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Harvestella review: a chill farming sim with a grand RPG narrative

Harvestella review: a chill farming sim with a grand RPG narrative

One day more

As I tend to my crops, I look up at the farm house I call home. It’s delicately assembled in a way only JRPGs know, appearing humble by contrast in a world of ornate design. As I gaze, the soundtrack matches my every emotion, with its gentle strings and soothing woodwind melodies flowing seamlessly into one another, a teasing piano filling in any gaps. In this moment, I am truly at peace.

Harvestella is a farming sim like no other I’ve played. While it possesses all of the expected attributes, from growing plants to animal husbandry, there’s a user-friendly feeling that washes over everything. The watering can never has to be refilled. One can endlessly fish thanks to having a permanent rod and lure. Any of the mild hassle associated with the general gameplay of Stardew Valley or Ooblets simply isn’t present in Harvestella.

See the trailer for Harvestella here

Another key distinction Harvestella boasts over many of its contemporaries is its wider narrative. The game isn’t simply a farming and life simulator, it’s also a fascinating action-RPG starring an amnesiac protagonist who has just arrived in the picturesque Lethe Village, and has been given the keys to a house in Bird’s Eye Bray, a homestead with plenty to enjoy.

The gorgeous Lethe sits in the shadow of an enormous, crystal structure known as the Seaslight. While beautiful to look at, this monument and its three siblings are responsible for the seasons, which change every 30 days. The Seaslights have recently begun to change, ushering in Quietus between seasons, which causes a day where a dust of light falls and kills everyone - and thing - it touches.

Harvestella /
Square Enix

Harvestella somehow balances the joy of everyday farming life against this grand threat, and the result is a title that satisfies multiple itches. Many a time I’ve been halfway through a serious quest where lives hang in the balance, only to take a break and head back to the farm to sell some produce or prepare some meals. In fact, the danger makes the sanctity of farm life even more pleasurable.

While Harvestella uses an in-game clock and calendar to keep each day relatively short, this never causes panic due to the ample time available for each quest. From main stories to subplots, each mission will stay at the point you left it until you’re ready to reconvene, and this feature gives a lot of freedom when deciding on priorities.

That being said, the end of each month is a pretty serious deadline for your crops. Once the 30 days of each season are up, Quietus begins and most of your plantlife (with some exceptions) withers. This means any unharvested crops are gone, so be sure not plant new seeds too close to the end of the month.

Harvestella /
Square Enix

Now, I want to make something clear before continuing with this review: I have not finished Harvestella. After 20 hours of play, I have seen much and done a lot, both in terms of farming and the main story, and I’m totally enchanted. While there is potentially much more to see (which seems likely given that at time of writing, HowLongToBeat doesn’t have any completion times available for Harvestella), I’ve arrived at a point where I’m comfortable enough to evaluate my experience.

From the farming to the combat, to the exploration, I adore Harvestella. This JRPG has taken more of my time than I can accurately track since I loaded it up days ago. The marriage of environment and music is sublime, compelling me to stay glued to my Nintendo Switch. Then there are the multiple NPCs, side quests, and the main narrative to hook me further.

On the subject of NPCs, Harvestella is not short of charming characters. There doesn’t seem to be a day go by in-game without a new conversation to be had, often as part of a quest. Some characters have a relationship counter, where the protagonist can further develop a dong with them by completing certain tasks.

Harvestella /
Square Enix

If I’m to have any gripes with Harvestella, I would say that some cutscenes and dialogues drag on a bit if you’re keen to get back to the core gameplay, and there’s no option to skip them all. This is a very mild issue, though.

The visuals could be a sticking point, too. The game is gorgeous - with a similar art style to Bravely Default II - but it’s not without some fuzzy edges here and there. At times, the epic horizons of locations like the Njord Steppe (which has a real Xenoblade feel to it) can feel a little diminished by the slight blur when striding through the environment. This didn’t really hinder my enjoyment, I must say, but I’ve never been a slave to graphical fidelity.

Harvestella /
Square Enix

The game’s combat is relatively simple, but fun enough to appease casual fans of hack and slash or beat ‘em up titles, especially as there’s a job system in Harvestella where new attacks and skill can be unlocked.

It’s also worth noting that you often fight in a party, and the AI companions tend to be quite good at taking care of themselves, as well as warning you when your health is low. Healing items, which can be found in the game, harvested, purchased, or prepared in home’s kitchen (once unlocked), replenish the health/stamina of all party members, which takes some of the strain off of the battles.

It’s fair to say Harvestella applies its user-friendly approach to all features. In addition to aforementioned combat and farming details, the in-game menu keeps track of quests in a straightforward, concise manner. All-in-all, it really does feel like this is a game to chill with, and that’s never a bad thing for a game that predominantly revolves around living a happy life on a homestead.

Harvestella /
Square Enix

Although I’m unsure where Harvestella will ultimately take me, I’m confident I’ll play this game through until whatever kind of conclusion it serves up. Will it be more Stardew Valley and let me get married and have a pet dog? I mean, I have a sort of giant rabbit creature who I can stroke and ride around the overworld map, which is pretty damn great.

Or will it be more like Nier Replicant and use the farm life as more of a backdrop as the main narrative develops into something far more sinister? The music and aesthetic are certainly reminiscent of Yoko Taro’s masterpiece.

Whatever path it takes, Harvestella is an incredible game. Everything about it just clicks, delivering a farm sim/JRPG hybrid experience that I hope never ends.

Pros: Exquisite soundtrack, gorgeous art style, incredible blend of farm sim and JRPG features

Cons: Some fuzzy visuals, dialogue sequences run long at times

For fans of: Stardew Valley, Bravely Default, Nier Replicant, farm sims and JRPGs in general

9/10: Exceptional

Harvestella is available now on Nintendo Switch (version tested) and PC. Code for review provided by Square Enix. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Square Enix

Topics: Square Enix, Nintendo Switch