It’s been a long time since I spent a weekend so hooked on a game like this, where the hours passed without me noticing. The main culprit? At Harvestthe new Square Enix and Live Wire game that is now available on PC and Nintendo Switch and has become one of my biggest surprises of 2022.
It’s a difficult time, and all the big releases crammed into just a few weeks makes it very difficult to keep track of other titles that don’t grab all the covers, like the next God of War: Ragnarok or Pokémon Scarlet and Purple. But I wish you had Harvestella in the spotlight because I don’t think you will regret it if you like JRPGs and farm simulators. Is it a mixture of both concepts? In essence, yes, but with a very own personality that, until now, has left me enchanted.
Harvestella has a hard time starting, it’s true, but it’s something that Japanese games of this style share almost in their entirety. Once we choose our protagonist (it is appreciated that it is from the first Square Enix game that I see that allows you to choose a male, female and non-binary sex, although then it is widely macho in its representation of women), we are presented with his world and its history in the most topical way possible: through a character suffering from amnesia who has no idea why he is there, but that seems very important for what is happening. The world of Harvestella lives under the light of large crystals that allow the ecosystem as such to continue, although at each change of season a dangerous effect is produced in the environment that makes everyone have to remain sheltered at home. Inside one of those large crystals a mysterious character appears… and from there, after many dialogues and tutorials, we begin our experience in his world.
Harvestella takes the element of the passage of time, days and seasons, in true Stardew Valley style. because, indeed, we have a farm to maintain. Every day we will have the possibility (although it is by no means compulsory) to take care of our crops, plant new seeds, collect the ones we have (to sell them and obtain money or to cook) and continue with our chores. In addition, crafting is also a core part of the game, collecting materials from various sources in the world and from enemies in order to build and improve our weapons or tools.
That’s where its element of pure JRPG converges in Harvestella, with its long conversations, stories, combat and development, with the daily life of our character and the more mundane problems of the villages we visit. We can enter a dungeon full of enemies to complete the main objectives and discover the greatest mystery that seems to surround the world, or we can play with the children of our village or collect a repellent for the mice that seem to be invading the village well. Everything coexists in a fantastic way, and everything gives us a sense of well-being as we continue to move forward in our daily lives day after day.
Harvestella fascinates me knowing how to combine those two elements, and both work and generate interest. I want to follow the main story (which after a few hours branches into several objectives), but I also want to help the village doctor and increase the level of affection that some of the main characters have (also, in true Stardew style Valley). Just going to farm materials from a few enemies to fulfill a secondary personal request that day feels fun and isn’t burdensome, because it is just another day of our life in this world, doing a favor and getting to know one of his characters more deeply. I get up, tend to my crops, go to the store for a few seeds or to get a new chicken coop built, and accomplish the goals that give me time until nightfall and I have to go home to sleep.
Harvestella’s combat system may be the most shocking in its early days, and it took a few hours to convince me. But once you understand how it works and you open up new possibilities through its system of jobs, weapons and companions, you get to enjoy it. It’s not a great wonder, but you don’t spend all your time fighting, nor is it the core of the experience, so it does what it wants: that the internships in the dungeons are fast and entertaining, that they comply and that the next day you feel like it. Pick up where you left off through a simple system of shortcuts that allow you to cut back on trips if you manage to go far enough. It works in real time, and all the enemies have some strengths and weaknesses that you must know how to take advantage of through your different weapons and abilities. Switching weapons means you can’t switch back to the previous one for a while, just like when using his special powers. Each one of them has its own experience and progress system, and little by little you can unlock new skills and increase their power. Companions will join you and leave your party according to the designs of their own stories, but you don’t control them directly and they only provide (much appreciated) direct support in battles.
But it’s the coming home from each day that fascinates me by Harvestella. Which makes me want to go back through another day until the actual hours start ticking by. Arriving home early because you haven’t been able to make the most of your stay in a dungeon, but fishing until you feel sleepy is fun and, above all, satisfying. Managing your hours, deciding what to do the next morning or what you’re going to spend your next efforts on is fantastic, and the fact that the world really moves forward whatever you do is very interesting in such a purely JRPG environment. It is a quiet game, but it knows how to generate conflict and greater interest through its great backstory, inexplicably mysterious and attractive; you always want to know more.
It’s too early for me to give an assessment, and so far Harvestella seems to offer an insane amount of hours of content. But don’t let it get away and keep it in the spotlight: yes, it’s a bad time of year and other games can generate more interest (as usual), but do not leave it aside when you have the opportunity, especially if you like Square Enix JRPGs, intense stories and the strange worlds starring an amnesiac protagonist, and you like to take care of your farm and enjoy these interesting temporal approaches gracefully overlapping another very established genre like the JRPG.