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First Impressions: Getting Our Hands Dirty in Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley

Posted by Morgan Sleeper

Farm fresh

Since its initial début on the Super Nintendo in 1997, Harvest Moon has blossomed into something of an institution; a non-traditional RPG that swapped swords for shovels, replaced fighting with farming, and let players find true love among the turnips, it captivated with a unique charm, and has been hooking would-be farmers on platforms from the PlayStation to the 3DS ever since.

This year is shaping up to provide an especially bountiful — and potentially very confusing — harvest for longtime fans of gaming’s foremost farming sims. First, we have the localization of the latest Japanese game in the series to look forward to. This title — Bokujō Monogatari: Tsunagaru Shin Tenchi — is due to be brought over by XSEED as Story of Seasons, due to longtime Western publisher Nastume’s ownership of the Harvest Moon name. Not content to sit on the pastoral picket fence, however, Natsume has been hard at work developing its own, unrelated Harvest Moon game for Western release: Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley. We were able to spend some time with an early version of the Lost Valley at E3, with Natsume’s Community Manager CeeCee showing us around the farm. From what we’ve seen so far, we think fans will be in for a real treat; Lost Valley breaks new ground for the series while keeping its roots firmly planted in the tradition that made it such a hit.

In some ways, as the first Natsume-developed Harvest Moon game, The Lost Valley is a fresh start for the series, and that begins with the premise behind the planting. Instead of having to restore the reputation of your grandfather’s farm, you’re charged with bringing back the four seasons; when you arrive, the Lost Valley is trapped in an unending winter, and you’ll need to work hard - and perhaps enlist the help of some Harvest Sprites and a certain Goddess - to bring back the other seasons as you progress. The E3 demo actually took place in sunny Spring and Summer, but we do like the idea of starting your farm in what is traditionally the bleakest Harvest Moon season and having to earn the sunshine from there. In another twist on tradition, there’s no neat division between farm and town this time around - the Lost Valley is a rural area without the stringent zoning laws of past Harvest Moon games, and houses, shops, and crops can coexist in the same areas.

Natsume is billing The Lost Valley as the “first truly three-dimensional” Harvest Moon, though not for the reasons you might expect; the camera is fully 3D, as it happens, and we enjoyed panning it around while surveying our land - but it’s what you can do with that land that really earns the game its claim to the third-dimension. The Lost Valley’s landscape is made up of chunky cubes of gridded earth, and by facing a tile and pulling up what was affectionately referred to on the show floor as the ‘Minecraft menu’, you can instantly raise or lower that section. Pile up plots for a hilltop harvest, dig down deep to find a fishing hole, or cordon off crops with canals - it’s all possible, and extremely easy to do. The interface was simple and intuitive, with the up-top ‘X’ button sensibly used for raising the land, the bottom ‘B’ button used for digging down, and a nine-square grid surrounding your character to help you see exactly where you’re aiming your shovel.

We spent a good portion of our playtime just experimenting with creating different land layouts, and it was easy to get excited about the possibilities. Terraced farming, riverside rice paddies, and enormous crop circle portraits of our chosen bachelor/ette all sounded like fun, and we would’ve been happy to stay planted at the Nastume booth all afternoon to make it happen. The hands-on landscaping also felt like a great fit for the Harvest Moon ethos; at its core, the series has always been about taking care of the land, and helping it take shape felt like a natural extension.

We were impressed with how much creative expression could be accomplished by simply raising and lowering dirt, but that’s not the only way you’ll be able to customize your farmland in The Lost Valley. We also got a chance to check out the Instant Build feature, which lets you build more complex structures by placing them tile by tile directly on the land. It works similarly to the earthmoving, and it’s just as fast - we built a raised bridge between the Giant’s Causeway-like mountain on one side of our farm and the crops on the other, and it barely took longer to build the bridge than to walk straight there.

One of the biggest practical changes to the minute-by-minute Harvest Moon experience in Lost Valley is the addition of contextual button actions. Depending on what you’re standing in front of, the ‘A’ button can take care of a variety of tasks: planting, watering, and harvesting crops, feeding or petting animals, picking up or tossing objects, fishing in a pond, hammering rocks or chopping down trees — even cleaning up after the cows. It’s certainly a time-saver, and we enjoyed being able to focus on the side of Harvest Moon’s manual labour that’s most fun - the farming - without having to spend any time at all on the meta-manual labour of sifting through menus and sorting out equipment.

A subtler change is that animals now pay attention to the day/night cycle — we were surprised to see the dog sound asleep when we got home after an in-game day of exploring, and a quick trip to the barn revealed that the entire menagerie was tucked in for the night. You can wake them up if you want - as we discovered when we were unable to resist picking up the napping pup - so post-farming fuzz therapy is thankfully still an option.

There are plenty of new features in The Lost Valley, but Nastume hasn’t forgotten the series’ roots; in fact, Lost Valley harkens back to Harvest Moon’s earlier days in several different ways. The visual style especially reminded us of Harvest Moon 64 and the SNES original more than recent instalments; character models are cheery and chibi, with big heads and bright eyes, and the game is rendered in a simple, grid-based, low-poly style with clean lines and vibrant colours. It felt a bit like a 16-bit game re-imagined in 3D, and it was lovely.

The player characters’ designs are also based off of previous protagonists: the female character is based on Claire, who fans will recognize from the gender-swapped release of Back to Nature (Harvest Moon: Boy & Girl in North America), More Friends of Mineral Town, and Harvest Moon DS: Cute, while the male character marks the welcome return of Pete, the series’ main man from the Super Nintendo all the way up until Harvest Moon DS. Even the animals take their cues from an older Harvest Moon style; the cows are cast in the Magical Melody mould — cute and impossibly chubby — the sheep resemble comically puffy clouds of wool with faces, and the chickens are spherical and nearly half your size.

The cows and chickens won’t be joined by the exotic animals from recent games either; we were told that the development team is taking a “quality over quantity” approach for both animals and villagers in The Lost Valley, and focusing on allowing players to forge deeper connections with a smaller number of species and residents. For animals, that means sticking to the barnyard basics, like cows, sheep, chickens, and your ever-helpful horse. And while we didn’t get to learn much about your prospective neighbors in the E3 demo — there were only a few villagers in this early build, with very limited dialogue - we were told there will be lots of characters worth getting to know, including — of course — bachelors and bachelorettes to woo, wed, and raise families with. In our play test, we met a shy girl named April, the impressively peppy Emily, and Gilbert, a bard who spoke exclusively in rhyme, all of whom had appealingly cartoony character designs and plenty of potential for personality.

As the first Harvest Moon to be sprouted in Natsume’s in-house garden, Lost Valley looks to hold a lot of promise, and we certainly enjoyed everything we’ve seen so far. It pairs fun new features with an old-school aesthetic that took us back to the series’ roots, simplifies inventory and tool management without stripping away the meaningful manual labour that makes each in-game day so satisfying, and adds in an addictive new layer of farmland freedom by letting players shape the landscape as they see fit — a task we could have happily lost hours to even in this early version. There’s still plenty left to learn before the game’s ready for harvest this fall — we’re especially eager to hear more about potential marriage partners, and any options for sharing or showing off your personalized farmscape — but based on our brief time in the Lost Valley, we’re definitely looking forward to the result.


Be sure to check out our other hands on features from E3:

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User Comments (40)

Mineral

#2

Mineral said:

Great ... Sounds like I may have yet another game to get this year LOL
I hope this gets good reviews !

Tops

#4

Tops said:

I honestly didn't think I'd be as excited for this as I am but I can't wait!

ikki5

#5

ikki5 said:

I'm still going to wait for the reviews before I even remotely consider this game. Story of Seasons however I plan to have that pre-ordered.

Yorumi

#6

Yorumi said:

I was wondering when this would show up. As long as it's roughly as feature rich as the other(technically real I guess) harvest moon games I'll be getting it.

Morphbug

#10

Morphbug said:

Glad to hear you guys liked it!

That seems to be the general concensus around the people who tried this at e3, they all enjoyed it.

Mime

#11

Mime said:

Looks amazing! Can't wait! :'D Now I just gotta decided between this or Fantasy Life! D':

aja14

#14

aja14 said:

anyway thus anyone know why natsume is like disregarding the Xseed localization of story of seasons. I heard that it did pretty well in japan. Classic harvest moon style with lots of nintendo stuffs hidden like mushroom.

k8sMum

#16

k8sMum said:

@Morphbug

there is going to be confusion regarding both these games for those who don't know about the split between natsume and marvelous. fogu has pages trying to clarify the why's, what's, who's and so forth. most casual afficionados aren't going to know what's up.

i will most likely get both games, but am leaning more towards song of seasons because i like the art style better. am not a fan of bobble heads with soul-sucking eyes, lol.

ModestFan93

#19

ModestFan93 said:

@Radbot42 Minecraft was already ugly enough to begin with don't dare compare that trash to this.

Over half of these features that you guys were wowed with are fully present in over half of the titles. That's why you couldn't milk, shear, etc when the in-game timer past 10PM usually. Are you all unfamiliar with this series to not know that? O.o

zipmonStaff

#22

zipmon said:

@ModestFan93 Actually Bokumono/Harvest Moon is one of my favourite series ever! But I certainly don't pretend to know everything about every game in it :) For the animals, it was the dog joining the 'livestock' animals in having a bedtime that was new to me - I remember Rover always being awake to greet me even after long days in the mountains in earlier HMs. But I could be wrong! And some returning features are implemented in very different ways than previous games. Building bridges with the Instant Build is a Lego-style DIY process, rather than a drop-in-from-above deal as in A New Beginning, for example, and feels completely new in practice. In any case, as someone who's been thoroughly enjoying HM games for the past 18 years, I thought Lost Valley was a lot of fun, whether or not plenty of it felt familiar :)

Turnip-Forest

#23

Turnip-Forest said:

Ahhh, the hype is unbearable.


According to CeeCee, at some point there will be a CE available on Natsume's online store. I'm definitely looking forward to more info about that.

SphericalCrusher

#24

SphericalCrusher said:

This game looks incredible! The graphic style alone makes me more interested, as I'm a huge fan of SNES and N64 games. Great write-up NintendoLife! I will be following this game in great detail. I'm wondering what kind of street pass stuff they can add.

On a side note, I'd love to see Harvest Moon 64 come to WiiU/3DS VC or even be remade. :)

bobbypaycheque

#25

bobbypaycheque said:

People are going to be angry when there are no same sex marriage options. Wait for it. Game looks like buckets of fun though.

Ryu_Niiyama

#26

Ryu_Niiyama said:

@bobbypaycheque

I'm sure you are being sarcastic but I'll bite. Harvest moon/Bokumono has always been hetrosexual couples only. That may change eventually since early games were male farmer only. However I doubt it will generate any backlash.

Tomodachi Life's whole backlash IMO was due to people unwilling to research and a mistranslation about what the data leak was. It was pretty obvious in every screenshot of a supposed homosexual marriage in the game that one of the partners had the female body model. Just the face matched a male. Then again I can put a beard on my mii on the wii u right now and like me she is female.

On Topic: I'm pretty stoked about both. I have them both pre-ordered but will keep harvest moon sealed until the reviews drop. That way if it gets panned I can just return the game.

Tasuki

#27

Tasuki said:

So I have to ask how does this compare to Story of Seasons? I would love to read a comparison of the two.

bobbypaycheque

#28

bobbypaycheque said:

@Ryu_Niiyama I was being half sarcastic. I love the Harvest Moon games, but people these days love to find some social justice crusade bandwagon to jump on. My concern is it will be this Harvest Moon game. I agree, the whole Tomadachi Life issue was a non-issue and blown way out of proportion because of people's ignorance about what the game was. I just hope the whole Tomadachi Life fussing isn't repeated when Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley ships. Looking forward to this one, it actually does look like a lot of fun.

Windy

#29

Windy said:

I think it looks cool! MineCraft meets Harvest Moon........Brilliant!

Zombie_Barioth

#31

Zombie_Barioth said:

@aja14
They're not disregarding it, Marvelous just went with XSEED instead. I've heard one theory that its because Natsume pinned "part of the Harvest Moon family" on Hometown Story, and its to "punish" Natsume for doing that (without permission, obviously).

I think that could just be an excuse if true, rather than just saying "yea, um, we're going with XSEED from now on" after all these years they can just say "you screwed up, we're taking our business elsewhere". They own XSEED so they probably want it done in-house from now on. XSEED is a lot better at localization as well.

Morphbug

#32

Morphbug said:

@Zombie_Barioth

From what I hear, there's no fancy Soap Opera stories behind this.

It seems just a case of Marvelous saying "we have means to publish ourselves now, kthxbye". Since Natsume owns the Harvest Moon name and actually helped develop the first few games very closely even before Marvelous came into the equation, they decided to try continuing their branch of the series on their own.

ecco6t9

#33

ecco6t9 said:

This new Harvest Moon just keeps looking better and better.
Day 1 purchase from me on both Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons.

Zombie_Barioth

#34

Zombie_Barioth said:

@Morphbug
Like I said, it was just a theory. From what I've heard they did the same thing to XSEED with Arc Rise Fantasia for some reason.

I doubt theres actually any big story behind it, but if that were it they would probably just go with that. Natsume using the name to promote another series could cause friction between them, since while its their name its associated with Marvelous's franchise.

Morphbug

#35

Morphbug said:

@Zombie_Barioth oh well, Natsume treats it as if Harvest Moon was always their very own series and it just ~casually~ happened to be composed mostly of translated Bokujo Monogatari games. So I guess that can't be the reason, since they obviously have full control of the name and what they can do with it :P

But who knows? At least Natsume's official stance is that there was no secret drama or harsh feelings of any kind between the companies,

In a slightly related note, Hometown Story really did come out of the mind of the creator of Harvest Moon, so the use of the name was kinda justified.

ThreadShadow

#36

ThreadShadow said:

I'd like a Harvest Moon that has graphics like Rage. I use the term loosely but "realistic" graphics. Mostly for kicks, but it would be hilarious to have dudebro Gears of War guys out there planting crops and courting the ladies! Not a post-apocalyptic world, mind you.

Zombie_Barioth

#37

Zombie_Barioth said:

@Morphbug
Thats certainly true, and I find it hard to believe it'd be THAT big a deal since its technically true. Marvelous not bothering to buy the name or anything suggests that as well. I think we all know how weird companies can be when it comes to IP though, so who knows.

Naoiko

#39

Naoiko said:

Sorta looks like Harvest Minecraft. I'm going to wait on this one till after the reviews come in. I tried Hometown Story on launch and man...wish I hadn't paid full price for it. Not gonna get me twice!

Leafgreenmary

#40

Leafgreenmary said:

Hmmm I don't know what to say. The trailer made me shudder but I love HM games so I will give it a try. However, I might buy a used copy and buy the new Story of Seasons the day it comes out.

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