Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland - Preview

Harvest Moon

   The mere existence--and mild popularity--of the Harvest Moon franchise is proof positive of the escapist nature of videogames. Farming in the real world is a harsh way to make an existence, but add some cutesy graphics and romance to the mix and you've got a concept that is dangerously addictive, as many a bleary-eyed virtual farmer will attest. Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland is Victor Entertainment's attempt at bringing the niche game series into the next generation, and the developer is looking to expand the reach of its labor of love. The principal thrust of HM:STH will be to create less of a farming-sim and more of a life-sim.

   The most obvious improvement in HM:STH is, of course, the quality of the graphics. Gone are the sprite-based and polygonal characters that have populated the previous incarnations and in their place we have gorgeous high-resolution cel-shaded graphics. While this is becoming a popular style these days--and consequently less unique--it is perfectly suited to the visual style of the series. The almost-sickeningly cute animal designs are the biggest winners in this aspect, but the entire ambiance of the title is now of such a quality that only the stone-hearted out there will be able to dislike it.

Mmm... tomatoes
You still get to tend to the land...  

   While many game creators are happy to give their titles a graphical update and proclaim them of next-generation quality, Victor is intimately aware that gamers demand more. The core gameplay of the series remains unaltered in HM:STH, but there are enough changes to ensure that existing fans won't experience an intense sense of deja vu once the power button is pressed. A principal focus of the game is still on tending to the farm, though--regrettably--the range of livestock has been trimmed a bit. Sheep will not be appearing in this installment of the franchise, instead allowing poultry and cattle to the take the spotlight; the player will be able to keep five cows and six chickens at maximum. The reduced number of animals in the game is mirrored by less agricultural produce that can be grown. The decrease in variety of animals that can be raised and crops that can be grown is tempered by the increased attention that the remaining plants and animals demand. Making a return are the player's pet dog and horse, this time with increased impact on the play experience. It is possible to train your dog to do certain tasks around the farm, and your horse can be entered into races.

   Several of the previous installments in the series were squarely focused on the farming aspects of the game, but, with HM:STH, Victor is striving to change that. The central story once again involves the player taking over the farm to prevent it from being turned into some nightmarish bastion of capitalism--this time it's a resort, set to go up in a year's time--but the game provides the story in a non-linear environment. HM:STH contains some diversionary activities as well, ranging from recipe collecting and cooking to earning money by doing part-time jobs.

Look Ma, fairies.
..but you'll be talking to loads of people as well.  

   While some might be distressed by the apparent loss of direction of HM:STH, Victor is supplying more than enough evidence to silence all of the naysayers. The reduced emphasis on farming is countered by an increased role of the story in the experience. The romance aspects that were present in previous console offerings return, but this time around it's relationships in general that are more important. Over a hundred story events make up the game and Victor is emphasizing the formation of relationships with the inhabitants of the village in which the game is set. The choices that the player makes will allow the final goal to be attained by nine different means, which also means that there are nine different endings. Adding to the replay value of the game is the presence of a New Game Plus-like feature, where the player can restart the game with the tchotchkes that have been gathered in the previous run-through.

   Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland might not have the pizzazz to out-buzz the Metal Gear Solid 2s of the gaming world, but the title is looking to be a lot of fun. The idea of raising cattle, playing with your dog, and making friends with your neighbors is simply too adorable. People that aren't enraptured by the cheery nature of the series are lying to themselves. So go out and get yourself a pair of dungarees, and join me in the line outside the local games store. Don't take too long though, the game hits stores on the 19th of October, and I've got a cornfield to attend to.

by Alex Wollenschlaeger    
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