Before Farmville, before Stardew Valley, there was Harvest Moon – a Japanese farming game dating to 1996, when tending virtual crops and cows was new to video games. Created by Yasuhiro Wada, who wanted to convey the goodness of rural life, Harvest Moon has for most of this time been a straightforward escape-to-the-country fantasy about building up an abandoned farmstead and making a life in a nearby village. As vegetables grew, animals matured and friendships developed, you’d get sucked into the game’s predictable seasonal rhythms and gentle busywork. Since 2014, however, Harvest Moon has been in the hands of new developers, and let’s just say that changes have been made.
In One World, you do not move to a dilapidated farm; you pack up and explore a small continent of boring branching pathways that take a long time to walk down, and the occasional desert village or fishing town. Instead of building a tiny agricultural empire, you take a pop-up farm with you wherever you go, like a campsite. Different crops grow in different places, which could be interesting, but there’s no variation in how you look after them. In place of a village full of characters, we have cardboard cut-outs who do nothing but give you random tasks (bring me three sweetcorn).
Turning Harvest Moon into an average adventure game does not work. You are disconnected from the cycles of nature, of hard work and predictable reward, that make good farming games so compelling and gratifying. Rare seeds that would once have been earned are now given out at random as you traipse around the map. Instead of building up a farmstead from nothing, seeing it mature and grow, you uproot every few hours and find somewhere new. It is soulless and unappealing, and drastically dated graphics and music do not help.
Harvest Moon’s original creators now make the superior Story of Seasons games; meanwhile, other developers inspired by old-school Harvest Moon have created much better farming games than this bland filler. It is not the dreamy, warm-hearted escape from the urban grind it once was.