If you're a fan of the Harvest Moon series, you know that a faithful instalment will leave only two questions: who do I get to marry and just how much free time can I afford to sacrifice over the next month or two? Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town sticks closer to this original formula than some of its more modern cousins, and the Wii U Virtual Console release still packs the farm life into a formerly portable package. Is it still worth the effort?
The foundation of Harvest Moon - at least in most titles - is a blend of balancing the resources and time of farm labour with an enjoyable life among neighbours, festivals, and an eventual family. While some might find it repetitive, the type of player who gets hooked on life sims is liable to find it charmingly addictive or addictively charming. A day in the game can go by quite quickly depending on the tasks at hand, and it's all too easy to adopt a "just one more" mentality.
The introduction and back-story are simple yet fondly so, told with small scenes that are reminiscent of the SNES days. An old farmer with no family of his own befriends the main character (there is only a male option in this version) while he's on vacation as a child. The elder leaves the farm to the now-grown lad after passing, and of course it has to be fixed up and expanded in classic Harvest Moon fashion.
Players have the freedom of determining how best to use their land, mixing tilling fields and raising animals as they desire. There are no major goals or deadlines, but progress on the farm tends to tie in with progress in the game entire. Harvest sprites are eventually capable of lending a hand with chores and improve at their tasks with time and training, opening some more time for exploration and social activities.
Getting to know the townsfolk adds a lot of essence to Friends of Mineral Town, as it does to many Harvest Moon games, especially when it comes to pursuing one of the six eligible bachelorettes. Five of these ladies are mainly ported over from 1999's Harvest Moon 64, with the sixth being the Harvest Goddess with more special requirements for wooing. Getting to know the ladies through the festivals and various cutscenes can be endearing, and the effort to stal - er, court one of choice by learning her schedule and favourite things is a slow burn that feels very rewarding once marriage finally occurs. The other people of the village can also grow more fond of your character as you converse with them and give them gifts, and you can go so far as to buy a kitchen and create dozens of different recipes to find what piques their palettes.
Friends of Mineral Town faced a bit of a button crunch being on the GBA, but the developers worked around the limitations quite well. Most common actions such as switching between inventory items or accessing maps can be done through handy two-button combinations. It might take a little practice to remember them all, but they soon become second nature. The option to save in-game at any time instead of having to head to your bed was also implemented for this version and still works, but is rendered rather moot with Restore Points now available.
Controls are quite sound overall, although there is one small quibble with running. Holding R will switch your character from a normal plod to a more widely preferred run, but he will shoot off in whatever direction he's facing even with no direction pressed on the pad. There's also the option to make running default and having the R button reduce to walking speed. This works quite well after the field is cleared and things are set up on the farm. When starting out, however, your character will auto-hop over everything you're trying to clear away from the cluttered soil. It's a relatively minor thing, but still annoying when you're looking to speed things up early on.
The overall presentation should hit the mark pretty well with those who lean toward the earlier Harvest Moon games, landing somewhere between the original and 64 versions. A bright, colourful, natural atmosphere shows forth throughout the environment and town, although it does look a bit simple and choppy. The Virtual Console's screen smoothing effect helps things out considerably well. The music is simple yet pleasant, and while the text has occasional grammatical or translational hiccups, conversations still read well enough to get into.
Friends of Mineral town is a good pick-up for cultivating types who enjoy core Harvest Moon gameplay. It's seasoned with additional fun and secrets outside land-working, but not overwhelmed with the twists or gimmicks of a "gotta keep it fresh" era. This would also serve as a great jumping in point for anyone who may be new to the series, but those who would prefer to play as a female farmer might want to wait for the Virtual Console release of Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town, which has been announced for later in 2015.