Publisher: Natsume (US)
Genre: RPG, Simulation
Harvest Moon is oddly a game that I find myself picking up around this time of the year. It’s harvest time, it’s a time of warm feelings, good food, and some of the best produce we’ll enjoy year-round. There’s no better way to relax than with a cup of hot apple cider and a game like Harvest Moon.
The series is really a hit or miss for the average gamer. The stories are exceedingly simplistic, the characters aren’t the most memorable, and the gameplay can get mundane and repetitive. However, it’s these qualities that actually appeal to many of its strongest fans. There’s a soothing quality to being able to sit back and focus on tasks and relationships rather than a complicated storyline and frustrating gameplay. There’s certain purity to characters in a world where the biggest conflicts come from a lack of decent strawberries. #FirstWorldProblems
I’ll be completely honest: Animal Parade isn’t anything unique to the series, but it’s a solid addition and there were expansions that made the game a cut above the others that came before it. On the other hand, there were exclusions from earlier games, such as Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life that left a bit to be desired.
The player begins as a young farmer riding on a hay cart on your way to their new property. A harvest sprite, a magical race of fairy-like beings that only the player can see or interact with, asks a series of questions that establish some basics for the player such as date of birth and favorite food. When the player-farmer arrives at their farm, they’re more than a little disappointed. It’s small and run down and it seems like the community around it is falling apart. After some looking into, prompted by Finn the Harvest Sprite, the player-farmer discovers that the Harvest Sprites in charge of the elements have disappeared, leaving their elements neglected. Fires won’t start, there’s no fish in the sea, the soil is fallow, the wind is stale, and the people of the town have lost heart. Each Harvest Sprite is responsible for ringing a bell that calls to their elements. When all five bells ring, the balance of the Island is restored.
Beyond this basic story, there’s a secondary plot involving a traveling circus that’s lost their star animals. The animals are hidden on the island in various locations and can only be coaxed back to their circus by offering certain types of crops or foods. It’s not a terribly plot-based side story, but it has its own small rewards in seeing the animals perform and eventually gaining their assistance in transportation on the Island, saving time and energy for the farmer.
The bulk of the game and the story is really up to the player. Along with the main plot lines, simplistic as they are, there is an entire community of characters to interact with. Most characters take time to warm up to and as the relationship between the farmer and the characters improve, small side quests are unlocked. The characters within the community can grow their businesses, begin rivalries, get married, and some can even become potential spouses for the player. At the beginning of the game the player can choose to play a boy or a girl. Girls have several bachelors to choose from: Calvin, Chase, Gill, Jin, Julius (Yes, he’s a boy…), Luke, Owen, Toby, Wizard, and the Harvest King himself. Boys can choose from bachelorettes Anissa, Candace, Kathy, Luna, Maya, Phoebe, Renee, Selena, Witch, and The Harvest Goddess. Each candidate has their own personality, likes and dislikes, and their own skills when they become the player’s spouse. They can help around the house, cook meals, and when the player expands their farm enough, they can begin a family! Some bachelors are a little more difficult or elusive like Wizard and Witch, and some don’t make very good spouses. The Harvest King and the Harvest Goddess don’t take part in the player’s life after marriage all that much.
Harvest Moon: Animal Parade is an innocent game that really doesn’t try to push any boundaries. There is a local church in the town with a priest that marries the locals and wanders about, but he never speaks of God or the gospel. The only notable incident in the church (or rather, around it) that doesn’t relate to marriage is one involving a ghost. It’s a pretty simplistic ghost, no more frightening than a bed sheet, and the plot around it is one of finding closure. There are two characters, Witch and Wizard, whose names imply the occult, they’re pretty harmless. Neither openly practices magic. Wizard spends his time in the observatory and Witch sits in her swamp house surrounded by her animal friends.
Of course, there is the matter of the Harvest Goddess and the god of the game, the Harvest King. Both are more or less greater in context and are shown to be a far cry from divine. The Harvest Goddess herself spends a good deal of the first few hours of the game trapped in a tree, requiring the aid of the farmer and her harvest sprites to free herself. Her magic is extremely limited and she really performs little function other than adding to the farmer’s list of friends or potential spouses. She spends much of the game standing by her tree. She’s friendly, but rather limited as an entity. There’s also really no clear worship or even acknowledgement of the Harvest Goddess beyond the sprites themselves.
The Harvest King is set up as a god-like figure but he, like the Harvest Goddess, is a far cry from the personal, divine being of God himself. The Harvest King is impersonal, distant, and extremely detached from humanity. He’s a quiet observer that finds the farmer and his/her efforts amusing. The Harvest King can only be encountered when all five bells have been rung and the farmer has made a large amount of money. So, more or less, it’s by works, not faith, that this entity allows favor or interaction. The only power that the Harvest King shows is in his ability to restore the tree of the Harvest Goddess. Beyond that he seems unable or unwilling to assist humanity in their time of need. Mind, as characters I personally enjoy both the Harvest Goddess and the Harvest King. They’re polar opposites to each other but never show romantic interest towards one another. They have their own personalities and it is nice that you have the option to court them once you have “completed the game.”
There’s really no violence in Harvest Moon: Animal Parade. Your animals die of illness, starvation, or old age but you never see it on screen. There’s no foes to fight and there’s really no weapons to be spoken of—unless you count an axe that one of the characters is carelessly swinging around near the mines, but no matter how long you stand there you won’t get your farmer injured.
Again, this game is very mild. There’s no cursing, no innuendos, there’s not even a lot of hostility. Any insults or arguments are pretty childish. Everything is very tame.
Other than medications and energy drinks, there’s really no drugs at all. There is wine present as a cooking ingredient, but that’s about all.
Harvest Moon: Animal Parade stays true to the formula of previous games. In Harvest Moon, you are charged with the upkeep of a small farm. As the farmer goes into town to retrieve supplies, livestock, and upgrades to their tools they come to discover a community of people who seem…rather distant from one another. The games show the value of hard work and the benefit of forming strong bonds within a community. The farmer has to work every day from dawn to dusk to tend his or her crop, see to the well-being of their animals, and still make a profit enough to continue to provide for themselves and their farm. In short, if you don’t work, you don’t eat. The animals can die of starvation, plants can wither away, and the farmer’s health can take a turn for the worst if they push themselves too hard. While simplistic, Harvest Moon teaches time management, compassion, and the benefit of good, honest work. It’s actually refreshing to play a game where your progress is marked by honesty, perseverance, and good will rather than stealing, violence, and deception.
The farmer also spends a lot of time with the people in the community. As the game progresses and the player interacts with more and more characters, their heart meters will start to change color. Colors represent feelings towards the player and the bonds that are formed. The friendlier other characters are towards your character, the more side quests are unlocked. Some characters will offer you gifts in exchange for your help, others just offer a warm smile when you greet them. If the player spends enough time, they can eventually guide bonds between other characters and see them get married and start families on their own. The whole game has a small town feel to it that’s really refreshing.
And finally, the Harvest Moon games show the benefit of compassion. The farmer has the option to care for a variety of livestock animals but around town and in the wild there is a large number of both wild and domestic animals that can befriended and tamed. Stray cats and dogs can be adopted into the household and trained to perform tricks during certain festivals. It’s a small touch, but it’s a genuinely nice one to have included. Picking up a stray and giving it a home (even if it’s a grizzly bear) is something that really brings out the humanity behind the game. Overall, Harvest Moon is a simplistic game with gentle content that anyone can enjoy.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward. It takes about ten minutes to learn the controls, and about five to recall them after putting the game down for a time. You control a farmer, whose gender you choose at the beginning of the game, and you are equipped with a rucksack full of farming tools and goods that you have harvested, gathered, or have prepared. Most of the game is spent tending the fields, improving your gear, and raising livestock. The ultimate goal in the game is to become a successful farmer with high quality produce and exports. Alongside tending to your farm, there is a mine in two locations of the game where the farmer can gather valuable gems to sell, trade, and gift along with materials to upgrade their tools. The better the tools, the more productive the farmer becomes in tending to their land.
There are a variety of side quests available with character interactions and changes in character relationships towards the farmer and one another. These side quests are often short, but they are enjoyable. Assisting characters allows your farmer to build a friendship with them. Forming relationships with eligible individuals of the opposite gender also open the potential for courting and eventually marriage.
The farmer must expand his or her farm and home in order to bring in a family, raise a child, buy more livestock, or adopt more pets. Upgrades cost materials and money so it takes a lot of time to earn even one upgrade. The game forces wise time management on the player’s part as the farmer is given limited energy that they can use through the day to complete chores, gathering of materials, mining, and caring for their animal. If the farmer’s energy runs out, the farmer falls unconscious. The farmer can also grow ill from staying up all night or running into hazards within the mine. Energy can be replenished in a number of ways, including a hot tub and energy drinks, but the hot tub is usable only once and energy drunks cost money. The farmer must travel long distances through the day as well. Bonding with the animals on the farm eventually allows you to ride them. Depending on the animal, the farmer can move relatively quickly from place to place, but a relationship with an animal also takes time to cultivate.
Along with the daily grind of chores and social interactions, there are seasonal festivals for the farmer to prepare for. Livestock are shown off, produce is judged, and smaller social festivals occur every season. Winning contests offers rewards that help the farmer along and it adds to their profit as well. Each season also comes with its own crops, weather, and in-store items so the farmer has to start from seed at the beginning of each season. Harvest Moon: Animal Parade is a very easy game to play, but it can take hours to make progress. Some players can find this repetitive and dull, but the small rewards and seeing your farm and farmer grow is well worth it for others.
Visually, Harvest Moon: Animal Parade is very cute. The characters, animals, and environments are just bright, colorful, and stylized. The environments are actually beautiful with very little to nitpick. There are a lot of small details and while exploration is very limited, it still gives the player a lot to look at and appreciate visually. The characters are well presented as well. Their movements and expressions give them their own personalities. Some character models look a little awkward compared to their progress art, but it’s not enough to be distracting.
The music is some of the most relaxing to listen to. It’s not enough to be annoying, nor is it particularly intense. Every season has its own theme that plays over and over regardless of location, but the songs are composed so they fade into the background. These themes change slightly between night and day. Day themes are generally more energetic while night time is quiet, slower, and more peaceful. I would recommend a listen through to the soundtrack, if nothing else. It’s quiet, easy, and relaxing.
Either you love it or you hate it. Harvest Moon: Animal Parade is a game that’s best enjoyed at the end of a long, stressful day. There’s nothing to stress over in Harvest Moon. Everything is mild, easily solved, and moves at a steady, predictable pace. It’s a great game to just sit down and unwind to. It’s easy to pick up, even as a new player or after having put it down for months at a time. I find myself going back to it now and then and picking up where I left off without feeling lost or confused. It’s a repetitive game that forces time management, but it’s just a cute, positive game free from drama or political under tones. Sometimes it’s refreshing to get back to something as basic as just taking care of a plot of land. The player can enjoy the game however they wish. For some, it’s an expanded dating sim while for others it’s a business simulation. While it’s not a game series for everyone, it’s an easy enough one to pick up.
The Bottom Line
Harvest Moon: Animal Parade is a solid addition to the Harvest Moon series. It adds several new features to the old formula so it's both fresh and familiar. It's a charming, easy-going game with no controversy or hot topics to speak of. There's no swearing, no violence, no negativity to be drawn out of the games whatsoever. Animal Parade is as long as the player wants it to be with a story that the character makes up for themselves. From building a farm to building a community, Harvest Moon is all about solid values and hard work.