Harvest Moon is a game series you've definitely heard of, a series that has been through some turbulence over the years, having also celebrated its 20th anniversary a couple of years ago. The series first appeared on the SNES in 1996 but now 22 years on we have Harvest Moon: Light of Hope, which has launched on the PC, PS4, and the Switch.
Like many other games, Light of Hope starts with the creation of a character, although you can only really customise the gender and date of birth. After creating our character, it struck us how much he looked like a figure we could have created on the Mii Channel well over 10 years ago, and as soon as you get started on the world map it looks like you've faded away into some kind of mobile game. For a game that was originally developed for PC, we expected a little bit more in the graphics department, even if the soundtrack is catchy enough despite these limitations.
The journey begins with you on a boat, but as is known to happen to video game protagonists, disaster strikes and we end up washed ashore near a harbour town. Naturally the town is in ruins after the storm, but your character is tasked with helping fix things, and after a little while you find a defective lighthouse on the island. This lighthouse turns out to conceal certain secrets important for the plot to follow, and off we go.
The story of the game is both short and uninspiring, and essentially it's really just about helping other people on the island. This is done by completing assignments, such as rebuilding their homes, which in turn requires materials, and generally speaking it's possible to acquire these by yourself. Your character will eventually be equipped with an axe, hammer, knife, and a fishing rod, and thus you can exploit mother nature to get what you need. However, in addition to materials, you're going to need money to repair the buildings. Money is earned by completing tasks for the villagers, but you can also collect materials and sell them to vendors. Eventually the latter becomes the easiest method of earning coins, but it's also by far the most boring.
This kind of grinding is found in many games and is usually acceptable as long as the reward is big enough, but in Harvest Moon: Light of Hope it rarely is. In many cases you have to repair buildings to move on with the main story, which is all the "reward" you will get, and as long as the story really fails to captivate, this will more often than not lead to a drop in motivation and an increase in boredom.
Besides a blunt story, Light of Hope does at least have some classic Harvest Moon gameplay. Running your own farm is definitely the most fun, which can be expanded by planting new crops, putting up fencing for your animals, and adding various other buildings typically found on a farm. Your agricultural empire can be decorated with a wide variety of ornaments, and as days pass by you can attend festivals, and later get married, have children, and live happily ever after (or something like that).
Life on the farm will, of course, require quite some maintenance, as crops must be sown, fertilised, watered, and harvested. This process is simplified slightly in this game, however, because while you still need to acquire seeds and plant them yourself, you can now sow, fertilise, and water in one step. It still takes some time for the harvest to be ready, which can be solved mostly by going to bed and waiting for the next day, but this time you're also able to get help from a friend as the game now offers co-op play.
Apart from the co-op mode, the Switch edition doesn't offer much exclusive content when compared to the original PC version, although fortunately, Natsume plans on releasing expansions for the game. Since the Switch version is also the "Special Edition", anyone who plays Light of Hope on Nintendo's console will get these free of charge.
In the end, it's the creative freedom offered to players that Harvest Moon: A Light of Hope does best, although at the same time the amount of fun you get from working on the farm is limited. Knowing that there are other, more popular games (such as Hay Day and Stardew Valley) based on very much the same concept, it's hard to see how Harvest Moon: A Light of Hope will hold much appeal to anyone other than the biggest fans of the series.