Harvestella (Nintendo Switch) Review

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Harvestella
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Played On: Nintendo Switch
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
MSRP: 49.99
Release Date: 04/11/2022
CGM Editors Choice

Back in June, Square Enix announced a surprisingly unique new game, Harvestella—a “brand-new lifestyle simulation RPG.” It was immediately pegged as an attempt on Stardew Valley’s farm-sim crown, but in reality, it’s a more complex blend of genres and influences.

Like Harvest Moon and the roster of imitators it spawned, Harvestella drops your playable character on a plot of land with barely any tools and without any experience or money to your name. You have to eke out a living on your idyllic farm by tending the land, growing crops, raising livestock, and such.

However, this farm sim fare is strongly relegated to the background. More pressing is the story element. Others in the genre drop you on the farm with a minimalistic backstory and leave you to your own devices to define your story by picking villagers to associate with. Instead, Harvestella needs you to stop Armageddon.

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Most of the early hours revolve around the central storyline, where your avatar investigates a bizarre phenomenon affecting the seasons. Each season is governed by an enormous crystal called the Seaslight, but in the brief period between the seasons, a death-like calm called the Quietus overtakes the world, killing crops and anyone who inhales too much of the mysterious dust it generates.

Together with a supposed time traveller and other interesting companions, you’ll venture across the land, visiting the Seaslight crystals and scrapping with armored enigmas known as Omens. Gardening takes a backseat to this fairly standard Square Enix RPG story, or at least becomes a set of chores you do before or after a long day of dungeon exploration.

Honestly, I like this approach. Having something more substantial in the early hours—when your farm is still meagre and your options limited—is a nice substitute for the usual “get to know the villagers you might romance or befriend” fare in other farm sims.

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Of course, there’s still plenty of that too. If you’re the type to finish every available side quest before moving on with the main, you will be pulled in multiple directions. Villagers from the mayor down to the local band of mischievous kids will need your help and distract from the primary goals. Most of these scenes are charming in their own right and well-written, but it’s all too easy to get bogged down in them if you’re crossing markers off your map wherever possible. I had to tear myself away so I could finish a dungeon before the seasons turned, as I’d planned.

Harvestella’s pacing is overall funny this way. You might want to focus on farming mechanics, but the world needs saving, and one of those kids is also lost in the woods alone. It’s one part Stardew Valley, Rune Factory, Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, one part Atelier, and one part [insert Square Enix game here]; and while it does all of these things pretty well, it doesn’t exactly know when to do them.

Adding a wrinkle to this is the time system. As is the norm, the in-game time runs while you’re farming, wandering, traversing the world map, or fighting your way through natural dungeons. Much as time has become a flat circle in the real world, the passing of in-game hours felt incongruous.

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The hardest opposition in any of Harvestella’s dungeons is the looming threat of running out of daylight before you’ve hit a new save/teleport point or made a shortcut. Ending a dungeon run without establishing one of these checkpoints feels like a day virtually wasted. Yet waiting twenty minutes for a store to open could feel like an eternity.

“Walking the line between farm sim and RPG might make Harvestella potentially jarring for players who are unaccustomed to either side.”

Otherwise, combat in Harvestella is a perfect companion for the fantasy life-sim elements. It incorporates an active style that’s light and accessible for less action-oriented players, yet with enough depth to appease min-maxers. Each new companion unlocks a new class for your avatar, which can be equipped and switched between during battle.

Harvestella’s system is truly put to the test in boss battles, which can require careful management of skill cooldowns and even some elements of MMORPG combat, like DPS checks. Similarly, each map is peppered with FEARs, or variations of common enemies that are far over-levelled at first. Dungeons require careful manuevering around them, as they are utilized heavy-handedly.

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Where the Atelier comparisons kick in is the surprisingly robust crafting system. On your quest, you’ll amass recipes for food, items, and even tools and machinery to create advanced materials. Like farming itself, this starts out slow but snowballs before too long.

Harvestella lured me into a comfortable daily routine: tend the crops and machines, either deal with the next side quest step or tackle the current dungeon, then return home and spend the remainder of my day processing my haul of resources, crafting, or fishing. As much as I love Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, this is a superior loop for my sensibilities overall.

The game looks gorgeous for the most part; handheld mode on the Nintendo Switch is somewhat hazier but not detracting. A beautiful score by Go Shiina of Mr. Driller and Tales fame cements the atmosphere. That’s no small task either, with the contrast between dungeons and farm life, or pastoral life and the high-tech elements encroaching upon the world.

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Pleasantly, for character creation, Harvestella allows players to choose the pronouns for their protagonist (he, she, they) and from a handful of character models for each gender—but with the intentional androgynous designs, this choice is most obviously reflected in the characters’ stance or gait. I’d have appreciated some degree of physical customization, like altering clothes or hairstyles, but adjusting text throughout the game to at least reflect the chosen pronouns is a nice surprise.

Walking the line between farm sim and RPG might make Harvestella potentially jarring for players who are unaccustomed to either side. Still, I applaud Live Wire and Square Enix for making the freshest take on farming sims I’ve encountered in some time. It struggles with pacing (for instance, sim veterans may be irritated that all romances are locked to the endgame—no time for love when the world is in peril!) but once you surpass the steep upfront investments, there’s a veritable bounty to be found.

A retail version of the game reviewed was provided by the publisher. You can read more about CGMagazine reivew policies here.

Final Thoughts

REVIEW SCORE

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