Harvest Moon: One World is going to be trounced by Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town when the latter releases at the end of the month. It’s a pity it will be, because while it’s not of the same standard One World is, in its own right, an enjoyable, relaxing, and rewarding experience. This is certainly Natsume’s best effort using the Harvest Moon property to date, and that’s something to celebrate (remembering that the early-era Harvest Moon titles became Story of Seasons, and Harvest Moon itself, since the Nintendo 3DS, has been a completely separate property).
The unique hook that One World plays with is the fact that you’re not tied to any one location in the game’s massive world. Early on you’re given a special machine that can shrink your entire farm (all its buildings and so on), and transport it to another location in the world. The “special machine” is a silly contrivance, but the idea itself is exceptional; where this entire series has been built on the idea that you’re settling down in a rural little village to raise crops and live the simple life, One World encourages you to experience wanderlust and explore the world, while still maintaining the farming lifestyle.
At the start, you’ll only have access to one area, but soon enough the world starts to open up and it becomes impossible to travel too far away from your farm on any given in-game day. And yet each region in the world has different resources to collect and people to assist, so the only solution is to regularly up and move and lead a very nomadic lifestyle, if you’re going to get everything done that you need to.
While the concept is great and interesting, the flat, featureless world isn’t the most inspiring. Regions are distinct from one another, but they’re all made up of winding “corridors” that funnel you around without many interesting landmarks to explore or things to do within the spaces. What’s more, constantly up-and-moving starts to feel like a level of backtracking that puts the very worst Metrodvanias to shame, and the structure of the game could have been thought out much better. Perhaps most egregious of all, however, is that the game does treat every area as transient – a temporary stop on the onward journey – and that means that the people you meet only play a temporary role in the narrative and experience before fading right into the background of one or two repeated sentences forevermore. Even your eventual spouse doesn’t seem interested in communicating more than a few catch-phrases ad nauseam, and while this has a nostalgic quality for long-time fans of Harvest Moon, the Story of Seasons series has done a much better job in progressing characterisation.
Another interesting quirk of Harvest Moon: One World is that you no longer need to buy seeds. There are still tools and medicines for your animals that can be purchased at shops, but dotted all around the world are sprites that give you seeds as gifts every time you bump into one. Before you know it, you have piles of seeds well beyond what you can actually grow in your allocated farming space. This is a big departure from previous Harvest Moon games, where you needed to make sure you had the cash for those seeds, and forced you to manage your finances (especially in the early game). It’s a nice way of streamlining the experience by ensuring that you’re never at risk of running out of cash or resources, but there’s a big downside to the system in execution – you never actually know what seeds you’re going to get from the sprites. Say you’re looking for one specific type of seed, so that you can complete a mission for a character… well, you’re going to have to run around talking to every sprite you see until you finally get the right pack of seeds from them. Towards the latter half of the game, I was certainly wishing that I wasn’t relying on the whims of these sprites and their capricious approach to seed-gifting as much as I was.
One final issue with One World’s execution is the quest system. You’re quickly inundated with requests from the world’s denizens, and I do mean inundated. The problem is that all of these requests are for certain numbers of certain foods or objects that you can manufacture. To be blunt, the loop in fulfilling all of these requests – which becomes core to so much of what you do in One World – is an exhausting grind, and hardly the most inspiring example of an objectives and progression system that we’ve seen.
So why, given all the above, do I find myself enjoying One World so much? It’s because it’s just so damn relaxing to play. The in-game morning routine is my favourite. Wake up, head outside, water existing plants and harvest any ripe plants, before planting seeds wherever there’s room on the plot of land. Then go check in on the animals, feed them, and finally head out to spend the rest of the day trying to complete objectives or, for a while, woo myself a spouse. It’s that bit at the start that’s so cathartic, and the game doesn’t lose that quality for the rest of its run time. Watering virtual turnips and flowers is a joy, and because One World is relatively restricted in what you can do, and in-game days fly by quite quickly, that loop quickly resets and starts anew. A short play session of 30 minutes to an hour is more than enough to unwind with One World while also making sure that you feel like you’re making good progress in what you’re doing.
It’s also an attractive game. Low budget compared to Story of Seasons, sure, but the classic Harvest Moon aesthetic is there and its pleasant. The many animals that you get to meet along the way are particularly cute. You can see on my first-play stream (above) just how delighted I was to spot a fox for the first time and start to make friends with it. One of the joys of exploring One World’s massive world is the knowledge that there are more cute animal buddies to meet and pet up ahead. You just don’t know which buddies, exactly, they are yet, and it’s a delight finding out.
Harvest Moon: One World is ultimately forgettable and limited, but I didn’t regret my time playing it. Perhaps that is simply because I’m such a fan of these anime-casual farming sims, and have been since the “genre” emerged all the way back on the SNES, but as someone who has played an awful lot of these things, One World’s effort to do something different by getting you to travel around, and the streamlining of the farming mechanics so you can focus on the best bits, is admirable. There’s still a long way to go for Natsume and its development teams to catch Story of Seasons, and I question the wisdom in releasing this game to compete directly with the upcoming new entry in that series, but this is still a genuinely pleasant little world to lose yourself within for a while.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb