Running a farm can be hard work, but playing a game about running a farm somehow makes the menial labor entertaining. Shepherd's Crossing is the latest contender in the same genre that games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing belong to.
Shepherd's Crossing lets me play a new inhabitant of a sleepy, farming town. Being a newbie farmer, I'm only given a small plot of land, a sickle, and some grass and pasture to tend to. By cutting the grass and pasture and selling it to the market, I can buy more grass and pasture seeds to plant more grass and pasture. What's the use of that? I can then cut some pasture, wait for it to change into hay, and then sell that for some marmots, which seem to be some kind of rodent. Similarly, once the marmots get mature enough, I can trade them for marmot meat, or cabbage seeds. Through this type of "trading up" system, players get to expand their farm to raise rabbits, hunting dogs, collect honey, farm wheat, and so on.
Pet dogs play a special role in Shepherd's Crossing. One type stays around the farm and can scare away animals that try to scavenge on the farm, and the other type can be used for hunts. I got a terrier from the market, which I fed marmot meat until it matured. Then, I registered it in the dog house, which opens up the function to get invited by the towns-people on hunts. The towns-people hunt other marmots, geese, weasels, and all sorts of pesky animals that wreak havoc on neighboring farms. The hunting interface is a very basic turn-based RPG interface where players can choose from actions like attacking, searching out hiding enemies, or fetching downed enemies as loot.
There are also helper geese that players can buy at the market. For example, there are geese who help bring cabbage seeds to designated cabbage planting areas (denoted by a cabbage sign — also from the market), and there are geese who help trim rabbit fur. These geese sound like a great idea, so I bought one of each type that I could, but they're lazy animals and I often found piles of seeds laying on my farm while the geese just wandered around!
The game seems simple but has a few complexities, which is probably why my farm was unfruitful for the first year. There are seasons in the game which are good for sowing seeds, harvesting, and a season where not very much grows, just like in real life. Luckily, each day can be fast-forwarded to the next day, so it never actually feels like a whole season. Also, some plants need to be harvested before they get too mature or flower. Then, there's also the chasing away of grasshoppers which can ruin a crop.
While I can't see any real way to lose in the game, which might make it sound boring, I felt myself playing through a whole year without even realizing it. Maybe it's the reward of unlocking something new by trading more and more advanced things in the market, or maybe it's just watching a successful crop pop up, but the game gets pretty engaging. But don't get me wrong, it's never really thrilling like an action game, even in the hunting sections. I would call Shepherd's Crossing more of a relaxing time-waster.
< Spencer’s Note: Shepherd’s Crossing is a localization of one of the Hitsuji Mura, which are published by Success in Japan. Valcon Games plans to introduce North America to the series with this PlayStation 2 title. >
Images courtesy of Valcon Games.