The visual novel is without a doubt the most niche game genre in the West. While some visual novels that combine more traditional game elements have found success — Ace Attorney and Zero Escape come to mind — the vast majority of visual novels are not considered for western audiences. CIRCLE Entertainment's eShop release Petit Novel series - Harvest December is a rare mainstream, commercially localized visual novel that sticks faithfully to its Japanese roots. But while CIRCLE should be commended for attempting this project, Harvest December is perhaps not the best introduction to visual novels for gameplay-minded western audiences.
Harvest December was split up into 13 different chapters that were released episodically in Japan, but CIRCLE has released them all as a collection. This makes for a very lengthy read, which most will not complete in one sitting. Harvest December tells the story of Masaki, a teenage boy who lives in Tagami, a small, modern-day Japanese village. The first episode begins in December, and each episode after that covers the following months.
While there are some side stories, Harvest December is largely Masaki's coming-of-age tale. Things begin on a wacky note and only escalate from there, with the boy caught in a love triangle between a sheltered girl from the town's wealthiest family and the local shrine goddess. If that sounds to you like the setup for an anime, you wouldn't be far off. The colourful, quirky characters that inhabit Tagami feel like archetypal anime characters, but like a good anime, they all feel human at heart. And Harvest December's themes of finding love, dealing with loss, making adult decisions and ultimately growing up are very relatable.
It's important to note that there is no actual gameplay to be found in Harvest December. It's truly a novel with pictures on the top screen and text on the bottom. There's no voice acting — that would likely require hundreds of hours of recording — but the story is easy to follow. The translation is mostly solid; CIRCLE has clearly taken great care in localizing this expansive story, but there are some noticeable typos and the perspective occasionally shifts awkwardly, with Masaki narrating in first-person until, suddenly, he's not.
The images are mostly static and usually have a painted background with character portraits depending on who's talking. It's disappointing that there's not more variety; this is a "visual" novel, after all, yet the art, while pleasant, starts to feel a little repetitive,. The text, meanwhile, is just white on a black screen, and while it gets the job done reading a dark screen doesn't make for the most interesting experience. CIRCLE has also highlighted certain terms that have no English equivalent, and touching these words with the stylus will bring up a clear definition.
Your enjoyment of Petit Novel series - Harvest December will depend entirely on what you're looking for. This isn't an adventure or puzzle game, and it's got a very heavy anime feel. If you have a love of Japanese culture and reading, Petit Novel series - Harvest December makes for a fun novelty for your 3DS.