HON Reviews: Harvest Moon 64 (Wii U)
Harvest Moon 64 is back and better than ever

Welcome to the farm

The first thing I notice is my grandfather was a mean joker.  Boulders are strewn all over the farm.  How the heck did he get them there?  I think I’ve been pranked.
Harvest Moon is a series of farming simulators with romance options.
Harvest Moon 64 holds a special place in the series for being the first 3DHarvest Moon and a game that the developers clearly put a lot of love into.  It’s a love returned tenfold by all the series fans who played this game, and finally it’s going to earn some new fans with its launch on the Wii U virtual console.

The game opens with a death in the family and it’s up to you to keep the farm going.
Usually in rural communities this leads to a lot of imbibing of fluids and wallowing in self-pity, but in this game it leads straight into the fun.

I’ve tried and failed at Harvest Moon before so I take the chance to head straight into the tutorial.
Seems simple enough.  I’m looking forward to reclaiming my field and growing some crops.
Maybe even making some jokes about ploughing with the older farmers.  Again behaviour that is life threatening in real-life and exactly the reason why we have games.

I can’t wait to dig in.

Gee, the days go by quick!

One of the first things that strikes me about Harvest Moon 64 is the sheer pace of it.

Days go by fast, with only time spent inside or in menus bringing a halt to the clock.

You quickly learn to space out your crops so they don’t all sprout at once and prioritise how you will spend your day.  Even prioritising which characters you are going to befriend.

When the crops get busy you might even skip part of an event just to get that extra bit of time in the garden.

I found myself carefully picking which days to get in bed by 6 PM and when to burn the midnight oil, managing both my workload and my health (hang on this sounds familiar).

Luckily the game world is small, and the events are well spaced out so it doesn’t feel stressful trying to manage the pace.  Initially, while I was learning the game I was slightly overwhelmed, but once you get comfortable it’s the pace that makes it interesting.  You set goals and you achieve them quickly.  And then your character gets overwhelmed and spends a day having a lie-down.  Such is farming life.

The interface is extremely simple with the A and B buttons doing most of the work, with a couple of C buttons (or right stick on Wii U) for occasional things such as eating, stashing an item and calling over animals.

It’s a very enjoyable simple interface and is a nice break from complex menus in other games where it seems to take forever to get things done.  The characters, while simple, are also likeable and I can envision people replaying the game to try out two or three of the romance options.  Even wanting to see what it’s like when your favourite chooses another spouse.  To be honest Elli would probably prefer to work in the bakery rather than look after my chickens anyway… (sigh)

The game keeps you drawn in by having different cut scenes that help you build an emotional connection to the daily goings-on of the residents, especially the single ladies.

It’s one of those games that I might not play every day, but when I play it can draw me in for hours as I try to build up the farm and my relationship with the characters around me.

It also certainly has a heck of a lot more urgency to it than Animal Crossing and decisions carry a certain weight to them, even if it’s just deciding whether to plant turnips or potatoes that day.

As far as how it compares to other games in the series, I think I enjoyed this more than the bigger environment in Harvest Moon: Back To Nature.  I also felt it was a lot easier to make money in this game if you screwed up early, with options such as fishing and berry picking easily available when you have nothing in the field.  If you were wondering which of the earlier Harvest Moon games would make for a good entry point to the series I confidently recommend Harvest Moon 64.  It’s a gem.  Plus, the Wii U virtual console options such as the option to play solely on the tablet controller, having a digital version of the original manual, and a save state all add to this already great game.

Rural nit-picking before the big hoe down.

Of course there are some things wrong with it.  Some things aren’t well explained, such as what time events start, how to give gifts and how to store collected plants,fish and other items.  However, these are problems easily solved through exploration.  The game saving at the end of each day gives you ample opportunity to quickly re-try things if they went horribly wrong.  Making it fun to experiment, or change up the pace of your day without feeling too much pressure.

The music that accompanies your daily activities is pleasant background stuff without being mind-blowing if you pay attention to it, while the sound effects that accompany the many text boxes early on are actually kind of annoying.  I toned down the sound volume after my first couple of hours.

There are also some minor graphical glitches, such as rooves disappearing as you walk past them revealing bare grass within, and some doors not being well marked, but I quickly forgave the game. I never felt the graphics truly stopped me doing what I wanted to do.  In fact, they were very helpful.   It’s easy to identify individual tools and what they do.  It’s easy to tell plants apart.  Plus, all the characters are cute and well-drawn, making it easy to tell them apart.

I didn’t feel like I was going to end up wooing the wrong similarly looking brown-haired girl or any other similar misfortunes that invade real-life romances (just kidding).

The game also changes up each season, with different things to do, unique opportunities and different crops to plant. Meaning you won’t get bored easily and each new season will feel like anew part of the game opening up to you. You also come at the same annual events from a different perspective the second, and sometimes even the third time as you take on different roles or have increased opportunities.  Its brilliantly done to keep the player going, wondering what’s around the corner even when key dates are marked right on your calendar.

I could ramble on, but in the end, Harvest Moon 64 is fast paced and interesting.  The story draws me in, and most of all the game is fun.   After playing it I can easily understand why so many people have such a strong emotional connection to this series, and as I become an increasingly jaded gamer I appreciate that it has found a snug place in my heart too.

As a final note, I grew up around farms so a special thank you to Natsume is in order.

Thank you, Harvest Moon for bringing the joys of farming to myself, my friends and the gamers when we needed it most.

If you want a fast paced, simple farming sim Harvest Moon 64 on Wii U comes highly recommended.  4 stars.