Harvest Moon games have remained largely the same since the series made its debut on the Super Nintendo all those years ago. You get up, tend to crops, care for animals, get married, raise a sprog, and continue forever. However, the latest title to hit North American shores, Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar, strays from the template slightly by introducing a weekly market – with mixed results.
The traditional Harvest Moon gameplay is alive and well here – farming veterans may be interested to know the game uses the single seed layout rather than the traditional 3 x 3 method, for example – and your usual day sees you ploughing, watering and harvesting, but with a few tweaks. There’s a storage area that lets you keep items fresher for longer, with fresh items worth more, though instead of a shipping bin there’s a store in town where you can sell any items you find. Fertiliser increases the level of your crops, raising their value, and you can water your plants twice a day if you like.
When off the farm you can run to a nearby town to make use of the hotel, small store and other shops, but compared to previous HM titles it’s a little bare. In fact, the same could be said of the game world in general, which offers only a few spots of real interest and feels smaller than previous outings. Most of the places you’d expect to visit in the Harvest Moon world – the carpenter, local farms, blacksmiths and so on – are only available once a week at the titular bazaar.
Each week, either on a Saturday or Sunday, you can attend the bazaar to sell and buy goods from a range of vendors. If you’re intending to make serious money in this game, the bazaar is the place for you, as all your items are worth more sold here than at the store in town. You lay out your stall with goods and ring a bell to attract customers, who then stand in front of an item and tell you how many they want to buy. All you do then is press A that number of times and they leave happy, with the occasional multiple-choice conversation to affect your customer service reputation.
In each bazaar you’re set a sales target, and reaching this total will increase the market’s reputation and draw in new vendors for the next week. Whilst this helps to keep you playing to see what the next bazaar will bring, it also slows down your progression as you’re only able to purchase upgrades once a week. It’s not a major problem as you’ll soon find yourself raking in the cash, but less patient farmers will feel it’s often as much of an obstacle as it is an opportunity to make money.
There’s a decent amount of activities to pass the time between bazaars, however, with fishing present and correct after your first spring, as well as the new addition of being able to catch bugs. With no insect net needed, you simply walk up to the bug and press B, but it can be fiddly to grab them without any visual indicator of how close you are to nabbing the little critters. They’re also worth next-to-nothing, so it’s not a very productive way to spend your time, but there’s plenty of different species to grab to entice completists.
You’re also able to fashion new items using the windmills dotted about the world, which function in a similar fashion to makers from previous games: choose a desired outcome, place your items in and wait for the results. Your items are constructed more quickly on windy days, but you can speed up the whole process by blowing into the DS’s microphone when stood outside the windmill. The range you can create grows significantly with each new windmill that becomes available to you, and learning to juggle these constructions alongside your animals and crops adds another element to the series’ time management angle.
Graphically the game is pretty pleasing, with clear, well-animated sprites and small but welcome details such as falling blossoms, smoking chimneys and more. The decision to use sprites rather than polygons keeps things clean and detailed, and although it’s not a graphical powerhouse it’s charming and cheery, as Harvest Moon games should be. There's a similar amount of sunshine in the soundtrack too, with some over-the-top voice samples to punctuate the chirpy tunes.
Grand Bazaar also offers local and online multiplayer co-operative modes, letting you tend to a friend’s farm and vice versa. It’s a welcome addition, though it’s hard to shake the feeling Marvelous Interactive hasn’t yet figured out how to turn a traditionally solo pursuit into a compelling multiplayer and social experience.
Whilst Grand Bazaar offers the same hypnotic (if repetitive) farming routine, one minor flaw becomes prevalent. Whereas previous titles have allowed you to save your progress by way of a diary at the side of your bed, letting you resume later on from the same point, here you can only save your game at the end of the day, automatically forcing you ahead when you load the file. This means you always must finish your day before taking a break, and although it’s not a massive problem, it’s still a pain to have to wait until dusk before you can save your progress.
The script is also lacking, with characters only having one or two phrases that they repeat every day, regardless of the season – until you get to know them better, that is, though this can take weeks of in-game time. That said, it’s good to see a brand new cast of characters replacing the regular Harvest Moon crowd, even if they’re sometimes just the same character types with different names and faces.
Small gripes aside, Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar is a strong showing for the farming franchise, with the addition of the eponymous market bringing a nice weekly structure to proceedings. The ability to save games only at the day’s end is the only fault of any consequence, and if you’ve enjoyed previous outings in the series, there’s no reason you won’t like this one too.