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185135130_Harvestellaboxart.jpg.38a0dd69a24c804b05172c84b122f184.jpgI'm not sure exactly when it happened, but hybrid farm simulator/action-RPGs have become a subgenre of farm games unto themselves, to the point where even Square Enix is trying their hand at this unlikely genre mash-up. Harvestella combines cozy farm aesthetics with combat and exploration in a not-quite Final Fantasy world, though there are some similarities. There's a decent farm sim here and a decent action-RPG here, but Harvestella might be less than the sum of its parts.
You play as an amnesiac protagonist who awakens in a quiet little town. You're quickly (and quite generously) given an entire farm to tend, but there's a bigger issue at hand. The four giant crystals that guide the world, called Seaslights, are in peril, and when a mysterious woman appears (who may actually be a time-traveler), you'll begin a quest to investigate and save the four Seaslights. On top of all this, there's the ominous mystery of Quietus, a period at the end of every season where anything left outside dies (notably, your crops). So that's two mysterious protagonists, giant crystals, the world in danger—it's a lot to take in, on top of the numerous tutorials that you'll face when starting.
Once things get going though, Harvestella's writing survives more on the strength of its characters than the overarching plot. You'll meet plenty of party members to recruit, and they all have their own little stories for you to get involved in. They can be a bit tropey and the game has a terrible problem with long-winded dialogue, but they're still likeable characters. Harvestella also has a hard time reconciling its cozy farm sim side with the world-in-danger storytelling. Granted, this sort of ludonarrative disconnect happens in tons of games, but there's something very odd (and honestly rather funny) about facing a world-ending disaster but instead spending several days watering potatoes.
And time management is key in Harvestella. Like most farm simulators, you've only got a certain amount of time each day—18 hours in-game, which is roughly 18 minutes in real life—so you need to make the most of growing crops and exploring. Farming works as you'd expect, each crop takes a certain amount of time to grow, and selling them gives you the money you need to buy more seeds. You can eventually craft various mills for your farm to create flour from wheat, juice from fruit, etc. as well as raise animals. The farm side of the game can feel a bit simple but sometimes that's the appeal of farming simulators: it's kind of like busywork that allows you to zone out and just complete some tasks.
You don't want to spend your entire day on the farm though, since you'll also need to explore the action-RPG side of the game. You'll start out as a Fighter class, but with each new ally you meet you'll unlock new classes. You can have three equipped at once and swap among them (there's a short cooldown to do so). Each class has its own skills and attack styles: Fighter is obviously a physical/close-range kind of character, but the Mage can attack from long range. Ultimately though, combat in Harvestella is pretty basic. The main strategic element you'll need to consider is attacking monsters' weaknesses (either elemental or things like slashing/blunt), but other than that, battles are actually kind of button-mashy. You don't have a block or dodge ability, so usually you just have to get up in enemies' faces and take their hits while you attack, and each class only has a handful of skills so you can't even customize that aspect of battle. There's just not much nuance to it outside of big boss fights, when keeping yourself sustained through the protracted fight matters a little more. In that sense, both halves of Harvestella's gameplay are kind of about zoning out and just getting little tasks done.
The one wrinkle to both farming and combat is the stamina system. Everything drains stamina—including, quite frustratingly, running—so you might have several hours of the day left but find yourself out of stamina. This is the one area where the two halves of the game feed each other. By growing crops and cooking, you can carry around meals that recover health and replenish stamina. Unfortunately you don't start with a kitchen in the game, but even just eating ingredients helps a bit. You'll want to be quite liberal with eating meals, because stamina drains incredibly fast in Harvestella—trying to move around without running is frankly just a waste of time, so you'll want to sprint as much as you can. Early on the stamina system feels frustratingly limiting and it feels like you can hardly get anything done in a single day, but then again that's sort of the point of a farm sim game: getting the most of each day that you can. It forces a certain slow and steady sense of progress though, which can be difficult for anyone looking for a more standard action-RPG adventure.
Even if you're trying to be speedy, Harvestella is a lengthy game. You can probably expect around 50 hours to finish the story, but that doesn't even account for how elaborate you want your farm to be (it's actually possible to finish the story without completing one full year, so you might not even see some crops). There are also quite a number of side quests to tackle. Frankly, these side quests are boring. The long-winded writing is particularly egregious here, the actual gameplay usually just involves talking to one person, running to another town to talk to another person, repeat, and many side stories just aren't that interesting. However, it's worth pursuing them anyway since they'll award you money and oftentimes seeds, which might be hard to come by until you've got some serious cash crops growing on your farm.
Harvestella's presentation thankfully leans on the action-adventure side of the game to create elaborate, interesting scenery and monster designs. The environments are a lovely blend of familiar and otherworldly, with their crystalline structures and overall hazy, glowing vibe. Character designs are as over-the-top as you might expect from a Square Enix game, with outfits that just don't make any sense, though they certainly look stylish. The music is also on point, with fun tracks for towns and dialogue and more adventurous tunes for battle and exploration.
Harvestella is a decent attempt at marrying farm sim gameplay and action-RPG combat, though it falls short of being a great attempt. That said, it still manages to offer an addictive gameplay loop as you try to make the most of each in-game day, whether it's by raking in profits on the farm or exploring further and raising more levels as an adventurer. There's an allure to that simple loop, even if Harvestella never quite manages to elevate this sub-genre of games to much more than repetitive—but decently satisfying—busywork.
Rating: 7 out of 10 Harvests
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