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Thursday, November 3, 2022

HARVESTELLA: From a Farm Sim Fan's Perspective

By WITCH PRINCESS - Hey, I'm back.

It's been a while since I wrote on this site. From medical to personal problems, I've just been busy. Ludwig encouraged me to return to try to cheer me up. In the end, I hope everyone here (if you remember me) can forgive my chronic absence from creating content.

I'm here to share my thoughts on the HARVESTELLA farming simulation demo from Square Enix.

If you don't know, I come from Harvest Moon (now Story of Seasons). That's a huge farm simulation series that has a fantasy spinoff known as Rune Factory. Published by Marvelous and localized in America by Xseed Games, there are two titles on the Nintendo Switch: Friends of Mineral Town and Pioneers of Olive Town. The GameCube classic A Wonderful Life will release on the Switch too!

Of course, I'm a huge casual gamer and a huge life/farming sim fan. HARVESTELLA should be perfect for me, right?

No, not really…

For the demo, I have several thoughts on the game. Here they are the day before the full version is released. You're welcome.

The Text Size is Awful.

As a witch who has poor eyesight, squinting is a common occurrence when playing games—docked or undocked—on my Switch. It's also common when reading, well, anything. Small text boxes aren't helpful. This is a big turn-off to the game for me. How can I enjoy something when my eyes have to strain to read (just a disclaimer: I'm supposed to wear glasses at all times while I'm awake) and I risk having a bad headache afterward?

HARVESTELLA Nintendo Switch demo carrop wheat seeds Cres
Can anyone read this Switch Capture?

HARVESTELLA From the Mayor letter
This is a letter, not a text box.

I don't have this problem with Animal Crossing: New Horizons nor Friends of Mineral Town.

Story of Seasons Friends of Mineral Town Ran introduction
From Mineral Town. This game is easier on my eyes.

I don't know if Square thought having the option to increase text box size would break something, or it wouldn't be as visually pleasing once a player actually went through with doing that.

Below is from another Square game a friend sent me with a very bad text size…it hurts so much to look at.

Star Ocean Divine Force Undaunted Explorer swarm of insects
Image credit: Star Ocean: The Divine Force courtesy Sirus Gaming.

It could've been done, and maybe it will be. Maybe I'm just a tad bit nit-picky, as this issue shouldn't really ruin a game for someone without vision problems right? Tell me off in the comments section if you wish.

The Story is Decent. The Tutorial Not So Much.

I'll give Square props that they at least try to make stories interesting. But for a life sim, I…expected less story and more farming with HARVESTELLA.

Don't get me wrong. I know the beginning of the game is supposed to throw you into the world of Lethe, same as you would've been thrown into Mineral Town. You meet some important character (be it Cres from this game or Mayor Thomas from Mineral Town) and they teach you the tutorial. I don't know about you, but in HARVESTELLA, hand-holding is noticeably present, and it lasts until Day 6 of Spring or longer if I'm not mistaken. I can't make a hammer in the game yet, and I have the materials plus the crafting table to do so! I'd love to tend to my farm.

Talk about slooow.

In Mineral Town, you can pretty much finish the tutorial in an in-game day. It's not even five minutes long, which is good!

Story of Seasons Friends of Mineral Town Thomas controls explanation
Story of Seasons Friends of Mineral Town Yes No dialogue options
The next screen after Thomas asks you if you need other (easy) controls explained as well.

Now, in some Story of Seasons games, the tutorial takes longer, and is even unskippable! I am no fan of long, dragged-out tutorials.

The story is as Square as it can get. An amnesiac falls down to an unknown place and they have to embark on an adventure to regain their memories. While I admit I do like the trope sometimes, it's overused. Sure, it could make the story more interesting. But for casual people, farming is what's important. You do so little of that to my knowledge in the beginning. You probably don't have the time to even look around your farm—the in-game clock is too fast! It's fast in the other farming games but at least the UI and graphics aren't confusing so you can get to places or do whatever you want easier.

Speaking of graphics and UI…

HARVESTELLA autumn fall forest woods trees orange
I think this is a beautiful photo.

The Controls are Uncomfortable for Farming.

So the control scheme is that you use the Switch's directional buttons? While holding ZR I believe to switch between your tools. Okay, that just feels clunky to me.

HARVESTELLA plow the field farming
It'd be easier to just use the directional buttons only.

Mineral Town's UI doesn't require you to hold ZR while switching between equipment. All you have to do is press left or right on the directional buttons and bam! You've selected your Sickle or whatever else you need at the moment!

Story of Seasons Friends of Mineral Town user interface cow sleeping
You get the idea regardless of the quality.

This UI reminds me of Xenoblade Chronicles, and it's all confusing to me. Not to mention…the text is so small!!! It's not ideal for farming. It looks more at home for RPG players. I guess this game isn't meant for casual players, is it?
HARVESTELLA Dianthus joined your party
I don't think so.

What makes you think I enjoy the Combat and Weapons?

You could argue the farm equipment in Marvelous games and in Stardew Valley are weapons. While it is true in the latter game, I'm not playing Stardew for combat, even if it's "basic and not hard". I'm playing to bask in the simple, relaxing life of farming.

This brings me to my final thought.

I Don't Feel as if I'm a Part of the Game.

That means tending to crops and livestock and making friends with people. I don't know, I don't get the community vibe if you will from HARVESTELLA. Again, it's more RPG, and I'm not a huge fan of those kinds of games.

The town doesn't look pleasant to look at. It's just a generic, identical house and shop town. In other titles such as Stardew Valley and Mineral Town the places you can visit are unique and full of life. Every character is unique too. You can remember where their residence is after a bit without pulling up the map. With HARVESTELLA

I will say the character outfits and portraits when you talk to them are gorgeous. But that's all they have going for them. The characters feel more like plot devices than characters with their own lives. I don't feel as if I'm a true farmer in the game. Here is my impression of the demo.

"You have to save the world! You don't get to relax and do whatever you want!"

Maybe the full game will let you do whatever you want after the story.

HARVESTELLA Aria I don't plan to stick around lying on bed
My mood after playing the demo.

I'm not interested in HARVESTELLA. I think forgetting about the casual players is a terrible mistake.

Should Witch Princess write more farming articles? Do you think she's also too casual of a gamer? Should she receive new prescription glasses for her opinions on the demo for HARVESTELLA? Let her know in the comments!

KoopaTV published a guest article by Lheticus Videre on the HARVESTELLA demo—he's an RPG fan, and has a much different perspective.
Ludwig followed this up with a HARVESTELLA demo article of his own, criticising the farm sim mechanics for devaluing the game overall.
Those three HARVESTELLA demo articles put together won KoopaTV's Best Article Series of 2022 award!


  1. I mean, I don't think the trailer I saw made any secret of this game being story driven over life sim driven. Especially with how it emphasized the "5th season of death" and how it mentioned you investigate the truth about the world you're in. Like, I went into it EXPECTING the farming and life sim stuff to take a backseat, and I'm really not sure why you apparently didn't.

  2. Well I'm definitely with you on the text thing, i cannot stand games with small text. It's often those games that are heavily story based and thus contain the most text.

    I would also agree with your last line, in that it is a mistake to forget about casual players. However, I do not think every game has to cater to all audiences. It would be nice, but if that comes at the expense of the gameplay for hardcore/moderate gamers than i do not think it should happen. I can say this because we live in a world where we could easily play a similar game in the same genre that more suits our personal tastes. Putting that aside, this game sounds to be much more of an rpg farming hybrid then other farming games with rpg like elements, hybrid games always seem to shake thing up but if this game does well than it could lead to a whole new line of farming-esque games. It should be noted, that aside from games like this, the farming game genre may very well have catered only to casual gamers.


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