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Monday, October 24, 2022

HARVESTELLA Demo First Impressions

Lheticus Videre avatarBy LHETICUS VIDERE - This article contains SPOILERS for the HARVESTELLA demo. Do not want, do not read!

Way, way back in the before times of...September 14th (okay so it wasn't THAT long ago but I've started a new job recently and had a lot going on even before that so it feels about two months ago to me), Ludwig wrote a response to one of my comments on this site, saying “Sounds like you should try the HARVESTELLA demo and let us know your thoughts.”

And well, the idea stuck in my head. I'd been toying with the idea of writing a guest article for KoopaTV for years, but never actually going through with it. What with aforementioned (and will continue to be un-elaborated upon) real-life events, I've been increasingly feeling sick of toying with the idea of doing so, so many things, of which writing an article like this was but one of, and never doing them. So, I figured I'd take this chance to cross this one off that list.


There are certain genres of gaming that as a rule, I just don't deal with. At the top of that list is First Person Shooters. The only one of those I ever enjoyed was GoldenEye 007 for the N64 (soon to make a return on the Switch as detailed by Ludwig here) and that even was mainly because I was too young to care about how much I sucked.

At the bottom of the list, and yes, there are more items in between, is the “farming sim” genre. It's not that I don't understand the appeal for many about games in which your character emulates that kind of life, it's simply that the biggest reason I play and have ever played video games is to fire my imagination. (Although, in my country at least, sole-ownership farms are virtually extinct, so the likes of Stardew Valley may not be too far from entering the realm of historical fantasy.)


But when Nintendo dropped their September Direct, among the MANY games that got my attention—seriously, I haven't had a holiday season where I was as greedy for games right now since Breath of the Wild’s first release—there was one that had me seriously thinking about giving the farming sim genre a cautious trial period. That game was HARVESTELLA, and what got my attention was that this farming sim game has an apocalyptic twist in the form of the Quietus, a “season of death” in-between the four usual ones which kills all crops and chokes the very air with malevolent magic dust. This subversion of my expectation that a farming sim life is, at least by default unless the player seeks out the game's options to make it less so, a peaceful one, coupled with a certain amount of hinting by trailers at genuine intrigue to be had in the game, gradually sold me on at least trying the demo.

The first thing I noticed, before the game even properly started, was that the game had, as the first selection you make upon starting a new game, an option to make your character non-binary. But did it really, though? After that choice, it takes you to the option to select your appearance, and said appearances are...completely identical. That is to say, no matter if you select male, female, or non-binary, you're presented with the same two base models and four skin tones. Ironically, both base models struck me as rather androgynous, so one could argue that you can treat them as whichever the three options you wish regardless, being that they are your character avatar after all. Pretty clever if that was the intent, though having only two base models is rather far on the slim side for character customization in a farming sim. Maybe there will be more in the full game, but if I end up erasing my transferable save data just for that, I'll be annoyed.


HARVESTELLA select an appearance eight options male female
The other base figure has longer hair, but a stockier build.


The second thing I noticed was that from the very start, the adventure side of HARVESTELLA started hitting cliche JRPG plot beats as though there was someone keeping score and it wanted to take home the trophy. It immediately establishes your character as an amnesiac who was not previously a resident of the game's town with a mysterious guide and destiny, for crying out loud. But there's a reason I didn't write the game off immediately at this point.

See, in my experience, games that start off like this generally go one of two ways: either they prove to be exactly as cliche as they appear to be, or you get about 1/3rd to halfway through the story and suddenly it pulls the rug out from under you and from then on subverts, deconstructs, and makes metaphorical balloon animals out of those conventions and your expectations left and right.

I think I'm in the majority when I say that the latter case is infinitely more entertaining, though the former can be at least comforting on rare occasion if it's done properly. And this is Square Enix we're talking about. If this was being developed by a corporation as out of touch as say, Blizzard or EA, I'd fear the worst, but for the creators of the least actually Final Fantasy ever, I was willing to hope for the best instead.


HARVESTELLA destiny girl choose between this world and the one that existed until now
A bit sinister for a “chosen one who will save the world” message, I'll admit.


And just a short time later, HARVESTELLA proved that if anything, I was underestimating it. Before I could even pick up my first hoe, the ginormous crystal that apparently both regulates the seasons and causes Quietus started going berserk a SECOND time, culminating in a huge crystal impacting near the town like a meteor. A moment later, I'm going inside a mysterious entrance without any prompting or indeed permission from those at the scene, because apparently my character in this game is just Like That, and I find myself inside what is, aesthetically at least, a friggin' spaceship.

With an injured person inside. A human, or at least humanoid, yet the town doctor who went to check out the scene not only recognized them, but gave indications--referring to the injured being, an “Omen” as “it” pointedly and repeatedly while her assistant implored them to refuse to treat them. That's already a major shake-up of the formula they'd barely spent minutes, even counting the trailers, building, which I was more than happy with.

After that, it was time for the first tutorial at last. The system for selecting tools and seeds was pretty reasonable, and the game took care not to dump too much at me at once. Unfortunately, that was also when the usual time of day system started coming into play—and that sucker moves TERRIFYINGLY fast while you're on the world map. “Don't just leave the game to send a quick text message” fast. I mean, yeah travelling by foot takes time but hooooo boy. It was also rather inconsistent. I swear the time advanced by an hour when I reentered my homestead from the world map, and though it said I could go until midnight before I collapsed, it kicked me into my house at I'm pretty sure 10 PM—I got the last of the seeds I'd found while exploring planted and watered at literally the last second.

With exploration, the game introduced combat, and its feel was everything I'd wished Xenoblade Chronicles had been. For me, the best non turn-based combat in video games is simple yet responsive, and the basic attack you start with hit the bullseye. The initial, Level 1 enemies don't really do anything to threaten you either, which to me is on-point pacing for a game whose other half is farming sim. That pesky time limit though...also I was only able to get 3 of the 10 Hard Stone I needed to make my next tool, because I was prevented from going past the first part of the first exploration area by a Standard Issue Contrived Early Game Barricade.

I advanced through the second and third days of the game quickly--too quickly. The pace of a day seems rather harsh to me as a first-timer, not helped by the fact that both days started for me at 1 freaking PM. On the bright side, I got my first harvest payout over that night, and it was over 500 “Grilla” (points for refraining from using a Standard Issue Fantasy Game Currency e.g. “G” or anything that starts with “Gil” or sounds like “gold”) for just five carrots or “Carrops.” I also started out at 11 AM that morning, a slight improvement though so far, my character was still being one lazy farmer.

In fact, it took until Day 6 for them to finally wake up at 6 AM, which is also when the game had its first genuine story advancement. It definitely gave a good sense of tutorial time being pretty much over. I also unlocked a new exploration area and my first objective resembling a proper main quest. That was a mixed experience—the quest seemed urgent, but from how quickly my stamina dried up, I don't think it was actually intended that you get through to the next cutscene I found in one day. I certainly don't think I was meant to enter the boss battle that ensued without any stamina! Or maybe I was, because I used some wild consumables I'd picked up on previous days and won through without real difficulty. After that though, I really felt urgency to retreat for now and tend to my crops.

Also, I recalled at the start the game told me the demo ended at the completion of Chapter 2. I figured the end of the exploration area would also be the end of Chapter 2, so I had no qualms remaining about pulling back.


HARVESTELLA prologue demo title screen
A fantastic world in more than one sense of the word.


And that was how I ended my play session. I didn't quite reach the end of the demo in one go, but overall I was impressed. The world is vibrant, the story is interesting, the controls were about as intuitive as one can reasonably expect in this console generation, and the daily farm life aspects weren't quite overwhelming to me even though I was completely new to them. My one non-trivial gripe was the lack of a way to manually save—the only save feature was autosaving at the end of each day. Though I saw on the menu when I stopped that there was an option both for Load and Continue so I'm confident that will change. I definitely plan to give the full game a chance. I might even consider a follow-up article at some point.


Lheticus finally did it! Please, please PLEASE let me know how you liked his first guest article in the comments.


Witch Princess, as a fan of farm sim games, didn't have a good impression of the same HARVESTELLA demo.
Ludwig, as a fan of JRPGs, also didn't have a good impression of the HARVESTELLA demo!

9 comments :

  1. After being pelted with Farm sim after farm sim in that farming direct, It's good to know you found at leas tone you liked. I must admit I too am very intrigued by this fifth season of Death, could really shake up the standard gameplay. Science fiction elements are also a big plus for me. Should we be surprised there's a space ship because this is a farming simulator, or should we expect it because spaceships love farm fields too?

    The save feature should definitely be in the full game, if not than that's seriously concerning. At any rate i enjoyed this review, the timing system isn't one of my favorite aspects but the rest of the game sounds promising. If you ever do get the full game or you finish the demo and find out it gets even weirder than before, be sure to let us know! I hope we get to see the aliens true form, seems every humanoid alien stays a humanoid forevermore. Maybe Aliens have there own form of farming, Alien tractors ands stuff like that. Something to think about.

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    1. As it happens, I've since finished the demo, and it really DID contain a manual save feature--one that I had stopped just short of unlocking apparently. It was rather a lot to go through before unlocking it, but the first week to 10 days of the game do go by EXTREMELY quickly what with starting to establish the plot and all.

      As for the "alien"...I know I gave a spoiler warning for this article, but I don't want to spoiler THAT. What you describe does happen in the demo, though, and all I'll say is that the plot takes yet ANOTHER swerve when the game reveals the face and body beneath the armor.

      Oh yeah, the reason I described them as "human or humanoid" was that they were covered in some kind of space age full-plate armor. Probably should have included that detail in the actual article, whoops!

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    2. I was wondering the whole time why you thought manual saves weren't a thing, and then it was clear to me that you didn't finish the demo before writing this... and it wasn't clear to me why you didn't finish the demo before sending this.

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    3. Well, there were a number of reasons, but most of them boil down to impatience. I'd gotten as far as I had in a single session, and I felt that it had gone on long enough. Plus, I had a lot of material at that point, as the article itself attests. I figured it was fine as long as I phrased the article as a "first impression" and not a review--since a second session would no longer be a FIRST impression.

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    4. It's hard for me to reconcile "I definitely plan to give the full game a chance." with you being impatient with the game and just wanting your demo experience to end.

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    5. The problem with your statement is with "wanting your demo experience to end." If anything, I delayed finishing it to another session because I wanted to PROLONG my experience with it. Well really, I did because I needed to wake up in the morning to go to work and therefore needed to sleep at the time. And I wasn't impatient with the game--I was impatient with getting this article submitted, lol. I'm sorry that wasn't clear.

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    6. Hey, you didn't need to rush this article... look how long it took between you sending it and when it actually got published. :P

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    7. Well for one, I didn't know that at the time. For another, I was just plain excited and I didn't want to put it off--and I rather did want to put off finishing the demo, to prolong the experience like I said.

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    8. Haha... Well, I won't damper your excitement for your first publish. ^_^

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