I have finally made it to the farm. Leaving my folks and setting off on my own was hard to do, but I believe it was a good decision.
Pushing open the gates to the farm, I was kind of taken aback by what I saw. I was equally excited and scared from my view. To the left, my new house and beside it stables, a silo, and chicken coop. To my right, a field that had obviously been untended for years full of weeds and stumps, not to mention the plethora of rocks jutting out of the ground just waiting to turn a horse’s ankle.
I opened the shed to find a few rusty tools, half covered in a layer of fine dust. They don’t look like much, but I have a feeling this is the start of something great.
And so our farming adventure begins!
Your new home
In this, the first Harvest Moon, your character basically runs away from his crying family and either buys, inherits, or squats on an old ranch on the outside of a small town. The townsfolk accept that you now live there, but I do not recall specifically how you come to own the property. You just do, ok? We don’t need to see any deeds.
Your ranch lies just on the east side of town, and a path in between your ranch and the town leads up to a mountain area full of mountain folk who will eagerly help you renovate your home for the right price. In town, an assortment of people are there to make conversation, and shops line the streets that will sell you seeds, equipment, and livestock. Get to know these people well, as they will be the ones to help you make gold from your land.
The general object of the game is to – to use modern HGTV parlance – “flip” the ranch from its terrible, weed filled state to a profitable, money generating juggernaut in the course of about three years (although in the end you aren’t really selling the farm, so maybe this is not the best description). The not-so-spoken-of object is actually to make your main character (“Jack,” we’ll call him here) happy by the end of the game, and there is a giant, hidden scorecard that sits behind the scenes keeping track of your actions. Having a successful ranch when it’s all said and done will probably net you a pretty good score and end up making Jack pretty happy, but there certainly are additional actions that you can perform to up this tally.
Home on the range
Your day begins at 6am sharp, and after a quick breakfast – that Jack scarfs down in one bite – you head outside to tend to the farm. At the start of the game, you have but just a few hundred Harvest Bux that will afford you one, maybe two, bags of seeds at the town flower shop. Once purchased, it’s a mad dash back to the farm to get them planted and watered before the day ends. Fortunately, the toolshed comes fully stocked to help you plow, chop, hammer, and water your field as needed.
The farming simulation presented is pretty interesting, and like real farming – I assume – after a while things run mostly on repetition. After planting a few crops or purchasing a chicken or a cow, upon waking up that day you have a pretty good understanding of how the day will play out: you’ll water the crops, feed the animals, and hopefully have some produce to sell by the end of the day. Once you have a system in place, the game mostly becomes automatic.
Making money in this game is mainly done by throwing your produce (or milk or eggs) into a bin at the front of your property by 5pm that day, when those goods are taken by a handler to be sold. Any goods placed here after that deadline are worthless and will rot before the following day. Because of this, you quickly learn that your daylight hours are crucial, and prioritizing becomes key. You might think that a huge farm would be great because you’d have so many crops to sell at harvest time. And that makes sense. But when each square of crop has to be watered every day for them to fully grow, a giant farm can become too much of a hassle, especially when you have livestock to take care of, too.
Controlling Jack’s farming activities is pretty simple: A to pick up items or speak to people, B to run, Y to use a tool, and X to switch items on hand. L and R whistles for your dog or horse, respectively, and Select shows you the date and your current funds. There is no Pause. These simple controls work out pretty well for the most part, but in playing the game I wish a couple of things were a little more streamlined. The biggest offender is X. You press X and your character holds up over his head the tool that is currently equipped. You can only have two tools out at a time, so hitting X will just toggle between Jack showing you a hammer or a watering can, say. The problem here is that this holding animation feels like it takes hours, and while Jack is proudly showing you the tool you are about to get to use, you sit there staring at the screen wanting him to just get on with it already. When the daylight hours are precious, the extra second or so that Jack is admiring that hoe (woa buddy) could be spent plowing (settle down!).
The only other gripe control-wise is that if you accidentally put down an item in the wrong spot, it’s gone forever. If you miss the bin while trying to throw a turnip in there, it just disappears. I spent a week growing that turnip, and I can’t pick it up off of the ground from where it came? Farming is rough.
The forecast calls for hurricanes
Harvest Moon doesn’t let you simply rest on that springtime routine you had gotten used to. Once the seasons start changing, you’ll have to adapt. A clever farmer will check the forecast before going to bed each night to prepare for the following day, as news of hurricanes in the summer can severely dampen one’s spirits. If you happen to have a hurricane, expect that a good portion of your crops will be blown away, your fence will break in several places, and if you happened to leave a poor chicken outside, he’ll probably be gone by the morning.
The fall and winter bring with them the inability to grow any crops, and you will have to rely on your livestock or trips gathering mushrooms from a nearby mountain to maintain profitability. Since your cows and chickens eat grass as food, you had better hope you have enough for them to last the 60 days of the winter months. If you run out, your cows can become sick, and they will stop producing milk, leaving you to rely on feed bought at the store at what seems like a pretty outrageous price.
But the weather changes are not always bad. Rainy days in the spring and summer can actually prove to be the best days, as they allow you to not have to worry about watering your crops, freeing up plenty of time during the day to go to town or clear out some rocks and old tree stumps from your field.
I have made it nearly through my first year, and the surprises still keeps coming. Today, on my way to town, I found a foal in the road. He looked lost, so I took him in. I named him Carl. He seems a bit skittish right right now; hopefully he’ll grow to like it on the farm. Probably when it warms up.
But it’s not all just work work work. A few events litter the calendar in which you can partake, letting you divert some focus away from the farm for a bit to dance with the local ladies or have an egg hunt. Beyond that, however, not much will occupy your time beyond plowing and milking and gathering eggs. You can visit the mountain to talk to the mountain folk or speak to the townspeople here and there, but they do not say a whole lot after the first few encounters.
If you become lonely on the farm, you do have the option of wooing one of the girls in town. By bringing them gifts, speaking with them, and dancing with them at events, you may be able to take one of them as your bride. You may even end up with a couple of childrens if you are lucky. All of this, of course, helps with your happiness at the end of the game.
But, again, beyond this, there are but just a couple of secrets/side-quests to do when you aren’t managing farm things, so you had better enjoy the daily grind.
Should you wake up at 6am to plow?
This game is a pretty great time sink. There is enough leeway to focus on completely different money making paths, whether you focus more on farming or raising livestock or (smartly) a combination of both. Figuring out different ways to lay out crops and how to maximize your time doing chores becomes sort of a game in and of itself.
That said, after a while I found myself wanting some more things do to, especially in the fall and winter months when your crops don’t grow. During those times you are just trying to keep your livestock going with an ever dwindling amount of grass. On the other hand, you have a lot more time to clean up your pasture/farmland, so it’s not all bad.
Given that the game is nearly two decades old, you probably won’t be in any position to play it, but if you are looking for a good game to play while doing something else like watching TV, then this is not a bad choice.