Harvest Moon 64 is unbelievably addictive. Somehow, you can sink an entire day into the obsessive upkeep of your farm and then go to bed in real life that night feeling like you’ve accomplished a hard day’s work. Virtual chores; a dangerous game concept. The object of the game is to create a self induced stress cycle and maintain it. That sounds dreadful in theory, but I cannot emphasize enough how immersive this experience is.
The game starts off on a melancholy note. The main character inherits his dead grandfather’s farm and must restore it back to its original functionality. After a few years, the father will drop by to evaluate your farm and you can choose whether or not to continue your game. This huge undertaking requires harvesting crops, taking care of animals, and building/maintaining relationships with the townspeople. If only we invested this much in our actual lives…
A typical day starts out at the crack of dawn. A rooster crows as the main character eats his hearty breakfast. It’s best to do the chores in the daylight because getting stuck working at night time can lead to fatigue and even sickness. Sickness can leave the player bedridden for an entire day, which has consequences on animals and crops. Sometimes rain is pounding on the roof upon waking, and working in such weather can also cause sickness. When there’s a typhoon in town, your only option is to go back to bed and hope that your animals and crops are all okay. If desired, the player can turn on the TV and check the weather the day before for preparation.
Even though each day is a repeat of the day before, gradual changes do occur, encouraging the player to keep working away. There are festivals and competitions to look forward to which can break up a long stretch of monotony. Small rewards are incorporated into each day as you make them. You can treat yourself to a slice of cake from the bakery before closing time or go out for a drink at the pub and attempt to converse with the jaded night crowd.
Every character is given a personality and interaction pattern. They have preferred locations around town which is a nice element that further develops their personalities. Some of them are not fond of the main character at first but, with enough time and effort, can grow to like you in case you want to enable your people-pleasing complex.
To earn affection with characters you can bring them gifts, show them objects they enjoy, or just take the time to chat with them regularly. You can learn their likes and dislikes through experimentation. Some responses are comical or even sad as characters can have irrational phobias. (Do not show your dog to the cute cave elves in the mountains.)
This aspect of Harvest Moon is rewarding because you can set your sights on a social group and bridge connections with them. However, it can be discouraging as you figure out how to maneuver your way around the programming. At festivals, characters lose their individuality and are replaced by default responses so anything you do toward them doesn’t matter. It’s frustrating when you make the sacrifice to give a character something you grew with your own hands and soil, ran all the way across town to give to them, and they completely ignore you but take the item anyway.
Other times, characters can seem like depressed fortune cookies, blurting out a sad life fact just to make your day worse and not recognizing that you’re handing anything to them. “Eventually, everything dies…” Thanks for the tip, enjoy that tomato I brought you…
As far as romantic relationships go, the idea is to pick one of the five available 10 year olds in town and woo them into being your bride (don’t worry, you’re 10 too). This can lead to having a partner to help out with crops and share life with, and can even lead to having children if you treat her extra nicely over a long period of time. Some characters undergo significant life changes and you miss opportunities to build relationships with them. Eventually, your potential love interests start getting picked up by other men if you don’t make your move.
I guess this is reflective of actual life, but you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into when you marry someone in Harvest Moon 64. Some of the girls are more useful at accomplishing chores, while others are clumsy and actually make your farm work worse. It’s sweet of Popuri, a peppy, pink haired girl, to try and help her husband, but sometimes when you talk to her in the morning you get an annoyingly upbeat greeting coupled with bad news. “Good morning, dear!! I watered the crops and dropped most of the eggs!” At least she watered the crops, but wait, if you go outside and actually look at your crops, you can see that she she misses random spots so you have to water them yourself anyway…
Money and Selling
To start off the stress cycle, the first thing you need is money. There are different ways to earn money, and at the start of the game, you don’t have much to work with. You can earn money by gathering fruits and vines from around town and putting them in your shipping box. After a week or so you’ll have enough for seeds, allowing you to sell crops. After making a steady income, you can now purchase animals. Milk, wool, and eggs generate a hefty income over time.
The main character holds a rucksack where you can store items. To empty this into your shipping box, you have to open up the menu and individually place each item in your hand, and then into the shipping box. There’s no option to empty your entire sack all at once, so this straightforward task becomes a multi-step process. Every time you move an object around in your menu, it makes a sound. While fine in small doses, this repetitive activity of 8+ items plus the sound each time you select and move an item can get really irritating. If you’re slightly too far away from the shipping box, instead of placing it in the box you’ll drop your item on the ground. No matter what your item is, it will splatter on the ground and disappear forever, accompanied by the sound of a sad whistle in case you weren’t disappointed enough already.
At the end of the day, a scary, orange bodybuilder barges onto your property to collect your daily supply. He asks if that’s all for today’s shipment, but you can’t say no, so the interruption is pointless while you’re already trying to hurry up and empty your sack before he gets there. It’s always more pleasant if you can avoid him entirely by running inside the second you see him enter your farm. If you have any antisocial tendencies in real life, they’ll probably carry through to this game.
Tools and Items
A sickle, hoe, axe, hammer, and watering can are the main tools in the game. They level up with use so you can become more efficient at chores over time. Other items can be purchased as needed, such as a milker, shears for cutting wool, an animal brush, and a bell for gathering all of your animals at once. Items can be won at festivals, bought at various shops, or dug up in the mine. As long as you have the storage space, you can keep collecting.
Crops are seasonal. Seeds can be purchased at the flower shop in town. To get things to grow, the soil must be hoed, seeds planted, and crops watered. Each crop takes a certain amount of time to grow. When ripe, they can be picked and sold.There are flower options available too; you can’t sell them but you can give them away once they bloom.
Patches of crops are planted in a 3 x 3 square, on the farm. The center square is unreachable because the crops block it once they grow, so eventually you just can’t water the middle square until the vegetables are picked and out of the way. Until your watering can levels up to the maximum, you won’t be able to water the center spot at the same time as the others and the center will be out of sequence with the rest.
A strange glitch occurs when it rains. On rainy days, crops are automatically watered when you come out the front door, which makes sense. But, if you plant new crops that day, the rain will not affect them, so there will be a dry patch where your new supply went in even though it continues to rain all day. If you harvest your crops that day, as soon as you pluck a vegetable from the ground, the spot becomes dry again until you manually water it.
Time is of the essence. The player will always have to check the clock in the menu screen because shops are only open in specific time frames on specific days, and the time flies by. If you want to test how just how fast, press the start menu, look at your clock, then take a few steps, examine the clock again. 5-10 minutes will have passed. If you accidentally go into the wrong store 10 minutes before closing down, chances are even if you leave instantly the shop you intended to go to already has its door locked.
A dog and horse companion are automatically supplied within the first few days of starting the game. They cluelessly and lovingly run around as you tend to your crops. Whistling for them causes them to run toward you. Cows, chickens, and sheep are other animal choices. A magic potion purchased from a perpetually angry salesman can impregnate a cow or sheep instead of having to buy another animal. If treated consistently well, an animal’s product will improve, allowing them to be sold for even more money. Animals also grow up over time and can be entered into competitions at festivals.
The animals eat fodder, which you can grow as grass and chop yourself or purchase it already cut. Animals can get sick if neglected for day or even randomly, and require medicine within a day or two or you can lose them forever. Luckily there’s a cemetery conveniently located in town.
Additions and Sidequests
The farm includes a log house, field, barn, and a pond. The player can get additions on the house that make things more convenient or luxurious. All that’s required is money and lumber, which you can chop each day. A freezer can be used to store food in case you want something off season at a different time. Additional add-ons include a kitchen, shelves, a hot tub, stairs, and a deck. The most valuable purchase is the addition of a greenhouse, which allows you to plant any crop during any season and the contents of the flower shop entirely at your disposal. The bathroom is just for fun and not really functional. (Do not put your dog in the toilet.)
Power berries are a special item that can be dug up, purchased, won, or found. Eating them increases endurance, which can fend off sickness.Special achievements and moments are captured by photograph throughout the game. They can be accessed through the menu if you feel like reminiscing. Recipes can be collected by giving certain crops or items to people who you have built relationships with. These cannot actually be prepared but they do improve the quality of your overall farm when it’s reviewed and is a fun little ongoing project to complete.
Music and Sounds
Each theme matches its assigned season, summer is lenient, and fall hurries you along to prepare for winter. I can’t tell if the music is actually catchy, or it forces itself upon your memory because each song is a minute long loop and that’s a generous estimate. I’m actually surprised it isn’t more annoying. My only real complaint about the music is that each time you leave the screen, the music loop starts over. It can start over many times within a few seconds if you enter some areas with short screen times. Only in a wide open area while doing chores will you get to experience the loop of music in its full glory. It seems like it would have been an easy fix to allow a continuous flow.
The sounds in this game are essential in bringing the different seasons to life. Each season comes with its own sound effects that the player learns to miss in the off seasons. The nostalgic sound of cicadas hiss in the summer time. Winter nights are eerily quiet. The drilling dialogue is really a problem in this game. The words are perfectly legible, so what’s with the Morse code? The slow pacing of the dialogue screens add to the annoyance, giving the illusion that characters are taking breaths between words as it scrolls.
Harvest Moon 64 is an overall rewarding experience. The appeal of the environment cannot be captured in writing. For being so repetitive, the replay value is impressively high. Some mechanics are faulty and just badly designed, like the process of emptying the rucksack and not being able to recover a dropped item and other humourous glitches. Colourful, round graphics compose a comforting landscape in a game that feels realistic in its grind and monotony.
-Repetitive music and gameplay
Alicia Steinkirchner is a writer for The Geekiverse and an advocate of nostalgic gaming. Check out her other Hindsight Reviews under our Reviews tab.
What is a hindsight review? It’s an article in which a Geekiverse writer reviews a game that they have never played before and is outside its launch window. It offers a fresh perspective and shows which games in your backlog are worth playing through.