A few weeks back I listened to a bunch of Retronauts podcasts, and one of them was devoted to musing and gushing about the entire Harvest Moon series. Well, as much as they all could. I noticed they neglected to touch upon Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar, the only one I’ve actually played up to this point. But since then, I’ve had the itch to either return to that DS title or try another in the franchise; the fact that you do a lot of farming for special plants and ingredients in Disney Magical World possibly also played a part in pushing me forward. Fortuitously, there was a PSN sale on a bunch of old PS1 classics some time back, so I grabbed Harvest Moon: Back to Nature for like a buck, planting the seed.
Well, in true Pauly fashion, this newly acquired farm is not off to a great start. But how did I come to be its caretaker, you ask? Via a somewhat somber opening cutscene. As a young lad, your summer vacation with your father is suddenly cancelled, and so you end up paying your grandfather–and his farm–a visit in the countryside. Things move quite differently out there. You also meet a girl, and, together, the two of you sing songs and play in the fields. You make a promise to her that you’ll be back one day. It has now been ten years since that summer; sadly, your grandfather passed away and left you the farm in his stead.
I’ve only played a week and a few in-game days for Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, but I’m finding it extremely slow-paced. More so than Grand Bazaar. Granted, I understand that these games are built upon routine, but it seems to even be an uphill climb to begin putting that routine into place. You begin day one on your grandfather’s farm–which I decided to name Freaky Farm–with 500G, a bunch of obvious tools, and no animals other than your dog, dubbed appropriately Chomp. Well, I was terrified to spend all my money in one lump, so I bought nine cucumber seeds, cleared a section of the very cluttered farmland, and planted and watered them each day. Alas, I picked a little poorly, as cucumbers take a very long time to grow.
Your initial tasks are not very obvious, and so you can end up wasting most of your day wandering around the farm and the nearby village. Wait, wasted isn’t the right word. Instead of farming and making money, you’re instead focusing on speaking with the local townsfolk, hearing about their problems and triumphs, and reacting accordingly. So far, a strange man has appeared in town to the policeman’s detriment. I also noticed that many customers are taking advantage of the supermarket’s clerk, using credit to “buy” things and never fully pay for them. A big part of the Harvest Moon games are structured around relationships, and growing a friendship or love thingy takes as much time–or even more–as that 3×3 field of potatoes. I also attended some kind of rose festival, where a bunch of girls did a dance. Also, I’m not even joking when I tell you it took me five days to figure out how to place produce in your bin, which is the only way to sell items and make some money; I kept throwing it from the wrong angle, which I guess destroyed the item.
After a week and a half of farming, I am beginning to see my Freaky Farm routine. It goes a little like this:
- Wake up at 6 AM
- Check the crops (water them, harvest them if ready)
- Head up to the hot springs area and grab three bamboo shoots to toss in the produce bin
- Head back to the hot springs, but go behind the waterfall, where you can use the hoe to dig up valuable minerals
- Back to the farm to pet the dog and say hi to Freckles the horse (no brush yet)
- By now, it’s probably a little after noon, so I’ll stroll through the village in search of any story scenes
- Return to the farm to pull weeds and toss rocks while waiting for Zack to show up and take everything in my shipping bin
- Go back inside and hop in bed despite it only being like 5:30 or 6:00 PM
And that’s it…so far. I imagine once I get more animals, more plants, and more things to do, I’ll have to switch the routine up. But for now, this at least earns me around 300 to 500G every day. Unfortunately, everything in the game is costly. I think a cow alone is like 4,000G. So I have a ways to go still. There’s so much I want to buy though: cows, chicken, brush for horse, bell, different seeds, etc.
I can most assuredly count on one hand the number of times I’ve looked at the manuals for the numerous digital games I’ve purchased, but Harvest Moon: Back to Nature‘s manual reading is a must for all newcomers. I can’t stress that enough. The game does not hold your hand and spell everything out; it’s about learning, taking things day by day. However, I’m also using this guide from time to time, which taught me what fatigue looks like, as well as the best way to save money and level up your tools.
Harvest Moon: Back to Nature is acting as a great palette cleanser before I move on to either Suikoden II or Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. I do find it a bit stressful when the day is over too fast and I have very little to show for it, but it’s a learning curve. Evidently, you can hire magical forest elves to help out on your farm, just not during spring as they are all gaga over some upcoming tea party. I’ll take all the help I can get. Oh, and there’s some kind of horse race event coming up; I hope Freckles is up to it. Stay tuned for further farm updates…