Harvest Green – All work and no play

Harvest Green is a farming simulation game from inutoneko, a Japanese indie game company. This is the fourth? Fifth game I’ve played from them and probably the least fun after Sekai wa Ore de Mawatteru. That doesn’t mean it’s any less engrossing or addicting, though. I’m putting my play time at way past the 40-hour mark right now, and that’s a conservative estimate. After all that time I’m only just starting to feel like I’ve gotten the hang of the game.

Harvest Green Story

Minty is a country girl who moves to the city of Ishwald to learn more about agriculture. A local farmer gives her a plot of land so she can plant crops and hone her techniques. That’s about it for the premise. Minty has monthly sales targets she’s supposed to meet to advance the plot, but you don’t get a game over for failing to meet them, they just roll over to the next month. There are no time limits either so your sole aim, as stated on the official website, is to farm, farm and farm till you drop.

Farming and weather patterns

Point and click gameplay – buy seeds, plant them, water them and wait till they grow. Except it’s not that simple because a lot depends on the kind of weather you get that month. If you’ve played Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands or Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness you might be familiar with that kind of gameplay – and with how frustrating it can be when things go wrong.

At the beginning of each season you get the likely range of weather patterns for the beginning, middle and end of the month, but it’s all very rough. First there’s a precipitation chart, of sorts:

Then there’s the temperature chart. There are three levels of cold weather, one moderate weather and three levels of hot weather. Something like: Bitterly Cold, Cold, Cool, Normal, Warm, Hot, Scorching Hot.

However both of these charts only represent the probability of the weather being a certain way. The x and triangles and circles show how likely each weather type is to occur. X = very slight chance, empty triangle = slight chance, full triangle = likely, empty circle = very likely, double circle = extremely likely. But it’s still just probability, there are no guarantees at all. Except when there’s an X in the Typhoon/Snowstorm column, in which case you’re 100% guaranteed to get a storm that will wipe out most of your crops, you just don’t know when. -_-

If you plant a crop in the wrong weather pattern it will wither. If you plant a crop hoping for a certain kind of weather but get one that’s not quite what it needs, it will grow much more slowly than usual.

For example, the double circles in the green space in the screenshot above show that this daikon grows best in cold conditions. If you’re super unlucky and you end up with a warm winter, it might take so long to grow that the season will change and then your plant will wither anyway. GAAAAH. On top of all that you also have to deal with random disasters like monsters attacking your crops and thieves making off with produce, though you can minimize this somewhat by reloading a previous save and hoping for the best. Too bad that doesn’t work for storms.

The point of all this effort is to make money by selling your produce. Better quality produce naturally sells for a higher price. To get the good stuff you have to grow a crop and then use it for research into quality improvement instead of saving or selling the fruits or turning them to seed. This will require between 6 and 27 of the crop, which is all money down the drain since you can’t sell or use what you’re making.

It’s even worse because the better seeds you get from your research usually aren’t sold in stores, so you have to turn some of the new crop into seeds to replant to re-research instead of shipping it, and on and on and on. It can be ages before you see a single cent for all your hard labor. You can see from my most recent balance sheet. The second line shows all the money I didn’t make from shipping crops that month.

But it all pays off in the long end when you have expensive ingredients and crops to sell or cook with. If you haven’t quit Harvest Green from frustration long before then, that is.

Cooking and Contests

First let me direct your attention to the activity chart below:

These are things Minty can spend her energy on besides farming. You have to keep your farm hoed to reduce disasters, cut wood for materials to expand just about everything, dig for coins to give you stat boosts, forage for extra cooking ingredients you can’t get anywhere else, etc. etc etc. At the top you notice the numbers 1 2 3 and so on. Those are the levels of the activity, the higher the level the more energy used but the better the reward. How do you raise your level? Luck!

That’s the short answer, the long answer is you have to win a cooking contest and hope they give you a level-raising scroll as a reward. Which they usually don’t, but sometimes… you never know… and it’s not like you have any other options, so off to the cooking contest with you.

Contests take place on the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th of every month and have four difficulty levels. There’s a theme given for each contests, e.g. Main Dish / Side Dish / Dessert. Under that theme there’s the criteria the judge is looking for, e.g. how pricey the dish is, how in-demand it is, how well it heals, etc. The nice thing is that food in your storage doesn’t go bad, so if you make anything really good you can keep it until a contest starts and hope it fits the theme. And hope you win, and hope you get something useful from the experience.

But contests are entirely optional – if you don’t mind your growth being stunted forever. The only other ways to get scrolls are from fulfilling quotas or exchanging previous VP points once or twice a year. Or you can just screw the whole thing and eat the food for energy / sell it for money / give it to other characters so they’ll like you more.

Friends and other animals

The usual crew from the world of Ishwald are back again. You can view their skits and stories by pressing the “Story” button whenever it appears. This time they all have affection levels that can be raised by giving them daily presents, remembering their birthdays and inviting them to go to festivals with you. Very Harvest Moon-like. Once affection reaches a certain level they will also help you out in various ways, e.g. Rintlette will make you meals, Helsinki will hoe your farm, Fil will fish for you, that sort of thing. It can be useful, but hardly essential, and I’m kind of regretting all the food and game-energy I put into relationships that will just be reset by the next game.

There’s also animal ranching and a somewhat underdeveloped/poorly-explained dog breeding system. Raising cows and chicken for the milk and eggs is self-explanatory. It’s the dogs I don’t get. They all come with a genetic rating, which shows how good the animal is…? I think? So you have to buy hunting dogs until you get two with good genes, then you breed them to get dogs with even better genes… and then…?

I ran out of feed and had to sell all my animals to make it through the winter so I haven’t found out what the point is. I’m probably supposed to breed the dogs until I get really good ones who can hunt down ultra-rare cooking ingredients like dragon meat and wyvern eggs. I’ve been playing Harvest Green blind so far but this is one thing I’m going to have to FAQ.

Btw, you don’t have to worry about inbreeding or incest in your breeding program because “magic makes everything okay.” That’s the official explanation and I’d rather buy it than think about the full implications, so there.

Overall impressions

Tedious as hell. But fun. But tedious. But really fun. But… And on and on it goes round and round in my head. The developers describe Harvest Green as a やり込み (yarikomi) type of game, which is a pithy term for a game with lots and lots to do that will keep you playing for a very long time. A completionist’s dream – or nightmare, as the case may be. If you’ve ever played a farming or simulation game and felt disappointed because you got 100% completion in a few days, Harvest Green is the game for you. If you’re looking for something quick and simple, hahaha, no way Jose. Keep looking.

For me, I think I’ll keep playing just a little bit longer. I’m finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel so I can’t stop now. But don’t worry, I’m also plodding along with Summon Night 5 and though I haven’t touched Final Fantasy XIII in a while it’s not dropped either. I’ll post about them when I have something to post. Until then.

Update (28th January): Finished Harvest Green! Uh, that’s it, nothing more to add. I got lucky and won the ultimate cooking contest and they gave me some very expensive wheat for my trouble. It sold for something like 25,500£ per batch and I was growing up to 5 per season. My sales quotas didn’t stand a chance. In the end Minty passes her practical course with flying colors and barely scrapes through the academic part and all is happy and well in the city of Ishwald. The end.

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