Harvestella has turnip with potential - Demo Impressions

Of the near-overwhelming catalogue of games Square Enix is releasing in these last four months of the year, Harvestella is a brand new IP not attached to any existing franchise. As a game that is part farming sim and part action rpg, it’s difficult not to assume that some heavy inspiration has been taken from a series such as Rune Factory. Luckily for those of us curious about Harvestella, a demo was announced and released during the latest Nintendo Direct presentation for Nintendo Switch, giving a glimpse of the game’s opening hours (while the game is also coming to Steam, the demo is Switch exclusive).

I spent almost three hours in the demo, which got me to the end of chapter two.  The demo can also end if you run out of allotted days, but thankfully either way there is a save transfer option to the full game when it launches in November. I wasn’t entirely sold on Harvestella at first, but the demo has impressed me enough that I’ll be picking it up, come release day.

You start out as the usual amnesiac that is given a farm purely to keep yourself occupied. Before that however, you learn about Harvestella’s unique setting, which includes a season of death known as Quietus. There are many mysteries of this world, such as large crystals called Seaslights, and odd creatures the locals detest called Omen. Upon finding what appears to be an injured Omen, you insist on rescuing them. Soon you find out they’re actually a regular human girl. This girl, named Aria, believes themselves to have somehow ended up in the past. The first two chapters of Harvestella commence your  journey to rescue her after she decides to run off on her own.

During all of this you engage in farming (though the demo is only limited to simple crops), action combat, and most importantly, time management.

While farming, I was impressed by some quality-of-life inclusions to typical genre norms, such as the water not needing to be refilled and usable tools being in a separate space in your inventory. Most crops seem to grow incredibly fast to the extent I’m somewhat worried seasons may be shorter than standard, but I don’t see a reason for them to have made it less than the usual thirty days. When using tools, the game automatically slows down movement, allowing you to  strafe the field in front of you, but if you move too far away that’ll stop, and I often hit the wrong spot. I’m not sure if this is just a personal issue, but I had a bit of a struggle with the controls layout as you’ll press ZR or use the d-pad between different inventories mid-gameplay but I kept getting mixed up and ending up doing things inadvertently, like accidentally inhaling three chunks of raw meat.

Crafting is also important, being able to make items such as your own tools, a home teleport, and cooking your own food once you’ve built a kitchen (although I didn’t get a chance to do this myself). Thankfully I received enough food in the mail to get me through the first dungeon. Harvestella also has fishing, which is pretty basic but it seems to slow time down, or at least it feels like it doesn’t go by too fast.

Of course there’ll be other features you can access in the full game such as raising animals and pets (including one that can be used as a mount). In my time with the demo, I also spotted a larger field on the farm I couldn’t access, likely for later use, but of course at the start of the game your resources are spread rather thin. I was often spending my money all on more seeds (though monsters may also drop them) as well as the various upgrades I can get from the usual stores. One farming game convention I’ve yet to see is whether there'll be any festivals, or if the story is somehow too serious for regular celebrations to occur. There’s also one feature I really want that hasn’t been confirmed, and the lack of comment on it makes me think it’s unlikely. Friendship levels have been shown in preview content but there’s nothing about dating or romance. There is an overall story, of course, meaning that I at least have something to progress since there may be no trophy wives (or husbands) to catch.

Meanwhile I feel a bit mixed on the combat system. You have a stamina bar that is used up from running or the use of farm tools. Eating some food fills up hunger points, which are used to auto regenerate your stamina (though it can also be used to heal). While your combat actions are a light attack and various specials on a cooldown timer, these thankfully don’t seem to use the stamina at all. As you get into the first dungeon of the game, you’ll gain access to the game’s job system as well as the mage job, a ranged magic class. Switching between jobs will allow you to exploit weaknesses, but the change is on a pretty large cooldown. Classes also gain job points as you use them to be then spent on more abilities and permanent stat buffs. There wasn’t a dedicated dodge until I unlocked it on a particular job’s skill tree, and I can’t say I’m a fan of only letting certain classes dodge. Of course you can also upgrade your equipment and wear accessories. It’s also here you find a party member who unfortunately does not revive you, so make sure to save at the monolites if you want to avoid wasting time and money with the doctor’s fee.

Dungeon exploration isn’t all fighting monsters, though. You’ll often need to repair bridges or ladders (shortcuts for when you return) that require both a repair kit and a chunk of time. It’s not essential to repair all of these, but treasure can be locked behind some broken bridges, so it’s up to you whether to spend the resources. One fun touch to exploration was that you’ll also find prompts such as whether or not to eat a certain mushroom, or look for something in the water which may give you an item at the cost of your health and time. These areas are also host to big overleveled monsters called FEAR, notable by the shadowy aura around them. In this first dungeon they seemed to be very interested in napping and could be walked around, whereas I imagine later on in the game similar enemies will have a path they follow that you’ll need to avoid.

In Harvestella, it’s important to get to bed before midnight in order to avoid collapsing, with the game giving you both 6 and 10pm warnings. In my experience, time management was quite an issue in the early game; I’d wake up bombarded with story events, some of those meant the actual time I started that day wasn’t until 2pm. I think this is unimaginably inconsiderate and I hope that peters down past the tutorial phase, as it really gets in the way of planning anything. Normal days appear to start around 6am, giving you much more time to manage daily chores and dungeon crawling. Compared to other similar games, the passage of time feels a little fast but so long as you don’t have any limited day tasks I don’t think it’ll be too much trouble. Whenever going between locations you have to manually walk which also takes up time, but in the full release you’ll gain a mount. While there are fast travel crystals, they are all tied to their specific areas (though most can send you back to the farm) so there are no convenient trips between the shops and dungeons.

For the most part, Harvestella has an endearing presentation throughout. I found the music very relaxing and I enjoyed the subtlety of it. I was rather shocked when I suddenly heard voice acting from my party member in combat, as literally no other aspect of the game has voices. So I wonder why they bothered putting it in battles, which is likely to be the most repetitive part of the game. I’d played my whole demo run docked, and I was impressed with the visuals. Harvestella may not be a technical showcase, but it’s unique visual  style paired with smart lighting makes the environments look stunning. I’m not a fan of the animal-like eyes on people, however, as characters have a doll-like look to them due to their shape and hair detail. I do wish that the resources you pick up were shown visually rather than just being a UI element. Graphics are always a concern I have with 3D farming sims as they often get the short end of the stick in terms of appearance which can be quite a turn off for me. Having played a smidge in handheld mode while writing this I finally noticed the blurriness some people were talking about, which is really unfortunate.

Harvestella’s demo gave me a good taste for the game and I’m ready to take some more bites. The story itself seems relatively intriguing, and there seems to be a dash of humor as well, if a run-in with a hypocritical unicorn is anything to go by. I’m looking forward to other features that have been shown such as the mount, and other standard affairs like raising livestock and using makers. We’ve yet to see whether other genre conventions will appear, and while I certainly hope so, it may well turn out good enough without them. 

Harvestella is releasing on Nintendo Switch and PC on November 4th.