Harvest Moon has returned to the PSP with Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley. This time, it’s more story-based than most Harvest Moon games. You’re not only tasked with revitalizing an old family farm, thus revitalizing the area, but also saving the whole region from being turned into an amusement park by Funland.
The game begins with the hero receiving a letter from his father. That’s right, hero. No gender choice this time around. The family has received an offer to sell grandpa’s old farm, and the hero has returned to spend some time there and in Leaf Valley before making any decisions. Once he arrives, he learns that Funland is trying to buy the whole town to make it into an amusement park. The Harvest Goddess and Harvest Sprites are terrified by the prospect of losing their home, and turn to the hero to raise the money or make the necessary bonds of friendship needed to send Funland away.
The first thing that strikes you about Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley is how the town and environment is presented. The visuals look good, and are almost PS2 quality. And, at certain times and under certain conditions, it’s almost as though there were a piece of sepia-color cellophane around the screen, creating a dreamlike hue. It’s an interestive effect that is quite pleasing, though occasionally during foul weather I found it would distract me from seeing objects on the ground.
Next, you encounter the camera. The camera controls in Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley frustrated me. It isn’t that they’re bad, per say, just not what I’d expect. In a game on a system with left and right shoulder buttons, you’d naturally assume said shoulder buttons would adjust the camera so you could move and look around/adjust your view at the same time. No.
Here, the left and right buttons on the directional pad control the camera. So you move with the analog stick, and then must stop and shift your thumb to the D-pad whenever you want to take a look around you. It seems like something silly to make a big deal over, but whenever I play a game where my character is walking through a 3D environment, especially if I need to look around for items lying around or a person, I like to move the camera while I walk.
Thankfully, the other controls are perfect. The tool and item controls especially. Equipping tools is quite simple and effortless, as is going through your rucksack. Pressing the R button brings up a menu where you can choose tools or items. You then can go through a "ring" of all of the available tools and items you’re carrying, and select which one to use. It’s quite handy and accessible. Bringing up items works exactly the same way.
Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley brings new additions to the series, ones that haven’t been present in a portable Harvest Moon before. Most noticeable are the part-time jobs. Like the ones in the Wii incarnation of Harvest Moon, they’re here to offer more money making opportunities. Unlike the Wii version, they’re mini-games now. You can collect eggs at the Ronald’s Grocery Store, cut lumber for Wood’s Carpentry, mine for Funland, take care of the animals at Starling Ranch and cook at Clove Villa. All jobs earn you extra money if you get there at the right time, but some will reduce your stamina.
Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley has a few more special touches. You can collect bugs to sell to Tim after knocking them out of trees. You can also consult your calendar to check for weather patterns to help you plan out your days and determine when storms could come. There’s also Ponta the tanuki, who helps future cooks fill their recipe books in exchange for fish.
It also has multiple endings. You can the collect 50,000 gold to save Leaf Valley route, or you can save your cash and try to save the town by building friendships with the townspeople. Well, technically you’re finding other ways that Leaf Valley is special, but you don’t see these special qualities unless you spend a lot of time running around and searching for the right people. If you can complete three "nature" story events or three "tourist" story events, you can get nature reserve or tourist trap ending.
Those multiple endings mean that Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley is one of those Harvest Moon games where you need a guide. It isn’t optional – it’s mandatory. Especially so if you want Alice to remain in Leaf Valley after getting a good ending! You have to see a special series of events, in addition to those "nature" and "tourist" story events, to ensure she doesn’t leave when Funland, her company, goes.
Unfortunately, there is one detrimental change. Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley does away with the invaluable shipping box. Instead, you have to take your crops, items, produce, herbs, minerals and ores to specific shops to sell them. I considered this an abomination. It’s a waste of valuable time to try and track down each correct location to sell items, and not all shops buy all items. Plus all the shops are scattered and learning the lay of of the land is quite difficult.The only possible "plus" is that each shop also issues requests where you can earn extra money for bringing certain items in.
Absentee shipping box withstanding, if you’re craving some portable farming or know a Farmville/Farm Town addict who’s looking to step up to something more substantial, then Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley is a very viable option. There are some minor eccentricities that you’ll need to get used to and you’ll need to keep the instruction book’s map nearby, but once you get established it’s addicting – just like every other Harvest Moon.
If anything, Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley almost feels more fulfilling than the standard Harvest Moon. You’re given a goal, and each step you take towards reaching it makes the whole experience more satisfying. Just make sure you find some kind of guide if you decide to save the town by making it a nature preserve or tourist attraction instead of paying off Funland!
Food for Thought:
- Keep the instruction book handy for the map! It’s hard to remember where everything and everyone is initially, and the map there is worthwhile since constantly bringing up the map in-game is troublesome.
- The multiple endings feature is actually quite fun. The standard bachelorette events are always neat, but it’s nice to see events that actually tie into separate storylines and develop characters.
- The camera controls are quite nice, and I’d like to see it in future console incarnations of Harvest Moon.
- I don’t know why there wasn’t a gender option to play as a girl. There were plenty of bachelor options, and it wouldn’t have changed the story too much.