Saturday, 11 July 2015

Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley

Though I certainly wasn't there at the beginning of the series on the SNES back in 1996, I got into the Harvest Moon series three years later with Harvest Moon 64. I loved it, and though since then I've only played Harvest Moon 3 GBC, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life and Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley, I have a great admiration for the series. This new Harvest Moon game seems like a typical entry into the franchise on the surface, but it's technically not a real Harvest Moon game. I won't bore you to death with details, but with series regular Marvelous AQL not at the helm for this game, an entirely new team took the reigns in developing The Lost Valley. Marvelous AQL did create their own Harvest Moon game somewhat recently, but instead of getting Natsume to localize it (they've localized all Harvest Moon games so far), Marvelous AQL got their own team, XSEED Games, to do that job. With Natsume owning the rights to the Harvest Moon name itself, this led to them not allowing Marvelous AQL to use the famous moniker for their recent farming game. The game was released in North America as Story of Seasons, and as if that wasn't as good enough kick to the balls of Marvelouis AQL, Natsume outsourced a new Harvest Moon game in competition to Story of Seasons. The sad thing here is that the story behind this scuffle is ten times more interesting than Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley itself.

Developed by Tabot and out now for Nintendo 3DS comes Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, a lame facsimile of greatness. The plot here is wafer thin, but that's always been a fact for the entire series, as the real meat of a Harvest Moon game lies with farming. Anyway, you take on the role of an unnamed boy or girl of your choosing, and after getting lost in a snowstorm while going up a mountain a voice points you toward safety- a cabin. Yeah, a cabin in the woods is a big no-no when it comes to horror movies, but this is Harvest Moon- you'll be grand! Once your character sleeps in the cabin they have a dream of a blur haired princess. No, not that kind of dream, but instead it's a dream in which she pleads with the player to find her special bracelet, in order to help the Harvest Spirits. With her powers seemingly useless thanks to her current lack of wrist jewellery, an eternal winter stretches across the land. It's up to you to help the princess, restore her Harvest Spirits and awaken the land from its wintry sleep. That said, the endgame to The Lost Valley isn't about ending the winter, as it isn't long into the game that you'll be able to farm to your hearts content without being surrounded by snow.

From the outset The Lost Valley doesn't feel like a “real” Harvest Moon game, and Marvelous AQL's lack of presence becomes alarmingly apparent the more you play. The first big let-down in The Lost Valley is the fact that there's no main town in the game, something that has always been a staple of the Harvest Moon series. In previous titles much of the enjoyment came from leaving your house and shopping for tools and seeds in town, chatting with the many weird and wonderful people who lived in there, and essentially feeling like you were apart of a community. This concept has been left behind, as instead of having that large community of people to interact with, your only companionship is from people who stroll by your lonesome cabin, all of which randomly turn up out of the blue. On the surface it doesn't seem like such a problem, but a few hours into The Lost Valley it begins to feel cripplingly lonely and isolated. I understand that your character lives up a mountain so isolation kind of goes along with that concept, but it didn't have to be so depressing.

The next problem that runs throughout the games are its visuals and presentation. A new feature to the series is that now you can alter and change your environment, just like Minecraft. An interesting if overused feature in gaming lately, but sadly this has led to the environments in The Lost Valley looking like they're actually from Minecraft. Looking like a bunch of random blocks and boxes, it may work wonders for Minecraft, but not for Harvest Moon. Gone are the smooth and realistic land shapes and areas that look prime for farming, and though Harvest Moon was never a realistic looking series to begin with, dragging it into Minecraft territory makes it feel cold, far too simplistic and run-of-the-mill. In practical terms it becomes an issue too when you have the constantly jump to make your way around the place, which slows down gameplay to a screeching halt at times. It's a decent new feature in the game, but nothing that impresses too much.

When it comes to farming everything is pretty much here. From using hoes, shovels, rakes and whatnot, you'll need to plant, water and grow all kinds of plants and stuff. From taking requests from random people passing your cabin, growing stuff will often awaken a new Harvest Spirit, among other things. However another screw up has been made in the fact that which tool you use and what action you want to do is context sensitive. Simply put, compared to previous games in which you had to, say, unequipped your shovel in order to equipped your watering can, the game knows what you want to do and what tool you'd like to use. On paper this sounds like a decent idea, but in The Lost Valley farming has been reduced to a PRESS-A-TO-WIN scenario, as through taking the choice out of your hands the game just doesn't feel that compelling. Also, I always liked having to dick around through the options myself, as it kind of made me work a little harder to farm my land. By the time I was finished for the night, I felt like I did something other than sat on my arse for a few hours.

Overall Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley is a cheap imitation of a Harvest Moon game. Yes, you can farm, plant stuff, grow produce and even raise animals, but it's missing the heart that the series has always relied on. With its simplification of gameplay, its lack of any kind of a town or community and its insisting on going for pseudo-Minecraft gameplay, it all comes together to make a huge, huge disappointment. If you're a Harvest Moon fan, this isn't the game you wanted. I haven't played Marvelous AQL's Story of Seasons yet (it hasn't been released in the EU), but it certainly looks like the Harvest Moon game you deserve.

Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley is spoiled produce. 2/5.


Denis Murphy

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