Review: Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley

Natsume takes over the developer reigns, but did it lead the horse to water or oblivion?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 11/20/2014 12:00 2 Comments     ShareThis
The Final Grade
C
Decent
grade/score info
1up
1-Up Mushroom for...
Terraforming is well implemented, adds a new level of customization to players' farms; Context-sensitive controls; Traditional Harvest Moon farming fun
1up
Poison Mushroom for...
No village to visit; plodding pacing, too much time spent in Winter; Despite the addition of terraforming, the game feels spartan

Natsume has had a long and rich history with the Harvest Moon series over the years, but what some people might not be aware of is that the company’s involvement has only ever been as a publisher, not a developer. Marvelous Entertainment has long been the true driving force behind the beloved farming simulation franchise, but things are different this time around for Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley. Publisher Xseed is handling publishing duties for Marvelous Entertainment’s next Harvest Moon title, but the name is being changed to Story of Seasons because Natsume has the naming rights for the series here in the west.

With the Harvest Moon name but no game, Natsume decided to internally develop its own installment in the franchise. Along with this change, Natsume also made the decision to overhaul and redefine Harvest Moon with this new direction. Players still spend their time farming away, growing crops and raising livestock, but much of what has defined Harvest Moon for the better part of 17 years has been jettisoned. The result is a fun, if disjointed game that introduces some interesting new mechanics but sacrifices too much along the way to do so.

Natsume has made a pointed effort to highlight Lost Valley‘s terraforming feature. From the outset, players can raise and lower the terrain of their farm as they see fit. Lost Valley allows for a lot of freedom when it comes to determining the lay of the land, and I took full advantage of it during my playthrough. From tiered, wide patches of land made to look like steps, to pyramid-like hills poking up slightly over the rest of my crops, I had a great deal of fun using my shovel to alter the land to my tastes. It was also very easy to accomplish due to the game’s excellent controls.

Using context-sensitive button prompts, Lost Valley allows players to effortlessly switch between terraforming and farming with simple button presses. Item management via the backpack and storage is also similarly intuitive, and I never found myself struggling to manage my inventory. That being said, some farming tasks felt slower than necessary. It was jarring to go from quickly sculpting my field to watching my farmer plod through harvesting. It made me wish that rather than include a needless mini-animation of him/her lifting each veggie or fruit into the air and showing it off, Natsume had instead simply sped up the whole process.

That’s a small gripe, though, compared to what seems to have been sacrificed to make all this land transformation possible. Rather than travel to and from a central town like in Harvest Moons past, Lost Valley instead has a litany of villagers who come straight to the player’s doorstep, meandering outside on certain days of the week. Odd though it might sound, Lost Valley doesn’t have anywhere for players to go but their field and a couple of nooks therein. That’s it. No bakery, no flower shop, no church. Just farmer, farm, and a couple caves. It might have seemed like a good way of streamlining the experience when Natsume went to work designing Lost Valley, but the developers sort of lost the forest for the trees by bringing the townsfolk straight to players.

Sure, it might take a little time to head into town, but… that’s sort of the point. Harvest Moon games are as much about the minutiae of running to and from the farm completing tasks, as it is growing and herding. It’s like making a Zelda game and eliminating treasure hunting, instead just throwing all the treasure chests into a chamber at the entrance of a dungeon. It might be more expedient to do that, but as fans of the series know, it’s going off to find all that loot that makes it worthwhile in the first place. It’s fun! It’s why people play! Confining the entirety of Lost Valley to a single location was a glaring error on Natsume’s part, and one that truly diminishes the quality of the experience.

It was also odd just how long the game suspends the passing of seasons before allowing players to experience anything beyond the endless winter plaguing the farm (and inaccessible/nonexistent village). The lack of seasons is tied into the narrative (which I won’t spoil here), and though I can appreciate that holding back fall, spring, and summer does provide an impetus for players to build up their farms, Lost Valley pushes the gimmick beyond its breaking point. I kept following the game’s promptings in order to progress through the story, but by the time summer came, I felt like it should have arrived long before that point. It’s an unreasonable amount of time to ask of players to go without any seasonal variety, especially with a lack of scenery beyond the farm.

Those looking forward to meeting potential suitors can breath easy, as Natsume didn’t remove relationships and marriages from the game, but there aren’t too many love interests to pursue. The ones who are there are fairly generic, to boot (though no one can hold a candle to Karen in Harvest Moon 64, in any event!). Without being able to go anywhere besides the farm, it also makes courting said love interests lose some of its excitement. Though I applaud the game’s terraforming and tight controls, I can’t help but think that maybe part of Natsume’s motivation for scaling back so many traditional Harvest Moon elements was in order to facilitate the very feature that makes this installment unique. As it stands, I can’t say wholeheartedly that Lost Valley is a better game for making the shift, which is a real shame.

Natsume’s first time up to bat is admirable in that it feels like a genuine attempt to bring something new and address some of the longstanding complaints that fans have had. Should the next Harvest Moon maintain these controls and suite of terraforming abilities, I foresee a bright future for the franchise– so long as features missing from Lost Valley make a return. With no village to visit, drive-thru interactions with NPCs outside of the player’s front door, and overly slow pacing in the narrative, Lost Valley feels like half of a really fun game.

2 Responses to “Review: Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley

  • 66 points
    haruhi4 says...

    i bought this game. I though it was going to be a great harvest moon. I was wrong. I need a walkthrough to play it. The goals(to restore the seasons) are not intuitive, there is no village and no “give item to character to raise friendship”. One of the WORST entries of the series. I even contacted the technical support to know how to advance on the game and they don´t have a walkthrough, they only have this incomplete walkthrough: http://fogu.com/hm12/walkthrough/index.php

    Thumb up 0
  • 189 points
    Jon Stevens says...

    I love the Harvest Moon series. It’s a concept that (like things like Euro Truck Simulator) shouldn’t be fun, and yet is utterly engrossing.

    That said, I still haven’t found a game in the series that really beats Harvest Moon Friends of Mineral Town. It’s good to see that they are trying new things with the series – even if it hasn’t fully worked this time.

    Thumb up 0

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