BY: LEWIS MEDEIROS
Originally posted to a separate blog on November 3, 2015
Platform: Nintendo Wii — Genre: Simulation — Developer: Marvelous Interactive
Publishers: Natsume, Inc. (USA), Rising Star Games (EU), Nintendo Australia (AU)
Release Dates: Oct. 30, 2008 (Japan), Nov. 12, 2009 (USA), Dec. 3, 2010 (EU)
So I’ve really gotten into Harvest Moon: Animal Parade this past month. And I mean, like… I’ve really gotten into it. It’s an inexplicably addictive kind of game, a statement that probably extends to the entire franchise as well as to its fantasy-adventure-themed spin-off series, Rune Factory. Let me state up front that for the purposes of this review, I’m looking at the series from the perspective of a complete newbie. I haven’t played Friends of Mineral Town or Harvest Moon 64 or even any of the other Wii titles. The most exposure I had to this series prior to picking up Animal Parade was about six hours of Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny for the Wii… which out of the Rune Factory games is probably the least Harvest Moon-like game of the bunch, being more focused on the Action RPG elements and the social aspect than the farming.
I considered doing a video on the game for my channel, but I think that would just turn out redundant. A much more talented YouTuber by the handle of PeanutButterGamer already did a great video on this one — the very video that got me interested in the series, in fact. Perhaps one day I’ll do a video review for one of the other games in the series, or perhaps for Rune Factory: Frontier, which is a game I’m really interested in playing. But for now, I want to share my love of this game in the best way I know how–especially since this isn’t a series that most gamers would consider trying at first glance.
So for the uninitiated, what exactly is this series in a nutshell? The answer is “farming.” Lots and lots of farming. That may not seem appealing to many players, but simplified in this almost arcadey kind of way, the game boils the daily routines of planting, fertilizing, watering, weeding, and harvesting down to a quick, easy, and satisfying pick-up-and-play experience that’s ideal both for marathon play sessions and short half-hour spurts. Harvest Moon is that kind of feel-good game where you’re not in it to complete a singular objective and “beat” the game; you’re in it to build yourself an imaginary second life (in a single-player sense, as opposed to the way that phrase is used to describe MMORPGs) and enjoy the little social connections the game allows you to forge with the townsfolk as you build your farm up from a tiny, run-down shack with a single square of land to a full-fledged ranch bursting with fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, and animal products every season. It’s one of those games that never technically ends until you decide the time is right to put your controller down and move on — probably to the next-most-recent Harvest Moon game, assuming you stuck with the game for any length of time.
It’s a little difficult to explain the appeal of a Harvest Moon title, but if I had to rank the games in this series on accessibility to newcomers, Animal Parade would rank pretty high. For one thing, you actually do have a main story questline of sorts to complete in this game. When your player character (who can be either a boy or a girl this time around, which was a recently-added feature for the series; the earlier sprite-based games always had that kid with the backwards baseball cap and I think only one of the past 3D console games provided a choice of player avatar) arrives in the game’s peaceful setting of Harmonica Town, he or she finds that the elemental forces that keep nature in balance are out of whack. The people are buckling under the results of this: infertile soil, water with a chronic shortage of fish to be found, weakened fires making it hard to cook or work the forge, and so-on, so the local economy has gone quite to crap and it’s your job to put things right so that both your farm and the other Harmonica Town businesses can get themselves working at optimal capacity again.
The player character, spurred on by an invisible Harvest Sprite companion named Finn, is given the task of meeting with the Harvest Goddess (a series mainstay) to find out what’s wrong and what you need to do to fix it. Ultimately you’re given the job of finding and restoring several magical bells, each tied to a different natural element, which are located at different places around the island, the ultimate goal being to ring all five bells at once to ensure the natural balance is fully restored. Each bell you ring does individually make things better for certain citizens of the village whose livelihood is tied to the corresponding elements, in turn providing the player with more goods and locations they can use to improve their farm, which gives the quest a useful and satisfying sense of progression and a definite motivation for the player to not ignore the plight of Harmonica Town’s citizenry in favor of just doing his or her own thing and raking in the cashola until the world burns up around them.
The main story is nothing special and often consists of simply running errands with what time and stamina allotted to you each in-game day… after you’ve used some amount up tending your farm and trying to squeeze in other activities, meaning it provides a fair chunk of the early game’s time-management challenge. The bells are certainly worth working around your routine to track down, since they unlock additional seeds or fertilizer items at shops, sometimes locations you couldn’t get to otherwise, new social connections to enjoy, and most importantly, the hot spring next to your farm (which restores almost all of your stamina and pretty much doubles what you can do in a single day, but won’t be hot enough to provide this benefit until you restore the power of fire to the land). What I will compliment the elemental bells quest for, however, is giving you a series of simple objectives which help ease the player into the game and give a sense of direction to carry them through the process of getting accustomed to working their farm and learning where to go in the town to get this or that thing. This ensures that you never feel truly lost, and the game world itself isn’t exactly large enough to make the task of tracking down the bells difficult.
That’s not to say restoring the bells will be an easy task, since some of the quests that need to be completed require specific crops or items that aren’t easy to obtain without other bells already restored — requiring you to harvest them yourself in some cases, a task that can only be accomplished during specific seasons during an in-game year. Even accounting for this, I was able to restore four of the five bells in pretty short order. The final elemental bell, Heart (I’m not kidding, it’s not a dumb Captain Planet meme I’m pulling out of my ass, that’s what the bell is), can only be accessed once the other four have been rung, and the end goal of ringing all five bells simultaneously can only be completed after you’ve improved your farm enough to attain a specific rank in at least harvesting category. So the main story will tax you, but it’s only a small part of the overall experience. Assuming you enjoyed the game up to that point, you’ll likely spend many more hours farming and harvesting and chatting with NPCs in Harmonica Town after the fact, trying to build yourself the best and nicest home you can, finding yourself a husband or wife, having a kid, getting some pets, helping the incompetent circus ringmaster find his lost hippo… his giraffe… his elephant…
If you’re the kind of the gamer who enjoys, perhaps, games like Animal Crossing or the third and fourth entries in the Persona series, I can tentatively advise giving Harvest Moon a spin to see if it appeals to you. Animal Parade for the Wii isn’t difficult to find, and the Wii U eShop features both Harvest Moon for the Super Nintendo and the GameBoy Advance Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town for less than ten bucks each. There are a number of other titles for the Wii, GameCube, Nintendo 64, DS, 3DS, and (I believe) other systems as well — whatever platforms you own, there’s probably a jumping-in point that suits you.
This is a hard game to explain the appeal of, so this is how I’ll sum it up: sometimes it really, really pays to step out of your comfort zone and try something wholly, unapologetically new. For me, Harvest Moon: Animal Parade was such a case. The games in this franchise aren’t for everyone, but it’s a genre that I strongly recommend that every gamer try out at least once. You might just be caught off-guard by how addictive it is.
The screenshots and images used in this blog post were taken from the following sources via Google image search:
- Box art: http://harvestmoon.wikia.com/wiki/File:Harvest_Moon_Animal_Parade_box.jpg
- Screenshot of male player character in front of farm: http://www.realmofgaming.com/reviews/wii/harvest-moon-animal-parade/720.html
- Screenshot of female player character holding the Yellow Bell: http://www.everybodyplays.co.uk/review/Wii/Harvest-Moon-Animal-Parade-Wii-Review/415
- Screenshot of male player character talking with Kathy: http://www.g4tv.com/images/3039/screenshots-harvest-moon-animal-parade/53563