Square Enix's farming-RPG is here, and we've spent some time getting lost in its unusual fantasy world.
A few months back, I had the chance to check out the opening moments of Square Enix's take on a farming RPG, Harvestella. At that time, I got a brief taster of the storyline, the life simulation elements, and what other activities and tasks it will offer, but while it was fun to get some hands-on time, a lot of the game's story failed to really make much sense to me due to its complicated nature. Jump to the present and Harvestella has now debuted on PC and Nintendo Switch, and I've been cracking on and immersing myself in its fantasy world for a little while now.
Right off the bat, I'd like to make it known that while the narrative and storyline has some interesting moments, it's so unusual and riddled with obscure fantasy elements that it is thoroughly hard to keep tabs on. It matches time travelling with fantasy, and sprinkles in sci-fi, and then attempts to connect it all with a plotline that often leaves you with more questions than answers, at least for the majority of the game. And for me this becomes a little challenging to move past, as it's difficult to become immersed in a world that doesn't really make any sense to you - albeit if that does seem to be intentional at times. I bring this up so early on in my review, for the simple reason that even after plenty of hours with the game, I still struggle to piece together a lot of the narrative plot, meaning I find myself exploring the world and knocking out quests simply because the quest director tells me to.
And following up to this, the actual quest design is a bit one-dimensional and dull. You'll spend a huge amount of time in main quest lines and side quests locked into a dialogue with other characters (none of which is voiced) all to reach the end goal. There have been moments where I've been wrapping up a collection of side quests and literally have spent an hour in dialogue, aside from a couple of minutes here and there to head off and pick up an item or move to another location. It can be very tedious. There are quests that task you with heading out into the world and completing a dungeon packed with monsters, and it's here and in the life simulation elements where the pace of Harvestella picks up and the game becomes far more engaging.
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Speaking about exploration and combat, Harvestella's world is split into various locations, of which when entered/visited, you can freely wander around. For towns and cities, this is where you will find quests, meet new allies and faces, even shop for resources. Less civilised places are set out more like a dungeon with rooms packed with monsters and all connected with corridors that lead to secrets or the next monster-ridden room. When you reach these places you'll be expected to cut through hordes of creatures, be it goblins, creepy enormous slug-like monsters, fish people known as Sagahin, and so on - there's a really impressive variety and pretty much all of which are so unusually designed that they are challenging to describe clearly.
The combat is pretty basic and asks you to slash or inflict magical damage onto these monsters by using one of a collection of Jobs. Each are unique and you can choose four to swap between whenever you desire in combat, meaning you can go from the hack n' slash type Fighter, to the brawling Assault Savant, to some range as the Mage, and so forth. Each new Job type is unlocked by meeting important people through the story, and each Job can be improved by spending Job Points to unlock class-specific abilities or improve the effectiveness of existing ones. It's a simple system, but one that works rather well.
As is the case with the life simulation systems. While you may think that Harvestella has a significant farming presence, in reality it's not that massive. Instead, it feels more like a set of daily chores to complete, which fuel and fund your adventures elsewhere. As days pass quickly and due to the magic of the world that Harvestella is set in, crops can grow overnight, or instead take a few days to sprout, meaning you are constantly tending to farmland, tilling the soil, planting seeds, watering crops, harvesting them, all so you can sell them to make some Grilla (the currency) to purchase farm extensions and improvements, upgrade weapons, or buy recipes so that you can use other crops to cook food that will serve as the primary way to keep you in the fight when taking on dungeons. And this is why the farming part feels more like a chore at times, because doing the daily check-ups on your land is crucial to supporting your efforts elsewhere, as the combat is defined by both a health bar that can be topped up with some grub, but also a stamina bar that only replenishes when your character has food in their belly.
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There are some intricacies to be aware of. As crops grow much quicker, so do the seasons pass by. A season in Harvestella lasts around 30 days, and each season is important to keep tabs on, as crops will only grow (or produce fruit) at a certain time of year. There are also craftable items that can be used to enhance your adventures and open new places in dungeons (for example bombs to smash through rocky debris), or even items to better your farming and self-sufficiency efforts. If you craft a flour mill, you can turn wheat into flour and no longer have to purchase the item from the local store. Or instead a juicer can turn vegetables and fruit into a juice drink for a quick health boost in combat.
While my time with Harvestella has been spent on PC, it's clear that the game has been made for Nintendo Switch, and that the PC efforts are quite minimal. Running on an RTX 3090 rig with an 11th Gen i9 CPU, all matched up with 64GBs of RAM as I did, is absolutely not necessary at all, as Harvestella barely puts any strain on a PC whatsoever. In fact, it's fairly clear that the game hasn't really been made for PC gaming, as there's no real options to change graphics settings, and you can't even rebind a connected controller's inputs (you can customise keybinds however). And the reason I bring this up is because the graphics themselves and even the world design clearly belongs on a Switch. Sure the character models often look quite impressive and the colour palette used to bring the game to life is striking, but the world feels empty, lacking detail, and the frequent loading screens between literally everywhere you go (be it dungeon floors, walking into a house, or when moving to an adjacent town location) become frustrating.
There is a lot of Harvestella that I appreciated and enjoyed. I like the farming systems and how they connect into the wider gameplay, the combat, Job system, and variety of enemies that keep exploration interesting. But, the world doesn't beg to be explored, the pacing is so steady, and the narrative is so unusual that I really struggle to connect with it in any way. Yes there are some impressive set pieces, but there are also moments where the game looks incredibly dated already, and it all comes together to make for a title that hasn't quite wowed me in the way I hoped it would. If you really like JRPGs and farming RPGs, then you will likely find some interesting moments with Harvestella, but if you're not devoted to that sort of game, then this one will likely struggle to entertain.
6 / 10
Farming elements are fun to play around with. The combat and the Job system is simple yet effective. Striking colour palette.
Very steady pacing. Clearly belongs on a Nintendo Switch. Narrative is too confusing for its own good.