Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland


   Anyone reading this review probably falls into one of two camps: those who are already infatuated with the series and ran out to buy this latest installment the hot second it hit retailers' shelves, and those who want to know what the deal is with these farming games that keep popping up every so often. If you're of the former group, you're probably just interested in how closely this review mirrors your own thoughts. If you're of the latter group, keep reading: Save the Homeland was clearly created with newcomers in mind.

   Since it began life on the SNES, Victor Interactive's bizarre farming-slash-life simulator has been steadily gathering a strong niche following. Every installment has markedly improved on the formula, culminating in Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, a near-perfect combination of micromanagement, mini-games, and charm. With Save the Homeland, Victor chose to veer off in an entirely new direction. Perhaps eager to draw new fans into the fold, this latest game is substantially more accessible thanks to a clear-cut objective.

  Harvest Moon
In the world of HM, even shops with one regular customer can stay afloat.

   As you may or may not have ascertained from the subtitle, the homeland is in need of saving: in exactly one year, the bulldozers will roll in and construction of a new theme park will begin. It's up to players to find a way to prevent this fate. To that end, the sim aspects in Save the Homeland have been pared down accordingly. Whereas in previous titles farming was the means and the end in and of itself, it now serves strictly to subsidize your efforts to save the small town.

   In many ways, this is a good thing. What remains is slick and streamlined, opening the experience to those who don''t necessarily fancy the excrutiatingly intricate micromanagement the series was known for. As an example, in Back to Nature it was possible to own up to 20 head of cattle, but caring for more than 10 wandered into the realm of masochism. Sure, there was plenty to do, but it definitely wasn't everyone's cup of tea.

Harvest Moon
The Harvest Goddess.

   With Save the Homeland, the emphasis is placed on building relationships with your fellow villagers in hopes that a plan for protecting the village will present itself. That being the case, the amount of dialogue and number of events have been raised substantially. In earlier titles you could go weeks without anything particularly interesting happening, but now it seems as though something is always going on. With character interaction taking center stage, Save the Homeland is more RPG than sim, broadening its appeal.

   What's more, Save the Homeland is the first Harvest Moon title that rivals big-company efforts in terms of aesthetics. Save the Homeland shows that even smaller developers are capable of squeezing high results out of the legendarily "complex" PS2 architecture; Save the Homeland is a gorgeous game, easily standing alongside big-name titles. Combining cel-shaded characters with traditionally-shaded environments makes for a pretty effect, but it's the attention to detail that really shows. Every last character in the game has its own unique mannerisms and gait, trees shed leaves and grass billows in the wind; this game was clearly a labor of love, and it pays off.

  Harvest Moon
The real reason fans love Harvest Moon.

   Unfortunately, this accessibility comes with a caveat: the stripped-down game engine means Save the Homeland doesn't have nearly the mileage of its predecessors. That's not to say that the developers didn't try to remedy the fact: there are 9 endings possible, and once they beat the game, players can start again from the beginning with all their items and cattle retained. The catch is that any intrepid gamer will discover a good majority of the quests his first or second play through. After that, finding the remaining endings becomes a lesson in patience. Since you'll probably have started down the paths of several potential endings, many of the events and dialogue you'll encounter on subsequent play-throughs will be nothing new. What's more, while players have a year to complete the game, not even half that time is required for most of the endings. I personally beat the game several times without so much as seeing Autumn; the game begins in Spring.

   Still, these are the gripes of a persnickety Harvest Moon zealout. While it lasts, Save the Homeland is every bit as addictive and enthralling as the previous titles in the series, and the streamlined gameplay means things are far less tedious than they've been before. If you're a fan of the series already, chances are you've already purchased this game and made up your mind about it. If you're just curious and want to see what all the fuss is about, now's the perfect time to hop on board -- the series has never been more accessible.

Review by Drew Cosner, GIA.
Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland
Developer Victor
Publisher Natsume
Genre Simulation
Medium DVD-ROM
Platform PlayStation 2
Release Date  07.05.01
Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland release date
22 screenshots
15 character designs
Village map