Harvest Moon 64


   Several years back, Natsume opted to stray from the beaten path with the release of the quirky SNES title, Harvest Moon. Unorthodox in every sense of the word, Harvest Moon was a unique amalgamation of traditional RPG elements, dating simulation aspects, and, of all things, farming. A sleeper hit of sorts, the series developed a dedicated cult following, and subsequent installments have made an appearance on the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, and now the Nintendo 64.

   You assume the role of a young man who has chosen to restore his late grandfather's dilapidated farm. To do so, you must plant and tend to crops appropriate to the season, raise healthy chickens, sheep, and cattle, and maintain the surrounding land and your small home, even commissioning the construction of the occasional annex as you see fit. And yes, you really do devote time to the care and keeping of your livestock -- it's almost creepy how in-depth this becomes. If you forget to feed your animals, they'll croak, leaving you to be chastised by the local priest at the animal burial. And if you don't brush them and talk to them daily, they'll dislike you, making it difficult to herd them about.

Sometimes you feel like a slug. Sometimes you don't.

   Of course, while seeing to your fields and cattle is enough to ensure financial success, cultivating friendships with the nearby villagers is also important. As was the case with its predecessor, Harvest Moon 64 gives players the option of showering any of the town's eligible bachelorettes with attention, as well as a liberal number of gifts, in hopes of eventually finding a bride. Combining such seemingly disparate components to make a single, cohesive product may seem a tall order, but HM64 pulls it off with successfully, with charm and style to spare.

   To dispense with the bad news, HM64 has a tendency to falter when it comes to the more superficial aspects. The most noticeable example of this would be the title's graphical engine. The entire game is viewed primarily from an isometric perspective, which can be rotated about in degrees. Unfortunately, the larger 3D structures suffer from painfully obtrusive clipping. Rather than smoothly coming into view, a building seems to materialize in polygonal chunks, a rather odd and ever-present graphical quirk. Additionally, the textures tend to be rather bland and blurred, and when a number of sprites are on screen at a time, the framerate slows to a crawl. This becomes a real problem when trying to put all of your livestock out to pasture, leading to slow-down that would try anyone's patience. To its credit, HM64 does feature crisp character sprites, and all of the characters you will encounter have their own unique artwork to accompany speech boxes.

Nice lips.
I, too, fear this man.

   Additionally, the musical score and sound would best be described as passable. The tunes present are fairly catchy and certainly get the job done. Each season features its own unique song, which is fitting to the time of year -- just don't expect to be blown away. As long as you begin playing with the knowledge that you'll not hear anything much beyond that of the Super Nintendo's quality, you shouldn't be overly disappointed. Similarly, the sound effects found throughout are functional. Again each season has a specific set of ambient sounds, such as the that of the cicadas heard chirping in the summer, or the relative silence of the winter days. Also, each of the tools in your inventory sounds as would be expected when employed, whether it be the sound of your axe making contact with a dried-out tree stump, or the mallet used for smashing stones and loose soil making contact. Basically, while the audio won't amaze you, it gets the point across.

Little white lies never hurt anyone.
There's a first.

   As far as the actual gameplay is concerned, the open-ended RPG elements and simulation aspects work together in a manner supporting one another, managing to avoid a potential dichotomy. All of the characters in the game have their own individual personality, as well as likes and dislikes which must be ascertained in order to build a friendship. Several festivals scattered throughout the year give you a chance to know your neighbors; many of these, such as the horse and dog races, even permit player participation. Sadly, while the character interaction is involving, it is marred by a poor and seemingly rushed translation; upon popping in the cartridge you're prompted to "push the start," giving you an idea of what lies ahead. There are quite a few grammatical and syntactical errors, and dialogue tends to be stilted and unnatural. You'll be able to understand what's being said for the most part, but this is something that could have used a lot more attention.

   In the end, as long as you're willing to look past HM64's shortcomings, there's an addictive title lying beneath. As stated, the storyline is completely open-ended, allowing you to choose how you will find success, whatever your definition of it may be. Carefully planning a daily itinerary is a necessity, as there are only so many hours in each virtual day. When things being to come together for your small farm, the feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction you'll have are created by very few other games. And with all the hidden items and events packed into the title, it will be a very long time before you've seen and done everything. If you're already a fan of the series, there's quite a few new features and options available to keep the game from feeling like a 64-bit rehash. And if you've never played any of the previous titles, but are just looking for something a bit different, this is the title for you. HM64 could have used a bit more polish, but it's not everyday you'll find a game that tries so very hard to be different -- and does it well.

Review by Drew Cosner, GIA
Harvest Moon 64
Developer Pack-in-Soft
Publisher Natsume
Genre Simulation
Medium Cartridge
Platform Nintendo 64
Release Date  Unknown
92 screenshots