Harvestella – Review
Follow Genre: JRPG, Farm sim
Developer: Live Wire
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Switch, PC
Tested on: Switch

Harvestella – Review

Site Score
7.3
Good: Fantastic dungeon crawling action
Bad: Takes along time before things fall into place, gameplay wise
User Score
8.0
(1 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 8.0/10 (1 vote cast)

We’re not quite sure what the hell is going on with Square Enix’ release schedule these days, because it seems like they’re releasing a new “big” title every other week. Not that we’re complaining because somehow, the majority of what the studio brings to the table is consistent in terms of quality, whether it’s a fantastic Switch port of NieR or a brand new title like The Diofield Chronicle. There is the occasional exception -looking at you, Various Daylife– but overall, there is plenty of joy to find with the publisher’s offerings. As the end of the year nears, there are no signs of this relentless stream of releases slowing down either. Just recently, the company released Harvestella (which we’re getting into today) and Tactics Ogre: Reborn (which we’ll cover soon) and new Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy and Romancing Saga releases are still on the horizon before 2022 is over. If you’re having trouble deciding which of these titles are worth your hard-earned cash, we’re more than happy to help through our reviews, of course, so read on to find out whether or not Harvestella is right for you.

Story

While Harvestella’s story won’t be winning any awards for originality, what’s present here is definitely serviceable and easy enough to follow. After creating your own version of character avatar Ein, you’ll find yourself in a fantasy world where the four seasons are controlled by giant crystals known as Seaslights. Some time before the events of the game, the careful balance between the Seaslights was disturbed, resulting in the creation of a fifth “season” called Quietus. During this recurring event, the world is covered in a cloud of “death dust” which kills everyone who comes in contact with it. Well, everyone except Ein, much to the surprise of the local villagers. It appears that our protagonist is the key to restoring the balance between the Seaslights. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, they are also suffering from amnesia. Equally unsurprisingly, restoring the protagonist’s memory just happens to be tied to the Seaslights’ mystery. It’s now up to them to venture into dungeons to save the world from destruction, find out who they are, and maybe even do some farming along the way.

Graphics

Aesthetically, Harvestella has a lot going for it. Square Enix is known for great character designs, and the cast here certainly is no exception, with gorgeous portraits shown during dialogue scenes. Likewise, the varied environments are fantastically designed and the various enemies that populate the dungeons further cement Harvestella’s visual identity. Disappointingly enough, that strong art direction and those lovely aesthetics didn’t quite translate into a good-looking game. While we can’t vouch for the PC version, the game doesn’t look as great as it should on the Switch. The 3D visuals are slightly blurry, both in handheld and docked modes, even though the in-game menus and UI are clear as crystal. Hopefully, a performance patch or two will improve Harvestella’s visuals down the line. We also would have liked more customization options for the protagonist, as you can only choose their hair color, name, and gender, including non-binary.

Sound

With a fantastic OST and great sound effects, Harvestella has a lot going for it in terms of audio. However, a very strange decision was made when it comes to the voice acting. While there is voice acting present here, for some reason, it was implemented in a very unusual way. None of the voice performances tie into the story, which is told completely through on-screen dialogue. Instead, character voices come to us in the form of short, random snippets during dungeon crawling and farming gameplay. We don’t quite understand why Square Enix went to the effort of hiring voice actors, but then only using them halfheartedly.

Gameplay

Given that Harvestella blends JRPG gameplay with the farming sim genre, it’s impossible not to mention the Rune Factory series, but we won’t be outright comparing Square Enix’s inaugural offering to Hakama Inc.’s long-running franchise. There are similarities here, of course, but there is enough difference here to look at Harvestella as its own thing. JRPG gameplay is Square Enix’s forte, of course, and this is where Harvestella really shines. You’ll assemble a party of like-minded adventurers that you’ll encounter as you play through the story, and venture into dungeons where both combat and treasure await. While dungeons are massive affairs that you typically can’t fully explore in a single in-game day, there is a distinct sense of progress as you encounter new save spots and open up shortcuts with the right tools.

Harvestella’s world feels like it’s constantly expanding around you as you explore more and more, and the game surprisingly avoids having to backtrack constantly. Random, choice-driven events and a wide variety of enemies, including unbeatable FEAR enemies that you’ll need to avoid, also keep things fresh. The game features an extensive job system, as well as skill and class trees. These systems are a highlight, offering a plethora of tactical options and ways to exploit enemy weaknesses, something that is essential to deal with the various bosses. The combat system is fast-paced and incredibly easy to get into, with encounters against random grunts often taking just a few seconds but boss battles offering meatier affairs. On-the-fly job switching ensures that you always have the right tools for the job and combat is a delight as a result. All in all, Harvestella’s adventuring gameplay is well-rounded and fans of dungeon-crawling action will find plenty to love here.

Farming feels a bit more basic by comparison. Naturally, Harvestella has everything that you’d expect a farming sim to have, from repetitive-but-satisfying chores like diligently planting seeds, plowing fields, and watering crops to using your grown crops to prepare meals. As your budding farm expands, more options become available too, like housing livestock. There is a 30-day seasonal calendar you need to keep an eye on as well, and with Quietus happening in between every other one of the four seasons, time management is incredibly important. Progress is tied to a series of mini objectives, such as harvesting a number of a specific plant. By completing these, you’ll work towards more advanced farming skills, which open up more objectives, and the cycle repeats. The way this is structured feels meaningful and rewarding, and it also keeps you motivated to put in the work required to turn your farm from a small venture into a more ambitious enterprise. Ultimately, Harvestella’s farming mechanics are solid, but they also feel very much like a by-the-numbers affair, and we couldn’t help but shake the feeling that we’d seen it all before but better elsewhere. Of course, the advantage here is that Harvestella doesn’t break anything either and anyone familiar with farm sim gameplay will feel right at home here, instead of having to wrap their heads around a completely different set of mechanics.

Newcomers to farming sims shouldn’t fret either because the game gives you plenty of time to ease yourself into it. It takes a while before Harvestella really starts to open up, and in all honesty, the first few hours of the game almost felt excruciatingly slow, although the game did start to pick up after the initial slow burn. The issue here is that a lot of what’s present here is incredibly intuitive to anyone that has ever played a farm sim before but Square Enix insists on holding your hand until the basics have been fully covered. We understand the necessity of those first few hours, as they are essential to ensure that Harvestella is as accessible as possible, but it does mean that players need to put in the work before the game becomes good. Ironically, this is somewhat fitting as it mirrors the real-life necessity to put work into farming before you can reap the results. The downside to this is that Harvestella’s free demo isn’t really representative of the good parts of the game, so this is one title where you’re going to have to go with your gut instinct (and perhaps this review) before you decide to take the plunge.

It’s a bit of a shame because once Harvestella actually gets going, it quickly goes from Square Enix’s middling answer to Rune Factory to a fantastic game. The game manages to interweave both gameplay styles in a way that makes sense, with the calendar system affecting both your dungeon adventures and the happenings on your farm. Rewards that you reap by farming can be used to enhance your dungeon adventures and vice versa. There are a plethora of sidequests and you can flesh out relationships with party members and NPCs, which then translates to better performance in combat in the form of improved break moves. If it wasn’t clear by now, there is a lot to discover here, more than we can cover in this review. Unfortunately, Harvestella’s weak first impression is going to make it difficult to convince players to push through. It also hurts replayability, as we honestly don’t want to go through those first few hours again. Fortunately, there is so much to see and do here that a single playthrough should keep you occupied long enough to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth, despite the AAA price tag.

Conclusion

Our initial impressions of Harvestella weren’t positive. The story premise lacked originality, the visuals were underwhelming and even the gameplay didn’t quite impress at first. The more time we spent with the game, however, the more it grew on us. After a difficult first few hours, everything clicked into place and Harvestella started to show its true colors. While we’d normally recommend giving the demo a shot, there’s not really a point here, unless you want to familiarise yourself with the core mechanics. This is a game where you should simply take the plunge if you feel like it appeals to you.

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Rating: 8.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Harvestella - Review, 8.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
SebastiaanRaats


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