When the Story of Seasons (Bokujou Monogatari) and Harvest Moon lines diverged, there was some trial and error on the part of Natsume when it came to getting things right. Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley cut out the socialization aspect and didn’t do the best job of making farming user-friendly. Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories was a bit too basic and wasn’t as compelling and interactive as you’d expect. With Harvest Moon: Skytree Village, Natsume has finally gotten close to the Nintendo 64 and GameCube experiences. We have a game that’s starting to really balance farming, animal husbandry, exploring, and socialization.
Harvest Moon: Skytree Village really wants to you succeed in farming from the very start. Your initial watering can water about 200 squares before it needs a refill. Stamina takes quite a bit of time to wear down. You even have an infinite supply of cabbage and marguerite seeds from the start, provided you take the quests from Sam and the florists. Plant the seeds you get, go talk to Sam or Dean, and you’ll get four more bags of seeds each time. It’s a great way to build a tidy nest egg. It doesn’t take too long to unlock Blossom and Dewy, who can be bribed to increase flower quality and water crops. Crops still only get their “great” versions in the preferred season, but can grow in any season. Variations come based on aridity, elevation, fertilization, and season. I’m not sure if I’m just getting used to this system and the unlocking of variation seeds by selling 30 of them to Sam, but it seems like it’s easier to catch on to this installment’s farming quirks.
Even better, performing basic farming actions is easy. There are three views, standard, overhead, and farming. Farming is unquestionably best for tending crops, as you’re locked into one position. Moving the circle pad makes your farmer continue along a straight line. Moving the d-pad changes his or her direction. Planting, watering, fertilizing, and harvesting all work with these controls, and you’re immediately able to plant, fertilize, or harvest up to nine crops at a time. Unfortunately, you do have to wait for upgrades to water larger plots of land. (I’m up to three at once at the moment.) But still, it’s a welcome change. It’s as easy to do was it was back in the Nintendo 64 and GameCube days, and tending your farm will still leave you with plenty of time to fish, make friends, or get your land’s layout to your liking.
The terraforming element returns and again influences areas of the game. Different crop variations grow at various elevations. Certain size rivers, ponds, and lakes offer different fish. The unfortunate thing is, you’re limited in what you can do early on. It takes a few days to get the ability to terraform, as an example and getting things the way you like with the cameras and controls you have can be a bit trying at times. I’m on my second year, and I’m still not getting the ability to start creating ponds, beyond getting inventive with the water that already exists. But my real issue comes with entire areas of the land being locked away and inaccessible until you’ve revived certain Skytrees, even though you can see the space right there and could really use it to get your farm just the way you’d like.
Having the town nearby is a huge improvement too. People start moving in at a great pace. By the time I’d reached the end of the first month in Harvest Moon: Skytree Village, Sam, Dean, Carol, Cyril, Gareth, Tabitha, Melanie, Gus, Elise, Bastian, Doc, Gabriel, Michael, Sofia, Naomi, and Sally had all moved in, and Rowan, Blossom, and Dewy had joined the Harvest Goddess. This means you have the standard shop, florist, animal vendor, building salesman, ore refiner, and inn available from the start. It also means you’ll probably have the monthly cooking contests starting in the very first season.
Interacting with the villagers is more enjoyable. Characters seemed like they had more to talk about, and there aren’t the typical spelling errors and awkward phrasing we recall from past games. I think I’ve only seen one typo in a year. Requests from characters come up rather frequently, but all tend to involve items you should already have and be growing at the time. There aren’t any annoying quirks, such as Gilbert’s tendency to rhyme. Cyril, Elise, and Bastian boast accents, but it suggests the game may take place in a European region with the potential for a lot of immigrants, rather than a failed attempt at being a quirky sort of cute. As a result, I felt like I cared about these characters in the same way I did ones like Cliff, Gray, Elli, Karen, Jamie, Alex, and Gina.
This isn’t to say there aren’t some issues. While Harvest Moon: Skytree Village does a better job of making farming more user-friendly and easier to understand, there are hurdles to overcome involving the story. You’ll start coming across quests that impede progress by locking characters into certain patterns. For example, when Michael’s dog, Max, gets sick, you can expect Michael, Gabriel, and Sofia to ignore any attempt to socialize and complete other quests until you collect the corn and black bass needed to make the healing dog food. (Note: I’ve found the black bass is a very rare spawn in the small pond/river near the entrance to the Goddess Spring in the mornings.) You’ll also find yourself ready to expand and do new things, but have the tools needed for it locked away until you perform these sorts of quests and advance the story. You won’t get your hammer until the fifth Skytree is revived, unfortunately.
It also doesn’t fix every thing Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley and Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memory got wrong yet. Most notably is the crafting element. Do you remember the things you needed to get necessary home improvements? Like Orichalcum for cribs, silver for a queen bed, and gold for wallpaper? The recipes are the same. This means you aren’t going to make real progress toward settling down until you’ve gotten five Skytrees back. Which is only a chore if you start going for the “gold” early by focusing on selling Blossom-improved flowers and fish caught from your ponds and lakes.
The Harvest Moon series Natsume has been putting together is gradually growing. It’s starting to look more and more like games such as Harvest Moon 64, Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, and Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. There’s clear growth. Farming is more comprehensive and intuitive. You’re able to get a farm built to your liking. A nearby town is filled with people you’ll want to meet. It’s easy to find your footing. It’s easier to find a good groove for yourself, with a schedule that allows you time to tend crops, care for animals, hang around town, and even fish or mine. Even though there may be moments where the pacing stumbles, it’s getting closer to resembling classic console installments.
Harvest Moon: Skytree Village is now available on the Nintendo 3DS in North America.