Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town (GBA)
Harvest Moon is one of those series which sounds boring and looks kiddy, but is anything but. I mean, yeah, who wants to run a farm doing the same thing day in and day out all in very cute looking graphics? Well, I do, as I’m hopelessly addicted to the series.
This game was followed up by another version of sorts, More Friends of Mineral Town, and these were the only Harvest Moon games to be released on the Gameboy Advance. It’s a shame as this game was fantastic before Natsume started messing with the formula for the later DS releases…
Okay, on the whole, the Harvest Moon games don’t really have a story past ‘here is a run-down farm; you are to make it functional and profitable again’. This game however, tries to give you a reason to be running a farm rather than that you just are. On a summer holiday you took when you were a child, you managed to get lost from your parents, and ended up on a farm, where a kind old man takes you in. Your parents eventually find you, and the old man offers to have you spend a bit of the holiday on the farm. When the holiday comes to an end, you promise to write to the man. After a good few years, the letters from the man stop, so you head down to the farm to find out what’s happened. Turns out he died and has left you the farm. Hardly gripping stuff, but for a Harvest Moon game, it is a good start.
There is also other stuff to the story you can unlock, either by becoming good friends with the people living in the town, to having to woo one of the girls and get married and have a child. There is also a vague sense of time in this game, where after a year on the game clock, if you didn’t carry out certain actions, one of the villagers leaves. There’s also a bit of depressing stuff like one of the townspeople dying after a few years.
All in all, it’s a good effort by Natsume to try and get a bit of story and plot into the game. There is also a whole host of cutscenes and things that you can unlock which give further background to the story, and help flesh out some of the characters. More would’ve been appreciated, but it’s a start.
One thing that does let the story down is the poor translation done from the original Japanese to English – it is fairly obvious that the translation was rushed so that it could be out in time for Christmas. There are several glaring typos, and a few places where either the original Japanese text was left in, or where the game has been translated, but into the wrong language. Saying that, some of the typos are quite amusing, and it wouldn’t be a Harvest Moon game without a typo somewhere.
Sitting here thinking about this game, I already have the main town theme in my head, the title screen and my beloved winter theme in my head. For a GBA game, this game does do well on the music front, and it is of reasonably good quality as well. There’s also the little sound effects like the chickens clucking when you pick them up, the cows mooing when you go to milk them, and the various, individual noises all the different tools make.
And damn is some of the music in this game catchy, especially the town theme music. The highlights of the game however, are the season themes – each theme catches the seasons perfectly and do well to put you in the frame of mind for that season – the summer music is bouncy and happy, whereas the winter theme is reflective and a bit depressing.
On the whole, I’d say this was pretty decent for an early GBA game, although the music does get a little bit repetitive after a while. Maybe seasonal town themes as well would’ve been better?
Oh, and before I forget, new music can be unlocked by connecting to Another Wonderful Life on the Gamecube (essentially bits from that game’s OST), but you’d be hard pushed to find a copy of that game anywhere nowadays.
The graphics are done in the very cutesy style common to all Harvest Moon games, which can make the game off-putting to some. However, it wouldn’t be a Harvest Moon game without the graphics in this style (for reference, look at the Rune Factory spin-off series). However, things like the backgrounds are very well detailed especially the beach and all the crops – you can look at a crop and know instantly at what stage in its growth cycle it is, for instance. The mines though, are pretty bland, but then, they are functional, which I guess is slightly more important when it comes to the mines.
The animals aren’t brilliantly done however, which is a bit of a shame for a series which has a focus on the animals when it comes to farming. I mean, the sheep are little more than fluffy white blobs, the chickens are uh, white blobs, the dog looks disappointing, and um, the cows are, well, white blobs with black spots. I would’ve hoped for more when it came to the animal models in this game.
The character models for when walking about town are alright – I mean, you can identify who’s who and such like, but they aren’t fantastically detailed. However, when you go into conversation with a character, they have very well detailed portraits, and individual portraits depending on what emotion they are feeling. This however, is something common to the Harvest Moon series.
However, this game does allow you to link to the Gamecube’s ‘Another Wonderful Life’ through the GBA connectivity, and unlock a couple of things.
It’s a Harvest Moon game, the challenge is what you want to make of it! For instance, are you going to be a livestock farmer, an arable farmer, or a mixture of the two? Livestock farming is nowhere near as profitable as crop farming is, due to the need for a large amount of money to start up, and that you’re limited to only having a maximum of eight chickens and eight cows or sheep. Crop farming on the other hand, it fairly cheap to start up, and once you get the ball rolling, you’re away. If you decide to abuse crops which regrow when picked, such as yams in the autumn, you can quickly make a lot of money.
Personally I feel that takes a lot of the fun out of the game, seeing as I prefer to go slowly and do things at a slow pace.
Of course, you could always ignore the farming side of the game completely (why?) and go for fishing, foraging for items or mining. Mining is a particularly good way of making money in the winter season, as you are unable to grow crops in the winter. These ways of making money tend to be the main ways when you focus on improving your relationships with the characters.
There are also other ways to challenge yourself – no use of sprites to help you on the farm or don’t upgrade your tools (if you want to be really monotonous, that is). I would say overall, this game does offer a very decent challenge if you look for it, and don’t abuse things like growing yams or pineapples.
This game does farming on the go very well. The gameplay can take a while to get used to it, but once you’re used it, well. I still find myself wanting to use the controls for this game when I’m playing other handheld Harvest Moon games (which do the controls the other way round), because the controls for this game feel natural to me.
The ‘a’ button essentially does most things for you, from picking up objects to interacting with them to speaking to villagers. The ‘b’ button is the tool button, and when used in conjunction with the ‘l’ button, is used to change tools. At the start of the game you get a basic hoe, watering can, hammer, sickle and axe, and can unlock a fishing rod later on. These tools can be upgraded once you’ve gained a certain amount of tool ‘exp’ through using them a few hundred times. Once you’ve levelled the tools up to the required level, you then have to go into the mines and hunt for a piece of ore to upgrade the tool with. Once you’ve found your ore, you head into town, find the blacksmith and for a small fee, your tool will be upgraded. Upgrading of tools is essential for your sanity, especially if you want to go into arable farming over livestock farming!
You can also use the ‘l’ button on its own to whistle for your dog or horse, and the ‘r’ button is used to run, which is excellent, as walking is a bit slow in this game. The D-pad controls movement, one thing which does niggle me is the lack of diagonal movement, but that’s minor in the grand scheme of things.
As for the game itself, as touched on in the challenge section, the game is very open ended with regards to how you want to play it. You can focus only on growing crops (or even only one type of crop each year!), animals, foraging for items, or mining and fishing. Even then, if you decide to farm, things like mining and foraging make good diversions during the day when you’ve got time to kill. Heck, mining is a whole separate game in its own right, considering how much is involved when you mine, especially when you unlock the winter mine. Fishing is good fun as well, with a list of about 80 different fish to catch. There are also things like completing your list of items that have been sold, and watching that fill up is rewarding.
When it comes to working with your animals, you have to take care to raise your relationship up with them, by talking to and brushing them each day, or chances are, you won’t be able to get high value produce out of them. Oh, and forgetting to feed them each day gives you a good chance of them becoming ill, which can lead to your animal dying – and does this game like to make you feel guilty when an animal dies through sickness! Oh, and if you’re feeling particularly sadistic, you can attack your animals with your tools, but don’t expect your animals to like you that much afterwards.
Each day will also have different weather, and depending on the weather, can either work out really well for you (in the case of rain when you have a large amount of crops to water) or really screw you over (typhoon across a field of pineapples anyone? Ouch). Of course, if you don’t want typhoons or snowstorms, you can always manipulate the weather through saving the night before and checking the next day’s weather, and resetting if you don’t like it, but I find clearing up after a snowstorm part of the fun of this game.
Of course, when you get bored of running a farm, there are always the villagers to use as a diversion, and finding one of the girls to court and eventually marry. Finding out what items each villager likes can be a bit of a challenge, especially for the ones who like extremely obscure items.
There are also festivals in each season, and these are unique to each season, and will offer challenges such as the cooking festival where you have to make the best dish in a pre-set category, or the chicken festival where your chicken has to fight off three competitors. The festivals are always pretty good fun and are a welcome intermittent diversion from farming.
One problem I do have with this game is the lack of time in each game day. Each day lasts for roughly ten minutes of real time, and I often find myself running out of time before I get everything done – of course, it could just be that I like trying to make the most out of my day and therefore give myself a lot of stuff to do… a slightly longer in-game day would’ve been nice though.
I can play this game over and over again and every time find something different to do with this game. Replayability is excellent.
Replay Value: 10
I love this game, and so should you. Buy it and get sucked into the world of farming simulators.
Written by Karen