Completing the trilogy of portable Harvest Moon games in the original series, Natsume released Harvest Moon 3 - a title originally release on the Game Boy Color - on the 3DS Virtual Console. This game expands on the two that came before it, recycling the tropes present in the series and shaping them into what more modern entries in the series have eventually become. It's obvious that this title laid the groundwork for the future of the portable series, but time has not been especially kind to the now dated game.
Piggybacking off of the story from Harvest Moon 2, this one follows the familiar plot of an abandoned farm in desperate need of rejuvenation. After selecting to play as a boy or a girl, the game launches into its quick exposition. If you select to play as the male character, you are actually playing as the main character from Harvest Moon 2, now a successful rancher tasked with helping a female character rejuvenate her father's farm. The female character 's storyline follows the opposite route, leaving you as the inexperienced one seeking the veteran farmer's assistance. It's a nice touch to have the two separate plots and provide each character with their own backstory and motivation, but the reality is that, like in most Harvest Moon games, the plot lacks any real depth and serves only to get your character onto the farm.
Gameplay is exactly what you would expect from a Harvest Moon game, especially with these early portable titles. The premise revolves around breathing new life into your land by filling it with crops and livestock to care for, but your responsibilities shift a bit depending on which gender you choose to play as. Playing as the male character brings about a more traditional version of Harvest Moon gameplay, placing an emphasis on growing and harvesting crops with some light animal interaction. The female character's responsibilities rely more on caring for your animals, giving a wider variety of critters to tend to. Whichever character you choose to play as, you are also able to dole out tasks to your counterpart in order to get everything on your farm operational. It's unfortunate that all aspects of farm life are not available to both characters individually, but it is understandable why this was done. Unlike previous games in the series, this one places a larger emphasis on the necessity to work as a team rather than relying on oneself.
The controls are basic but work intuitively when considering the limited inputs available on the Game Boy Color. Movement is obviously controlled with the D or Circle Pads while interacting with your surroundings and using tools is performed with a tap of the A button. Holding B will cause your character to run or drop an item into your rucksack if you happen to have anything in hand. Rather than simply pausing the game, pressing Select opens the menu and allows you to manage the contents of your bag, switch out tools, and save your progress. It's not surprising that the controls are so simple, but it is impressive how well the setup is used. The controls are natural and very easy to master once you've spent a little time tending to the fields.
Harvest Moon 3 is the first game in the portable series to feature the all-important marriage system. For those unfamiliar, beyond raising crops and caring for animals, a big part of this series is to find a potential mate and win their love, eventually resulting in marriage and in some cases a child. Though finally present, the marriage potential in this game is very stripped down, limiting you to either marry the partner who is already living with you and assisting on the farm or not marrying at all. To make matters worse, if you are playing as the female character and decide to get married, your game ends with the wedding whereas male players get to keep going. This is problematic for what should be obvious reasons by now, but even thinking back to the game's original release 15 years ago, it's still a bizarre development choice that essentially leaves half of the players without the full experience.
The art style hasn't really changed from Harvest Moon 2, still opting for the top-down view and large colourful character sprites. Because this game was developed for the Game Boy Color rather than simply being ported from a Game Boy title, the colour palette is robust and the environments are vibrant. The visuals are charming and look good on the small screen, but the same cannot be said for the audio. The soundtrack is filled with upbeat tunes that match the tone of the game, but each song is repetitive to the point of being grating. On top of that, every time you enter a new area on the map, the current song restarts from the beginning, ensuring that you'll hear the same loop countless times before you eventually turn the volume off completely. It's obvious that the soundtrack isn't a major element in this type of game, but it's curious why so little effort was put in to make it even remotely enjoyable.
Harvest Moon 3 faces a bit of a conundrum. While it may provide some top-notch farming simulation and finally introduce the marriage system to the portable series, this is a game that should have so much more to offer. The core mechanics are present and work well, but the overall package feels like little more than a re-release of the previous Game Boy Color game. If you haven't played any of the early portable Harvest Moon games then this is definitely the one to get, but don't expect much beyond the basics.