The Harvest Moon series has changed very little over time. Beginning life on the Super NES the series has seen new releases come at an increasing frequency with fewer alterations to the established formula. If you’ve played any of the many previous titles then you know what you’re getting yourself with The Tale of Two Towns, a 3DS port of the latest DS version released last year.
Upon starting the game the player is able to customise their player character’s name, gender and birthday before being thrust into the story. Immediately after beginning the game proper the player will meet the mayors of two neighbouring rival farming communities who offer you work at their farm. The choice is between Bluebell, a more European styled farm focusing on raising animals, or the Japanese style Konohana where the community cultivates crops and vegetables. The choice isn’t permanent though, as at the end of each in-game season the player is given the option of being able to relocate to the other village. After spending a few days in their chosen location the player is visited by the Harvest Goddess, who wishes the player to quell the bitterness and rivalry between the two villages.
The main way to patch up the relationship of the two villages is to take part in cooking contests that occur each week in the calendar but as this is a Harvest Moon title this story aspect will likely take a backseat for many players. After settling in a village the mayor and other locals will slowly teach the player how to maintain their farm and how to effectively make use of their resources. The first hour or so of the game can get incredibly tedious as NPCs take excessive amounts of time basically telling the player to hit the context sensitive A button to do almost everything in the game.
Once the game settles into a rhythm it becomes much more relaxing and addictive as players get into the routine of looking after their farming space and interacting with their local community. The main farming tasks involve tending to your crops or animals and ensuring everything is collected and sold off or stored for use when ready. If you’ve played any of the social games inspired by the series such as Farmville, you will already know the general routine. For those who are desperate to advance the story or move village, then simply waking up and going back to sleep offer the only real way to skip ahead to various events albeit at the expense of working your farm.
There are several side activities that can be carried out by players. In each village is a task board which other villagers post their requests on. There’s not much variety in what’s on offer in these side tasks as they’re all fetch quests as villagers asks for fish, plants, critters or vegetables. As players socialise with other villagers they can also acquaint potential partners in marriage further on. Fortunately most of the characters are quite cute and charming and talking to them isn’t entirely a waste of time. The player can also keep track of the other characters’ birthdays through the calendar so they know when to offer gifts to them to improve their relationship with you.
There are also cooking events to participate in that aren’t a part of the main story. Cooking works in the same way as you can make a dish from a recipe you already know or attempt to create a new dish at risk of failing and wasting your items. Eating dishes also replenishes the player’s stamina thus preventing them from passing out before completing their tasks for the day, although it’s a very rare occurrence for the stamina gauge to require topping up. Players can collect pets that give you abilities such as the owl that flies you between each village or dogs that round up livestock and ensure they graze that day. There’s also the option to make offerings to the Harvest Goddess in order to unlock the Multiplayer Field.
Despite taking place over two villages The Tale of Two Towns feels very small. The player’s farming area takes up most of the space in both locations and only a small mountain area separates the two villages. The mountain countryside is particularly disappointing in scope as it severely limits the amount of exploration available to the player when a great deal of tasks involve foraging for various items and ends up with you simply running to the spot where you already know the items you need are. While the villages are compact there is more than enough room for the player to build their farm up.
There are several minor convenience issues with the game that are really peculiar and feel like a step backwards from the more recent entries of the series. It’s only possible to save the game at the end of the day when you go to bed. Although the 3DS’s suspend software feature somewhat mitigates this irritating save method it may not always be a viable option if you’re out and about with the system. There is only one shipping box per town making selling items from your farmstead quite tedious as you plod along to the other side of the village to drop them off in the box. While these design decisions were probably made in order to condition players to get into a routine with the game it actually ends up being quite a put-off as a quick fix.
The DS origins of the game are clear in the game’s visual presentation. The simple sprites and background graphics haven’t been improved upon for the 3DS version. The interior locations are even window boxed to retain the narrower ratio from the DS version. The animations aren’t particularly special featuring low frame rates in their cycles which look particularly bad when speedily galloping around on horseback. The fact that the game isn’t a visual feast doesn’t affect the gameplay in the slightest but it is nevertheless disappointing and ponders the question as to why the developers even bothered porting the game to the 3DS. The only 3DS function really utilised is the option to trade items using StreetPass although it’s entirely random what items you get in return rather than having the ability to request specific items.
Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns is a charming farming title that brings little new to the table. In a series which has had so many titles on the original DS it’s quite difficult to recommend to fans of the series, and even harder for those who already own this title on the older platform. The game’s simple gameplay and lack of difficulty do make for a relaxing game for more casual players and newcomers to the series. Fans waiting for a true 3DS Harvest Moon title will have to make do waiting for the next entry, A New Beginning, which is already out in Japan.