of can't go anywhere. Well, shows how much you know, because this society that failed to develop agriculture has mastered miniaturization technology; you know, it's like when you play Civilization against someone who researches nuclear fission before they've discovered the wheel. Because of this, you can pack up all your farm buildings into a convenient package and go establish yourself at one of several predetermined spots throughout the world because this society has also failed to develop the concept of land ownership, apparently.
But isn't the point of these types of farming simulators to build something and watch it grow from a humble turnip patch in the backwoods to the primary agribusiness concern of Anime Thirsty Ladies-ville? You don't get that when you're having to uproot yourself every few hours so you can move to a new area with a different-color repeated ground texture, another two or three inflatable NPCs to load you down with more fucking fetch quests, and another couple of thirsty love interest characters about as romantically intriguing as a plank with a bad haircut. I say "uprooting": you can't actually bring anything you're growing with you; just the buildings and your animals pressed together into one squawking, very confused box. Every new spot has its own unchangeable grid of farming plots lovingly laid out by Mother Nature with a fucking set square, apparently.
So the game generally lacks a sense of payoff, and the mechanics are going to the randomness bordello a few too many times for a few too many economy handjobs. You can't really choose what seeds you get; you pick them up randomly one-at-a-time from passing gnomes, which is very annoying if you're trying to fill a quota, like the story mission that required me to grow three watermelons. I turned over every gnome in the fucking place, and when I finally found watermelon seeds, I'd wait for them to grow, and then the game went, "Ooh, you're so good at growing melons! This melon randomly turned into a special melon, which doesn't count towards the quest quota, so I guess it's back to the gnomes with you!"
And don't get me started on the fishing, 'cos I just started anyway; it'd be redundant. "Ooh, that's a nice big silhouette of a fish in that water!" say I, forgetting that this isn't Animal Crossing, because after I drop in my line, all those enticing silhouettes disappear and a random, generally much piddlier one appears for you to catch. Then you have to press a button when the little fish icon moves past a bar, but the icon can change direction at literally any moment, and if you press wrong, then bye, sucker; stole your bait! And then, 90% of the time, it's a fucking sardine, that sell for so fucking little, I might as well have spent the time charging truckers for disappointing handjobs.
After one particularly long and unrewarding day of proxy handjobs, I realized I didn't even know what I was saving up money for; I didn't need it to buy seeds, thanks to the gnome exchange, and I felt about as much investment in my farm as I do in one of my extra-long pubes after I zip my trousers up too quick. And that's it, really; I'd heard that Natsume was driving the Harvest Moon ice cream van smack into the animal shelter, and I suppose I was just curious to see the wreckage for myself and pick through it for salvageable orange fruities.
In the meantime, if, like me, you enjoy fantasizing about what it would be like to have actual manual skills, there's a new Story of Seasons coming this month that's probably the one worth holding out for. Or try the remake of the GBA one that's out on Steam; keyboard controls are a bit wonky, and it's hard to get a good sexual tension going when all the love interests are proportioned like Dora the Explorer, but that's just the companionable whiff of cow manure that drifts into the farmhouse kitchen compared to One World's hundred-yard swim down the factory farm runoff pipe.
- Oi've got a brarnd new comboine arrvestur: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Maybe Harvest Moon: One World is a prequel to Two Worlds. Or a sequel to Zero World, the (googles hastily) novel by Jason M. Hough
- Old McAnime had a farm EE Wai EE Waifu