After what happened with Rune Factory 5, I figured it would be a year or two until we saw another admirable successor or new entry, but Harvestella is a shockingly strong competitor for the farming/action-rpg hybrid crown. The game isn’t perfect, as some balancing issues and design decisions really stand out. But if you think of it more as an action-RPG with farming and life-sim elements, rather than a game trying to steal Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons’s watering can, Harvestella can be a lot of fun.
Like other farming sims, Harvestella begins with an amnesiac avatar. You find yourself wandering through a town, speaking with an ethereal woman with Rapunzel hair. After a cryptic exchange, you are awakened by Cres, the town of Lethe’s doctor. You wandered outside during Quietus, the season of death that comes between every season. You’re quickly offered a homestead on the outskirts of town.
However, you aren’t the only newcomer to the area. After a meteorite crashes, it opens to reveal a futuristic interior and person encased in armor. She awakes and reveals herself to be Aria, a displaced individual. As she goes to the nearby Seaslight for answers, you learn that all of the world’s massive megaliths are behaving oddly. You head out after her, getting pulled into the world’s mysteries, secrets, and salvation when you do.
Review What You Know About Farming Sims for Harvestella, but Prepare for Surprises.
From there, Harvestella plays out like a Rune Factory game. You have a farm, which you can tend for extra income. You can raise Cluffowls (chickens) and Woolums (goats) there too. Different cities litter the map, each with a Seaslight near them. These Seaslights act as dungeons. However, there are also some other spaces you’ll go through while heading from point A to point B populated with enemies too. Should you head into town, you might find folks who could need your help via quests or cooking. Also, as you go through the story, you’ll meet people to form relationships with and fight alongside.
Honestly, I started to enjoy Harvestella more when I realized its “failings” were really due to my constantly comparing it to Rune Factory or Story of Seasons. For example, there is a lack of community here. Aside from the main allies or characters critical to the story, other villagers are nameless residents who might be tied to a side quest. If you come at it as someone who just played Pioneers of Olive Town, it’s disappointing! Yes, characters might get a little attention, but not as much as a villager there. If you think of it more like a regular JRPG, then of course. Sure. These folks matter, but they aren’t your “neighbors.” Even with your allies, befriending is tied to side quests and story progress. So it isn’t like, “All right, I’m immediately kicking off my Harvestella relationships and ready for romance.” No. It takes things at its own pace, in its own way.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. The farming elements could really use some rebalancing. For example, a lot of crops grow abnormally fast. Also, I found that unless I was going with a plant that could be harvested multiple times, like a Cucumble or Nemean Tomato, it wasn’t really worth my time to grow it as a cash crop. Other items I’d tend to grow either to make specific meals or use as fodder instead. Also, while the passage of time is better than in the demo, I would appreciate time passing at different rates depending on where you are. For example, maybe slow it down a bit in dungeons?
There are Power and Balancing Issues That Come Through in Combat.
Speaking of the dungeons and combat, I was a bit surprised that there are balancing issues in Harvestella. The dungeon design itself is great. The areas look great. Different Seaslights feature different mechanics to make the area feel unique. They are a decent size, with fast travel points in fitting places to keep progressing over multiple days from being frustrating. I also loved the thought of different jobs. However, once you find one or two jobs you like and that handle multiple weaknesses, I didn’t find much of a reason to explore other classes.
The Mage job is one that especially suffers in Harvestella. Yes, there are certain enemies that are weak against magic, due to their armor. However the delay involved with regular attacks and special abilities kills any enthusiasm for the role. At that point, I’d rather take a more physical approach with a job like Shadow Walker or Mechanic. Will it take more time? Sure. But it’ll be faster and less frustrating than one of the magical roles.
I’d also say there are some balancing issues in terms of characters’ power levels. When you level up, you’re getting one or two points added to your stats each time. If you head to the Smithy to improve the weapons you and your allies wield, again it only offers a few points more strength with each investment. It really feels like it takes a lot of grinding and equipment investment to start seeing damage numbers go up. Especially since your experience is being doled out at the end of each day, rather than as you take down each foe. Not to mention you’ll need to delve into certain dungeons multiple times to get necessary ore. (Fortunately, items for bombs and repair kits were plentiful everywhere.) Conversely, I didn’t find any of the bosses too frustrating. Especially if I made sure to pack multiple meals. While the big bads are HP sponges, their attacks tend to be clearly telegraphed and fairly easy to dodge.
Take Your Time to Appreciate the Scenery (and Localization)!
But even if it isn’t perfect, there are so many ways in which Harvestella defines itself. It’s a gorgeous game, with beautiful landscapes. Sometimes I wondered if they had an artist create some incredible, supernatural designs, then took those and figured, “Okay, so how can we work around this to get it in here?” The localization is just as colorful, packed with personality. Aria especially is delightful, given the fact that she behaves differently than a typical JRPG heroine and is a rather practical woman. Side quests can be heartfelt sometimes, especially ones involving children. I was also shocked by how many character portrait variations there are for people you’ll interact with regularly. (Both Aria and Asyl get some great expressions.)
You can’t go into Harvestella thinking, “So is it Square Enix’s Rune Factory/Story of Seasons game?” It isn’t fair to the developers or the game itself. Yes, this is an action-RPG with farming and life-sim elements. But it’s also very much trying to be its own thing. It needs time to grow. A think a few patches would help to act as stakes to help bolster the game would do a world of good. If Square Enix tends to it well, I could see a successful successor spawn.
Harvestella is available for the Nintendo Switch and PC.