Harvest Moon: Back to Nature


   Natsume's perennial niche favorite returns in the form of Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, ending a history of Nintendo exclusivity with its appearance on the PlayStation. And PSX owners rejoice: you're getting far and away the best installment in the series to date. More charming, quirky, and intricate than ever, Back to Nature shows its creators' true artistic genius: DaVinci made Mona Lisa look halfway pleasing; Natsume has made farming fun.

   Some may be familiar with Harvest Moon 64, Back to Nature's close cousin which came out a while back. But don't be fooled into thinking this is a port -- Back to Nature is better than its N64 counterpart in every conceivable category.

Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
Calm down there, chief.

   Aesthetically, things have never been better. Drop in graphical horsepower be damned, Back to Nature is far more visually appealing than the N64 version ever was. Where HM64 had blurry, washed-out textures and polygonal models that were simple to a fault and broke apart as you moved about the screen, Back to Nature features a clean, crisp graphical engine. Textures are sharp, environments are fittingly detailed, and the 2D character sprites are clean and without the eye-straining blur seen before. All said, the visual style complements the action (if you could call it that) going on perfectly, so that you never even really think about the graphics at all.

   Similarly, the audio has also been given an overhaul. No longer tinny and repetitious, the music is technically competent with fitting tracks given for the seasons and various town festivals. As far as sound is concerned, everything makes the noises you'd expect to hear.

Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
Takin' a dip in the hot spring.

   Of course, this has all been mentioned only to give you an idea of just how far Natsume has gone to ensure that Back to Nature improves on everything the series has done before to make it an excellent game in its own right. As is so often said, what really matters is the gameplay, and this is the area the Harvest Moon series has always excelled in; that's certainly still the case.

   To summarize, the entire purpose is to build and maintain both a healthy farm and a healthy social life. There are dozens of crops to choose from, each with its own benefit -- for example, turnips are more expensive but grow faster, whereas cucumbers grow slowly but a plant will keep bearing fruit. Also, you can raise sheep, cows, chickens, and fish, teach your dog to scare off strays and moles, and raise a champion racing horse (who also helps out with the farm work), amongst dozens of other things.

Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
Karen, it is to you my heart belongs.

   Now, were Harvest Moon only a farm simulator, it would be enjoyable enough, but the mix really gets bizarre and addictive when you toss in RPG and dating aspects as well. If you're a misanthropist, the townsfolk will get tired of your attitude and toss you out at the end of the 3 year period you're given to prove yourself. To keep that from happening, you can socialize by attending any of several town events throughout each month (horse races, baking contests, to name a couple). These really keep things interesting throughout the virtual year.

   And, as in past editions, you can also attempt to win the heart of one of 5 eligible bachelorettes. Each has her own unique personality and tastes, so it's up to you to find out what kind of gifts will yield the best results. To that end, you can build a kitchen add-on to your home to cook for people, learning recipes from other villagers or making them up yourself using the ingredients you've grown or purchased. Which kind of makes this a Farming sim/dating game/rpg/cooking game. It sounds bizarre, and really it is; it's no small wonder that everything comes together as well as it does.

Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
There's something creepy about super-deformed characters in speedos.

   To be picky, there are times where the sprite collision detection is a little buggy, and the game seems to stall before loading certain animations. Also, it should be noted that the slow-paced nature of the game may not appeal to everyone. But this is just nitpicking; on the whole just about anyone willing to give Back to Nature a try is going to find something to like.

   Combining several genres to come up with one unique package works brilliantly in Back to Nature. There's simply so much to do that it will be months before you've done and seen it all, and just about every minigame, option, and feature has been fine-tuned for fullest enjoyment. If you've never given the Harvest Moon series a try, be it because you don't own an N64 or because it sounded a little too niche for your liking, now's the time to give it a chance. Back to Nature is a thoroughly enjoyable, unique title and easily the finest moment for the series thus far.

Review by Drew Cosner, GIA.
Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
Developer Natsume
Publisher Natsume
Genre Simulation RPG
Medium CD (?)
Platform PlayStation
Release Date

Harvest Moon bound for PAL territories
82 screenshots
12 pieces of artwork
American box art