Last weekend, I had planned to be super productive and get a lot done. I was going to clean the entire apartment, do all the dishes, get the laundry done, and get a whole bunch of work done for my blog.
But then, for Valentine’s Day, Shane surprised me with my very own copy of Harvest Moon: Light of Hope for the Switch.
It’s no secret on my blog that Harvest Moon is my greatest weakness. If I were a fire type, it would be water. Or rock. Or ground. As I gazed at the game case, covered in its chibi-style chickens and barnyard animals, though, I told myself it would be fine. I could play a bit of my new game in the morning, and get to the productive stuff in the afternoon.
Then I played it for three days straight.
Last Thursday, I finished the main story for the game—and now, here’s a quick look at why I love it so much.
It’s a perfect entry-level Harvest Moon game.
Over the years, Harvest Moon games have been getting more and more complex as its fan base gets older. The franchise is actually slightly older than Pokemon, with the first game appearing in 1996.
This game takes it back to basics; no more strategically planning the numbers and types of treats to give your animals, no more keeping track of which plants get how much water, no more complicated unlocks based on a secret number of items shipped.
You water your plants once per day, you tend your animals, and you run around and do everything else that makes Harvest Moon so wonderful.
It’s actually a really smart approach, because with the DS era slowly closing out, the Switch has been intentionally targeted to a younger crowd—a crowd who might not love the complex Harvest Moon games that had been evolving for its already-dedicated fan base. This approach makes it a lot more accessible for a new wave of fans, much like Pokémon Let’s Go did for that franchise late last year.
It’s also an excellent throwback.
Way back when I talked about how I discovered the Harvest Moon franchise, I talked about how I’d had an emulator installed on my first laptop just so I could play the SNES version. I didn’t really mention it at the time, but understandably, the graphics were real pixely.
In the years since then, Harvest Moon games have been evolving with the graphics engines available to them—to the point where Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns, for example, had practically cinematic cutscenes and gorgeous housing designs that I actually wouldn’t mind living in.
Light of Hope takes it right back to basics, with a completely flat map I’d expect to see on the SNES, Mii-like avatars with comically ridiculous expressions, and tastefully pixelated graphics. It’s obviously still better-looking, but I love what they did with it and the way it brings back memories of the original games.
It’s got a great (but short) story.
Most Harvest Moon games have at least a nominal story to them, to explain why you end up on the farm and why it’s suddenly your job to grow as many crops as you can (usually to either save or rebuild the town).
Light of Hope definitely follows that structure, and the story actually does both; you have to rebuild to make the townsfolk come back, while trying to find the stone tablets to reignite the lighthouse.
It’s actually a really cute story, full of quirky Pikmin-style Harvest Sprites and even a Harvest God (I didn’t even know there was one!). It also fills in some of the blanks left by nearly every other Harvest Moon game out there.
No spoilers, but haven’t you ever wondered where the blue feather concept comes from?
For the most part, though, the story is quite short, which is another thing that makes it good for first-time farmers; I had finished the entire story by Year 1, Fall 7.
It redefines everything we knew about growing crops.
When one season starts, the previous season’s crops die a sad, wilty death. It’s been a tenet for as long as Harvest Moon has been a thing—but in Light of Hope, that is not a thing anymore.
The game actually allows for crops to grow in multiple seasons (strawberries in fall?!), and it allows them to grow outside of their specified seasons (as long as you fertilize them properly). I’m still not used to it, but I think I like it. If only because it means I don’t have to wait a full year to fulfill requirements from the townsfolk.
It also brings in the idea of different terrain for different crops; there are four styles of terrain scattered all over the map (not just on your farm), and planting crops in the right soil means they’ll grow a lot better.
It’s a lot to remember!
The one thing I didn’t like? The currency system.
Obviously, the hallmark of Harvest Moon games is that you grow and gather your own crops and animal byproducts, and sell them for G so you can rebuild the town or expand your farm.
The way this was set up in Light of Hope is the only thing I didn’t like about it. There’s a huge discrepancy between the prices of everything (your first house upgrade is 85,000 G) and the amounts you get for your crops and products (for reference, eggs average 75 G each).
I suspect the idea behind it was to gate players like me, who like to find ways to speed up the money-making process, and pace the main story so it lasts more than a week of obsessive gameplay. And in all honesty, it’s a good idea, because it makes the game more fun and challenging.
I guess it just kind of disappointed me that the mine was a painfully easy way around that gate. You get access to it very early in the game, and it’s way easier to go down in the mine, dig up a bunch of ores, and turn them into gems than it is to try and make the same amount of money by farming—even if you sell to the vendors who will give you more for their respective items.
All in all, I love Harvest Moon: Light of Hope, and I’m really looking forward to what happens now that I’ve finished the story. You actually have to finish the story to even unlock the ability to get married and have children, so I have a suspicion there’s more to it than the storyline I finished!