The farming sim genre has seen a massive resurgence in recent years all beginning with the release of Stardew Valley in 2014. With the game bringing the genre to millions of new fans, it has led to a lot of others jumping onto the bandwagon to latch onto this success.
However most of these are indie efforts with the only titles having any major backing coming from big franchises like Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, and Story of Seasons. Now, Square Enix have decided to throw their hat into the ring with Harvestella. The game promises to mix the farming sim genre with RPG elements, the latter of which is something the company is most famous for.
Some games within this genre have already teased minor adventuring and RPG mechanics, but Square Enix hope to really push that concept to its limits here. Beyond the farming gameplay, players will be given a world to explore with different classes to use and monsters to defeat. The only question is: does their risk pay off? Read our review to find out!
Developer: Square Enix, Live Wire
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Nintendo Switch and Windows PC (Reviewed)
Release Date: November 4, 2022
Price: $59.99 USD
Getting one thing out of the way right away is that Harvestella is an RPG first and a farming sim second. It becomes rather apparent in the opening minutes of the game that we’re in for a tale of epic proportions as your character finds themselves in the midst of Quietus, known as a season of death, which takes place between each regular season.
They hit all the clichés from your character having apparent amnesia to there being a mysterious spirit guiding them on their journey. It’s a story which hits the hallmarks one would expect from a bog standard JRPG.
This should be fine seeing as this is a game set within the farming sim space. Most genre titles aren’t known for their gripping storylines, mainly focusing more on the day to day life of working on a farm, raising money to improve upon it, while also mingling with the locals.
However as previously stated, Harvestella is an RPG first. The story takes precedent and for a good number of the opening hours, you’ll find yourself tunneled down the line of learning about the strange world you find yourself in while meeting much of game’s cast.
Fortunately the tale being told is engaging, even if a bit middle of the road, thanks to the characters surrounding it. While your character does have obvious importance given right away considering the game’s prologue, it’s mostly the motivations of others which drive the plot forward.
Characters feel human and have solid motivations, such as Aria, another girl supposedly from the future trying to find her way home, and Asyl, a young man who leads his town’s brigade in defense against a new wave of monsters. This is aided by the Harvestella’s many side quests which add more to their backstories and allows players to relate to them.
It’s a shame that the character you play as has such little dialogue outside of player choices, which don’t greatly affect the game’s story or their relationships. This bleeds into the character creator when you start a new game, there’s more options than older farming sims that didn’t feature such customization, but it’s limited and very barebones.
Also it is a little disappointing in the character creation that the male version you can play as looks so feminine. It may be easy to be fooled in the screenshots that I appear to have chosen the female option, but I assure you that I did not.
Throughout the game’s story, you will be playing with both mechanics you’d expect from games within both genres Harvestella is mixing together. There’s a gameplay loop where you’ll be waking up in the morning, tending to your farm, then heading out to explore new areas to progress the game’s plot.
The farming side of things is very simple. You’ll plant seeds and water your crops while slowly expanding your farm as the game progresses. Eventually you’ll gain access to more land along with livestock for more resources to gain. During all of this a balance has to be struck between selling your goods or holding on to them for yourselves.
The reasoning with this mechanic is that while you certainly want to raise cash funds, the other side to the game involves a mostly fully fledged RPG adventure where you may need these resources to cook food for healing or craft items for exploration.
Harvestella attempts to straddle a line between a laid back farming experience with an epic adventure, but mostly leans towards the latter. Sometimes the farming aspect of the game, with time being a major factor, gets in the way of progressing through the story. This is mostly because you can’t explore dungeons indefinitely, and have to eventually return home for bedtime.
Another factor of the game trying to fuse together the concepts comes in the form of Quietus. This plays a major role in Harvestella’s story as it provides a catalyst for your character’s adventures as strange events occur around the world. However, it also affects the farm by arriving at the end of each season to essentially reset all the hard work you’ve done.
Throughout the game, when you’re not busy with the farm, you’ll find yourself either going through the main plot or performing the very many side quests Harvestella has to offer. Most side quests boil down to the same thing in gameplay: going to a location to either talk to someone, or collect an item.
But the plotlines within each quest are much more fleshed out in comparison. While they aren’t masterpieces, a good number of them extend through multiple quests while telling a complete story, giving players more insight into the NPCs who give them these quests.
It’s done very well where you’ll gain connections to them beyond looking at them like they’re just NPCs designed to hand you something to do. Just like with the main cast, Harvestella does an excellent job in fleshing out the people who live in its world, giving players a deeper connection to them when major and minor events occur.
And all this gets tied together with solid presentation. The game itself isn’t some outstanding blockbuster, but does have solid graphics and a strong soundtrack created by Go Shiina, known for his works on the Tales of and God Eater franchises.
Yet at the same time, it’s abundantly clear the game had a limited budget. Textures are attractive, but flat, NPCs only have a handful of models created, and most gameplay is shallow. They certainly made the most of their limitations, but those very limitations remain very apparent.
Combat sections in Harvestella consist of pressing one button while being unable to properly dodge attacks. There’s multiple classes with the idea of taking advantage of enemy elemental weaknesses, but most are so easy that you can just pick your favorite class and be good for most of the game.
Farming mainly consists of picking crops, replanting them, then watering it before most of the day is spent off the farm adventuring – sometimes it’s easy to forget this is part farming sim in the first place. Harvestella is a good first attempt at mixing the genres in earnest, but shows there’s still a lot of planning before the formula is perfected.
Harvestella is a solid effort by Square Enix to break into the farming sim space while maintaining their identity as an RPG publisher. But its budget holds it back as a AA game being sold at AAA prices, where it’s not worth it even with the likely dozens of hours you’ll spend beating it.
Gameplay in Harvestella occasionally stumbles on itself because of the mix where it feels like you have to be a speedrunner optimizing their paths just to minimize interruptions. However, the story does shine and you’ll find an above average cast compared to the competition.
At full price, it’s a hard pill to swallow picking up Harvestella, when there are many strong efforts with indie titles which manage to pull of much of what Harvestella has to offer. But with a discount, it can be a worthwhile experience.
Harvestella was reviewed on PC using a code provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Harvestella is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC (via Steam) now.