Clearly a testament to the popularity of the genre, the 3DS as a platform has been flooded with life simulation games. Ranging from the cutesy and calm world of Animal Crossing: New Leaf to the adventurous Fantasy Life, the surplus of games has spanned a plethora of sub genres, but they all come down to one thing: allowing their players to live and grow as a unique personality in a virtual world. For almost 20 years now, one standout series in the life sim assortment has always been Harvest Moon. The charming series has been well represented on Nintendo platforms, and now one of the earliest entries makes its way to the 3DS Virtual Console in the form of Harvest Moon 2, which was originally released on Game Boy Color.
It’s only been about six months since the first portable Harvest Moon title arrived on the 3DS, but that hasn’t stopped publisher Natsume from continuing the flow and bringing the next game right along. Fans of the series will appreciate the publisher’s commitment to introducing the original games to a new generation of players and it’s definitely a reassuring sign that the Virtual Console still has more to offer. Releasing one game in the same series so soon after another does have a downside, however, as it makes it glaringly apparent that Harvest Moon 2 does very little to set itself apart from its predecessor.
Deeply rooted in the franchise’s insistence on slow paced gameplay in a rural setting, Harvest Moon 2 is about as relaxing as life sims come. As with most games in the series, there is a plot, but it doesn’t amount to much more than a springboard for you to start farming. As it goes, the mayor of a small village has decided that the overgrown farmland adjacent to town is not profitable, and that it would be put to better use by building an amusement park on the land – an idea that is probably true. Just as the mayor is making his plans, your character arrogantly steps in at the last minute and claims that you can absolutely rejuvenate the land, but you need a year’s time. The mayor – a man who apparently has no idea how to run a financially sound village – quickly agrees to let you take over. It’s at this point that you’re sent to work on your new farm.
Everything starts out a bit slow as you work to clear out your land and make ends meet, but once you reach your first harvest the pacing begins to pick up. Clearing out weeds, tilling the field and watering plants on a daily basis takes up a considerable amount of time, especially once you’ve got some finances to allow you to purchase even more seeds and grow in larger quantities. Livestock make a return, adding sheep to the standard cows and chickens to care for, but beyond that everything available is mostly what was already present in the first game. The world is even populated by the same character sprites and maddeningly repetitive soundtrack, showing little sign of forward advancement from one game to the next. The big difference between this and its predecessor is that there is now an explorable village rather than just a menu system, allowing you to walk from building to building and talk to villagers in-between.
The point of Harvest Moon 2 is really to just farm and make a load of cash. For those hoping for a bit more than working in the fields, the relationship and romance mechanics are still missing, so you’ll still be left disappointed and somewhat bored. The exclusion of the social simulation elements make it almost unnecessary to interact with other villagers unless you’re buying something or seeking medical attention. It’s a bit sad to play without the relationship mechanic as it makes the entire experience feel very lifeless, relying only on the idea of capitalism to keep one going. If farming for money is your favourite aspect of the Harvest Moon series and you care little about the rest, there’s plenty for you to enjoy here, but it’s very possible that you’re in the minority.
The Virtual Console features are all well and present, but they don’t do too much to improve the quality of gameplay. Save states can be created, but because the game moves at such a slow pace there aren’t really any instances where saving at a particular moment is necessary. As the Virtual Console emulates games that were designed for different hardware, there are some features that are still present in the game but are rendered unusable. Specifically, the abilities to share crops and livestock with friends using the Game Link Cable and print images from the game using the Game Boy Printer are gone, leaving menu options that are impossible to select. None of these features are vital to the game, but sharing through connectivity has increasingly become a prominent part of the Harvest Moon franchise.
The game controls well enough, sticking to a simple scheme to match the lack of input options on the GBC hardware. The Start button is cleverly used to quickly switch between equipped items, alleviating the necessity to constantly open and sort through menu pages, but beyond that it’s a standard affair. With such slow pacing in the gameplay, precision controls aren’t entirely necessary, but they’re present anyway and worth giving a mention.
Harvest Moon 2 for the Game Boy Color makes a slight expansion on the previous game but unfortunately does little to prove itself as a significant enhancement. With the original SNES game and Harvest Moon 64 both including a relationship system, it’s disappointing to see that this entry in the series once again leaves it out — there are new animals to raise and an actual village to explore rather than just a menu, but the majority of gameplay is unchanged. Those who enjoyed the first GBC game will be sure to harvest just as much enjoyment out of this one, but newcomers might want to look into something a little more modern and fulfilling.