Harvest Moon: Back to Nature — 4Q2014 issue

A life that’s sec­ond nature

A life of farm­ing is never sim­ple. Ask any farmer and they’ll tell you: It’s a tough, tough job that requires before-dawn ris­ing and at-dusk retir­ing that repeats itself over the course of many a day. There’s also the fear of Mother Nature wreck­ing your liveli­hood and out­side forces such as other humans steal­ing from you and run­ning you into ruin. But, thank­fully, you can avoid all of that and expe­ri­ence the joy of liv­ing off the land at its finest, dig­i­tally if you so choose, thanks to Natsume’s Har­vest Moon: Back to Nature. And, if you play your cards right and take time to pull your­self away from dig­ging up your ground, you can find your­self a cer­tain Mrs. to share the farm­ing duties with as well.

Back to Nature is the best game in the long-running series. I say this with con­fi­dence because it’s one of the only titles in the series to have been remade mul­ti­ple times with the same setup, just dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters. Every mod­ern Har­vest Moon title takes its cue from Back to Nature, as well. The main goal, which stays the same through­out the series, is to take a farm that’s fallen into dis­re­pair and make it into a prof­itable bas­tion of hard work and suc­cess. Your char­ac­ter works to accom­plish this by pulling up his boot­straps and putting in a lit­tle elbow grease with lit­tle to no help from any­one else, aside from the gnomes he meets tucked away in the crease of the town.

Speak­ing of the town, you’re tasked with meet­ing folks and forg­ing some type of rela­tion­ship with them so that you are con­sid­ered neigh­borly. The town’s set sched­ule makes for inter­est­ing inter­ac­tions and a type of sched­ule plan­ning not unlike Ani­mal Cross­ing. While you’re work­ing to save your farm and chat­ting up the towns­folk, you’re given a third task of find­ing a suit­able lass in town to wife up. If you can man­age to put a ring on it by woo­ing your intended (there are five lovely ladies that you can choose from to pur­sue with vary­ing likes and dis­likes), you’re all but guar­an­teed to earn your place in the town and be allowed to stay.

Back to Nature is deep, extremely deep. So much so that it takes quite a bit of time just get­ting the farm up and run­ning in a proper man­ner that you might make money to sus­tain it. And that’s mis­sion accom­plished for Back to Nature: Get you involved and think­ing hard about what it is you want to accom­plish in your town. That level of inter­ac­tion is sim­ple to begin with, and with decent con­trols it doesn’t get too much harder to main­tain. It’s one of the things that I love about Back to Nature. It doesn’t press too hard about mechan­ics and there’s a wealth of infor­ma­tion within the game about crops and car­ing for ani­mals that can help you main­tain a com­fort­able way of life within the game. But some­times, the level of com­fort you want isn’t always within reach.

While I praise the con­trols, the effect isn’t always ben­e­fi­cial for you. The game is hard in the begin­ning, some­times too hard for its own good. Take, for exam­ple, the fact that you arrive in town with basi­cally noth­ing but the clothes on your back. You’re expected to suc­ceed and set­tle down there but you have noth­ing tying you there very much. What’s to say that your player char­ac­ter doesn’t decide that it’s too much, packs up shop and goes home? It’s not very real­is­tic with some of the things you’re tasked with doing, and start­ing with absolutely no money and try­ing to rebuild a farm is impos­si­ble with no cash flow.

My next prob­lem comes with the cash oppor­tu­ni­ties afforded in the game. With­out cheat­ing, it is nearly impos­si­ble to become suc­cess­ful and well off. This leads into a larger prob­lem with the way time is struc­tured in the game as well. While the time aspect has to be dif­fer­ent than real time, an entire day should not pass within nearly 30 min­utes. It’s extremely hard to get much accom­plished in the early going and it demands that you must have a rou­tine in place quickly or risk being left behind. Sure, you’re given a year or two to get things together but it’s hard to make things work on the farm, court a girl and par­tic­i­pate in town activ­i­ties all at once in the short amount of time that passes as a day.

Cou­ple it with the sched­ule given to the town and there’s a time man­age­ment prob­lem just wait­ing to hap­pen. The con­trols some­times leave a lot to be desired, too. More than once I’ve had a bucket that I’ve filled with good­ies from my plot of land empty just far away enough from a bin that it went wasted. And more than once I’ve been angered by loss of income because it’s on the ground and not able to be reclaimed. But that’s a fact of life in Har­vest Moon titles, I suppose.

Oth­er­wise, Back to Nature is a great sim­u­la­tion of farm life. It’s a good way to play a dat­ing sim and life sim all at once with very lit­tle con­se­quence for poor choices. Get­ting back to nature is an idea all of us need to think of at least once, even if it is to dig­i­tally pair off and make a fast dollar.

Back to basics

Back to Nature, released in 1999 for the PlaySta­tion One, has been remade sev­eral times. The first remake was released for Game Boy Advance as Har­vest Moon: Friends of Min­eral Town in 2003. Friends of Min­eral Town was expanded with a side story, More Friends of Min­eral Town — which allows play­ing from a female farmer’s per­spec­tive — in 2005. These were later ported as Har­vest Moon: Boy & Girl for PSP in 2005.

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