I like my life sim with jrpg elements, I like my anime GxB romances. They are fun and lovely. So when I saw Harvestella, as unfortunate as the title is, I decided to give it a go. However, Harvestella is not so much as a life sim as a jrpg with life sim elements. It offers a pretty world with a solid enough central story but the narrative design and gameplay could have used more work. It’s enjoyable enough, albeit VERY forgettable, just has problems I would have preferred resolved…they could have been with more work. This is a half-assed game. Some spoilers.
You are found amnesiac on the eve of seasonal change, called Quietus, a period when the world goes still. The game walks you through a lengthy tutorial that might be a bit more intriguing than most intros to harvest moon-type games. From then, you embark on a story that will take you to a world you couldn’t dream existed.
- pretty map, pretty locations. Lost Gaia is a very good world space and Phantasmagoria is one of my favourite dungeons. I also like Nemea the spring town with its dungeon and Coral Shrine.
- fairy order system to give you needed items – complete quests for the fairies, get items and upgrades
- character stories- attend bonding events, get to know characters, get items and unlock party bonuses. As a bonus, you can choose a life partner. The stories are fairly detailed, if not really all that interesting, and unfold over time. Meet an inventor with a mind to explore and discover something unusual at the bottom of the ocean or a unicorn who lost his princess.
- job system – meeting characters also unlocks new classes and you can change between them because the protagonist’s weapon has unique features.
- biomes on the farm that don’t require you to water the crops.
- Fun crops.
- three genders but limited customisation and the genders are just a gimmick, doesn’t really work, I’m still called they when I was supposed to be called she, narrative design has several other issues
- good mix of fantasy and post-apocalyptic narrative for the central story, intriguing enough to keep you playing. Think my time at portia and the like. Except it does have its own twist. Unfolds over 9 intriguing chapters, at which point you get to the choice and if you chose right, you will move on to the epilogue.
- multiple endings but you can achieve them in one playthrough and there’s zero need to replay the game.
- scripted sidequests that tell lengthy stories.
- Overall forgettable one playthrough, not worth the full price.
Harvestella simplifies things, instead of making them more immersive. A lot of people seem to say this is a life sim with RPG elements. I disagree. While it seemingly balances both genres well, I was not satisfied with the life sim elements. You might come in disappointed if you think of it as a take on rune factory. I was, to be honest. Rather, I’d play this as an RPG with life sim elements; wording makes a difference because this way, the focus is shifted to the story rather than mechanics and features. Life sim elements are simplified and reduced, including farming where tools are pretty automated. You only need to acquire one tool at the start. There’s lots of empty, unused space and wasted potential.
Friendship / Romance is much like bonding events in popular jrpgs – attending them will strengthen your party, give you a bonus to attacks, unlock special attacks you never need in the game, and some characters will give you items you need. Although you can still choose a life partner, sadly there’s no wedding ceremony and no dating aspect, that’s why the “lifetime partner” is more of an afterthought add-on bonus to usual jrpg bonding events, it has to be thought of as just a little something extra because it’s really poorly done. Plus there’s no balance between available male and female characters (nope, Unicorn and Mayor don’t count for me, they are even more of a lazy afterthought addon that the bonding), that alone tells me they were not making it as a rune factory type of game but rather as an RPG. Plus, once you finish all the scripted sidequests in villages, there’s little to interact within them. There’s no exploration or permanent side quests like a side quest board, NPCs don’t really have dialogue lines, etc. Also, it is not voiced. Only random lines and grunting sounds are voiced.
As for characters with whom you can bond – it’s all pretty straightforward. You will meet them as you progress through chapters. After you clear their town’s dungeons, their stories will open. Go and meet them, afterwards you will receive letters when the next stage of their bonding quest becomes available. You will only be able to give one of them a promise ring after the main story is cleared. For all my grumping, at the very least you can only choose one for life and that’s it. That’s important to me – I hate cheating, lying and going around multiple dating. I value loyalty. My favourite character stories are the Unicorn, Heine, Aria and Dianthus. Dianthus’ quests are some of the most fun as you help the character learn about the human heart, Heine’s are just interesting and Aria strongly connects to the main story. I like Heine the most of all the limited pool of male characters, Yes, I know there’s Mayor and Unicorn but I don’t really want them, plus they feel like they’ve been added as an afterthought when the devs focused on female characters only. Aria..can be a bit too reactionary, especially at the end.
Farming-wise, there’s also a lot that’s not explained and is counterintuitive, like you can only place maker machines on your field. How was I supposed to know that? I would usually place them inside a barn…oh right you CAN’T enter the barn. On the upside, the farm has nice biomes that unlock as you play the story and the crops are fun. As you progress in the storyline, you will unlock fairy helpers. They will give you goals to complete for rewards, such as upgrades to your farming tool powers, maker machines with more output power etc. You can only buy some upgrade recipes in the endgame quest shop in Abandoned Eden, others will be gifted to you by completing character stories.
The environments are beautiful overall.
There’s no difficulty setting, and the boss fights are repetitive and use the same predictable mechanics all the time -you just have to keep moving around the field to avoid the red lines when they appear. The attacks all follow the same patterns. The only problematic boss will be the boss in chapter 8, but just take it slow and steady and bring a lot of restorative items. Some level grinding has to be done. Shatolla Coral Shrine boss should be done around level 30ish / 35. It’s best to bring restorative items that don’t fill up your hunger gauge – you won’t have much use for your fine platter of fish if your hunger is satiated at 80, there’s a little gauge in the bottom of the screen. Juices/milk work best. That’s all there is to it. The protagonist can change jobs – outfits change with them, but they are not really customisable. You only have one weapon and access to a smithy shop only to upgrade it.
In terms of farming, you will meet fairies who unlock fairy orders and give you things as you complete them – that I like. The dungeons can get needlessly complicated at times but I guess that’s their way of prolonging your gameplay, instead of adding immersive content, you can just get lost in a dungeon and try again and again. Tip: closely observe the map where you haven’t gone yet. Bring a lot of explosives and repair kits to be able to try every route and make connections between corridors. In Phantasmagoria, although it really is one of my favourite dungeon designs and feels, it’s not very clear what you have to do – to proceed all tea cup ride plates must be in motion, it will then be possible to proceed to a little maze and deeper into the area. I spent a lot of time in that part of phantasmagoria. When you get to the top of the research centre in abandoned Gaia, to get to the top floor, you need to fall a few levels from level 11 to find a way around, just poke around after saving, you’ll find the path by jumping down to level 9 or so. It took me a while, though.
The storyline is a mix of fantasy and “old world had an apocalypse and here were are now”, it will keep you playing as it’s done well, has its own twist and takes its time to unfold, keeping the interest while you play. I like this kind of story, so the overall narrative appeals to me. It considers humanity, it considers this fantasy world as a false world. This part is pretty good; it also has multiple endings, but they can be achieved in one sitting and there’s no reason at all to replay this game. The writing has several problems. The sidequests, while nice, have some ridiculous-sounding dialogue choices that make the protagonist sound idiotic at times. The translation is at fault as much as the writing – they cut corners on it. They wanted to sound casual, but a lot of it was just grating. However, in addition to sounding stupid, some of the choices don’t matter, the dialogue will show you which choice was adjusted to the writing – that’s just poor narrative design as far as I’m concerned.
The sidequests themselves are quite nice, they build rapport with the world and do create immersion. My favourite was the story of Scott that you get late in the game and that of Shalotta lighthouse – finishing it lit the lighthouse on the map.
There was also Shalotta bartender questline – not bad, either, a character with a secret, too bad he’s not available for bonding events. You also reunite a daughter with her lost parents, teach a con artist what it means to forgive and reunite separated lovers. A lot of them are rather touching, if not for the grating dialogue lines and sometimes character behaviours.
Another problem is that the game has three genders, but they are just a gimmick, and customisation is extremely limited. I could at least use more hairstyles. Plus, I wanted to pick a SHE, to be CALLED she throughout the game. The game fails to do it, they still call me they. This is negligent, the narrative branches don’t work. on the upside,the protagonist’s backstory and amnesia are explained,a rarity in these kinds of games… But they could have used it a lot more….they failed the potential
There’s a lot that feels downright copied off popular anime and other games, eg. Heine looks a lot like Howl, Aria gives off a Makise Kurisu vibe. The soundtrack feels derivative, though it may seemingly impress, I just feel like it tries to copy the vibe of some of my most beloved jrpgs. Nonetheless, I like the music in Phantasmagoria.
Overall, this game leaves me with mixed feelings, there’s some good and some potential, but a lot of it is also disappointing. The story itself is rather good, if distinctly derivative, but I wish they would at least take care to make proper narrative branches because I don’t want to be called they, when I chose a she.
In short, it is a mix of life sim harvest moon-type games with ideas taken and simplified from other fantastic jrpgs. Great story, but this is Square Enix. They made Star Ocean, never properly taking care to develop things and polish details. When I remember how I wanted Rena’s romance to work with Dias – and they forced idiotic Claude everywhere, that sums things up for me, other romances in that game were also left hanging. It’s poorly designed, this game, much like Star Ocean was, and they cut corners on narrative design. The story is however, definitely better than Star Ocean and very well-meaning.
Not to mention who calls a game Harvestella? Sounds like Nutella. I don’t think they were serious enough about this game, but the locations and biomes are very nice. This one fails to impress me since I played so many great, quality and a lot more carefully made games, with attention to detail, like this one fails to do. It does well enough on the story, even if it’s not explored deeply enough, but it should have at least taken greater care with narrative design and narrative branches to accommodate the three genders and player-driven dialogue.