Harvest Moon: Light of Hope


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Complete Review & Description

On paper, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley sounds like a game I would enjoy. At its core it is a farming simulator, taking the basic premise of other farming simulators (plant-water-fertilise-water-fertilise-harvest-sell-repeat), and cross-pollinating that with conventions of other genres in a fine example of video-game husbandry to incorporate the best elements of RPG and terraforming games in one outing. This is a promising pedigree, and although I was once certain I had exhausted my farming simulator patience in the great Farmville boom of 2008/09, I prepared once again to don pitchfork and overalls and get my fingers all up in some manure.
There’s Literally Nothing Here
At first the Valley is a minimalist masterwork of self-directed exploration and discovery. You choose a name and a gender, and your avatar appears, trudging through a snowy pass into a clearing with a house in it. Then a sprite (who is both a sprite, the mythological creature, and a sprite, a computer-based image) arrives to rescue you from the biggest threat and main antagonist of the game, “cold”, faithfully accompanied by his evil henchman, “being a little bit sleepy”. The sprite takes you into a house to sleep, at which point you take ownership of said house, a real-estate strategy soon to be adopted in housing markets worldwide.

You wake up and are briefed by the sprite, who shows you to the barren wilderness that is the Lost Valley, a blank canvas upon which you are tasked to scribble your agricultural signature. Here the primary mechanics of the game are revealed, as well as the only real semblance of a storyline: the Spirit of the Harvest has grown weak and has vanished from the valley, and in order to bring her back the player must cultivate and bring prosperity back to the land.

There’s a couple of steps involved in achieving that end, and a few ways of getting there, and of course to achieve your goal you need to dabble in every aspect of agricultural life. Your first task is to reach a spring, high up a mountain with no accessible route. You are shown how to reshape the land with a spade to build a path to up the slope, and just doing this highlights how potentially vast and time-consuming this game could be. You can do anything you want to the terrain, hacking down trees and tearing down mountains with such ferocity you almost expect the Lorax to appear and say something angry about nature, that moustachioed left-wing hippy. But he never does, because hippies are lazy.
Once you reach the spring, the Spirit of the Harvest appears and gives you some seeds to really get started on your goal of restoring life to the valley, which also at this point seems kind of ironic given how many trees I unnecessarily cut down on my way to the spring. You can then dig your first garden, build up some flowerbeds, till the land, plant the seeds, and then wait for them to grow. I included “waiting for stuff to grow” as an activity, because it unfortunately is what you will do a lot. While you wait, there’s not a lot to do, especially in the early stages of the game.
The Men Who Stare At Goats, Also Cows
A lack of activities will see you spend a lot of time sleeping in your house, where every couple of nights you’ll have a premonition-esque dream. This is the only real narrative the game offers after the beginning of the game. These are usually forewarnings of conversations you will have the following day, which would be fine, except without fail you have the conversation as soon as you wake up. The dream will consist of a shot of your room, with a caption like: ‘Wow! A mysterious stranger named Geoffrey will talk to you soon!’. Then you will wake up, and a guy will walk in and be like ‘Hi! I’m Geoffrey!’, thus proving your premonition correct and making you the world’s most pointlessly clairvoyant farmer.

As the land flourishes, you gain access to more seeds, transient shopkeepers with money to spend on flowers and vegetables fortuitously decide to pitch camp outside your house, and you start to have a little extra cash to buy exotic seeds and items. Eventually you can build a barn and raise animals, another of the requirements to bring back the Spirit of the Harvest. Having animals means responsibility, as you will have to expand your farm to afford animal feed, and make sure you always have crops on the go to keep your little economic system running smoothly. You then milk the cows, gather their manure for fertiliser, and the circle of life is complete.
This process, of discovering what the game is actually about and all the different aspects entailing that, takes way, way too long. You will be sleeping in the bed, watering seeds and doing very little else for so long you will legitimately wonder if it wouldn’t be faster to just grow some real strawberries rather than play a Sleeping While Waiting for the Strawberries to Grow simulator. But if you have played and enjoyed pure farming simulators, there will be joy for you in this element of the game, and there is a huge number of seeds to collect, and occasional mutations in plant growth mean you can discover additional strains which will then be stocked in shops. Unfortunately it’s difficult to keep track of all these seeds because there isn’t any in-game record or encyclopedia or farm-Pokedex, which would have been a nice feature.
Down On The Farm
While it sticks to the tried-and-true solidly, once you’ve unlocked all its basic elements the game stalls somewhat. There’s plenty to do, in theory. But while the game is minimalist, it’s not cool minimalist with lots of intelligent thinking behind it, like the great text-based adventure game A Dark Room. It’s the other kind of minimalist, minimalist like a real dark room, where a junkie might live, mumbling about his ability to see into the future with his dreams and how he has to build a mountain garden because the sprite told him to. Considering that the premise of this game is so simple as to feature in many RPGs as a mini-game to complement a larger experience, this title feels like a whole lot of preparing to do something cool, only to engage once more in a further round of preparing to do something cool.

Farm simulation games are a bit of a niche, and if that is all you are looking for this one isn’t all that bad. It’s oddly satisfying to have levelled out a massive expanse of once-mountainous terrain and have it planted with cabbages, and to think ahead of the elaborate hanging garden of Babylon, agricultural masterwork you will inevitably carve into the earth.
Aside from that creative freedom, there won’t be much in this game to really appeal to many gamers given the range of similar titles on the market. So, hardcore gamers, this title is probably not for you (surprising…), but, for the casual gamer there is something to be said for this title. It isn’t demanding and it doesn’t require a massive level of engagement. If you’re craving the farm simulation experience without the irritating social media notifications and the whole having to use a credit card to keep playing thing, then I suppose you could do worse than go get lost in the valley. If you expect a little more depth from your games you should pass straight through.



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