Developer: Square Enix, Live Wire Inc.
Release Date: Demo released on September 13, 2022, with the full game released on November 4, 2022.
Reviewed on: Reviewed via the Nintendo Switch demo; alternated between pairing my joy cons to form a traditional controller and having them separate.
Price: physical copy: $59.99 (USD), digital copy (Steam and Switch): $59 / $59.99 (USD)
What first drew me to Harvestella was the art. Months ago, I saw some stills and had to learn more about the game. I was sold when I discovered it was a farming simulator (though according to Steam, the developers may prefer Life Simulator).
I was excited when the demo came, and I got to play in this world firsthand. As someone who makes a habit of playing any farming sim I can get my hands on, I made no exception with Harvestella.
The main storyline is divided into chapters; with each one, you get another piece of the story and of the world you find yourself in.
The game begins with you waking up in a season known as Quietus. Plants die and wither, and the air itself is full of death dust. You are found by Cres, the local doctor, who brings you to her office to nurse you back to health.
Alas, your recovery is cut short as a meteorite crashes into the northern part of town. You head to the scene, despite being told to stay where you are. A door appears inside, and you find a person the townspeople call an Omen (a mystery that remains unsolved in the first two chapters of the game). Despite people’s protests, you demand to help the Omen, who is obviously hurt.
Having been promised a farm and an extra bed, you arrive there and place the armored Omen on the extra bed. Unfortunately, there’s not much that Cres can do to help them.
The girl wakes up and has no clue where she is or how she got there. She believes she is a time traveler from the future and begins to look into how to get home. After a few days, you finally learn that her name is Aria.
Eventually, she heads for the Autumn Seaslight. This is one of four giant crystals that govern the season. The town nearest your farm, Lethe Village, is placed in such a way that they get an equal share of four seasons
Around this point, you make it to the second chapter. Now, the demo runs to where you have fifteen days until you reach the end of the second chapter. I cut it close, but I’ll share that in a minute.
In addition to Lethe Village and your farm, there are two dungeons that you gain access to in the prologue. The first dungeon, Njord Steppe, unlocks very early. You are encouraged to visit there to acquire stone, make a hammer, and take care of the rocks all over your field. Unfortunately, you cannot go very far into this dungeon.
I went several times but could not get the ten Hard Stones required. I finished the demo with nine which is incredibly frustrating.
Higan Canyon is the second dungeon to unlock, where you spend the bulk of your time. You have to clear this extensive dungeon to finish the second chapter. It took me six game days of almost exclusively working in the dungeon to reach that point.
While inside, we are introduced to another feature of Harvestella: party members. At the beginning of Higan Canyon, you meet Dianthus, an Omen. He helps you through this dungeon, immediately joining you upon your arrival. You also meet Unicorn, a cryptid whom we learn little about. Unlike Dianthus, he doesn’t follow you around. Instead, he shows up for cut scenes.
After you meet Unicorn, you learn you are capable of magic. At the beginning of the game, you unlock the Fighter job. But, for me, the game changes when you unlock the Mage job.
Personally, I prefer the Mage job as it focuses more on ranged attacks. If you are someone who likes to get up and close to fights, you’ll prefer Fighter. But there are some monsters that do not respond to that class. Once I unlocked the Mage job, I didn’t switch back.
While it looks like you’re using the same tool, the classes work very differently. Fighters are able to get into the fight and hit things. You are able to get more attacks off quicker. Mages are good for ranged attacks but it takes longer in between attacks for it to recharge.
Harvestella does an excellent job crafting a story, creating an intriguing world, and setting up an a fascinating game. But let’s get into the gameplay itself. With the demo being a prologue, you only see the tiniest taste of what’s to come. But already, you learn that the world is not as black and white as either side thinks it is. After all, an Omen teamed up with you to clear a dungeon.
These took me a bit to get used to; if I’m honest, I don’t have the combat controls down. I think the controls in this game are more convoluted than they need to be.
You start with two tools: a hoe and a watering can. These aren’t in the traditional form. They are long and saber-like, nearly identical to the weapon you carry in dungeons. Aesthetically, it fits with the world you are in.
But you can only have one directly equipped at a time. To equip the other, you have to use ZR, select the tool you want, and then go back to the other controls to actually use it. It can get a bit time-consuming if you’re doing a lot on your plot.
The basic movements are the same as any other farming simulator. You plow your rows, you plant the seeds, and you water the spots.
Movement controls are exactly what you expect to be. Left stick to move, right stick to change the camera angle. A is your basic catch-all button while X is an item button and Y is your equipped tool. B is rarely used.
On the left D-pad, you use that to shuffle through your backpack for the item you want X to hold. While on the farm, this is almost always occupied by seeds, in dungeons, it holds food for healing.
I adore the crops’ names: carrop, unionion, and cucumble, being three examples you come across in the demo.
When you use your hoe, you must plow each square twice before using it to plant. Until you get the hammer a large portion of the field is not usable.
I still made the most of the space I had.
One thing I found fascinating was how fast crops grew. I don’t know if they had it set that way for the demo or if it carries through in the game proper. But crops grow insanely fast. Which means you get income sooner rather than later.
Animals are not something you can unlock in the first two weeks, based on my experience.
You mine and gather inside the dungeons. My favorite feature about this is that you can glean from spots twice. They replenish daily, so if you’re in a section that takes you a few days to clear, you can gather at the same spots every day (and I did a few times).
Using this, you can get cooking supplies, items you can eat to heal, and items needed to upgrade your tools and home. I noticed lumber being easier to get than stone (I had close to 30 lumber whereas I couldn’t get ten stone). As I mentioned earlier, I needed more stone to be able to craft the hammer.
The spots are lit up, and there are also chests along the way. These chests often have seeds. As a result, I bought seeds twice. The rest came from gifts via mail and these chests.
I didn’t get this until the second week, but that isn’t set in stone. Because I kept getting crops in chests, I didn’t go into the General Store for ages. Once there, I discovered that I could buy the ability to fish.
Once you do that, you can go to any designated spot. There is one on your farm, a few in town, and it seems as if the dungeons have them as well. While it’s not the traditional fish anywhere-you-want system, the spots are frequent enough (especially in town) that it’s not as much of a bother as I would have expected.
It took me a couple of tries, the first time I got excited and reeled in way too early. The second time, I got a bite and didn’t realize I needed to wait for it to start splashing to reel in. Luckily, the third time was the charm and I reeled in a fairly large fish. The fishing in Harvestella is much easier to master than in similar games
There’s also a variety of types and locations. Had I had more time to work with (perhaps in a follow-up review of the complete game), I would see if there was a pattern to fish and where. It takes about an hour of game time to get a single fish, but I’ve seen that in similar games.
This section will highlight one of my least-favorite parts of the demo. In fact, most of my problems with this game revolve around how it handles time.
You really see this problem when you first start the game. There are the traditional cut scenes (most of Chapter One moves on its own without your aid). That’s not the problem. The problem I had was that you were trapped in these with no way to escape, and they sometimes ate up large chunks of the day.
At least one held me captive until afternoon. I’m used to these scenes not counting against your time.
It’s especially bothersome because the game starts encouraging you to go to bed around 5 p.m. Out of curiosity, I stayed out on my farm exploring, and it ported me inside the house at 10. Though in the dungeons, I pushed a hair later than that (then ran out of health and called it; otherwise, I would have pressed the mechanic more).
At the 10:00 p.m. mark, a white banner takes up a large chunk of your screen telling you that you feel sleepy. One time, that almost backfired on me because, at the time, I was engaged in a battle.
As someone who plays Stardew Valley, I have mastered (most of the time) the amount of time it takes to get from almost anywhere in the valley to back to my farm. I don’t need the game telling me it’s bedtime.
The World Map is another place where I strongly dislike the time mechanic. It charges you for every few inches you walk on the map.
Let me give you an example of when that backfired on me. You’ll notice that many of these pictures are from the tenth day of the game. I took that day to play with mechanics, get photos for this review, and test the game. I decided to go to Njord Steppe to get stone and finally get my hammer. I walk over, burning roughly forty minutes doing so, only for the game to not let me in because it wants me to go to the second dungeon where the Main Story currently is. It forced me to turn around and burn the same amount of time to get anywhere where I could play.
The Motus Monolites partially solve this. They allow for instantaneous travel. But you cannot travel from Monolites outside your current section, except for being able to travel home.
I think I would have taken this better if it had been like traditional games where it’s all on the same map, and you do the actively walking yourself and not just an avatar on the map. There, you understand the passage of time, whereas, in Harvestella, it feels as if time burns too fast for the distance traveled.
This was my second least-favorite thing. There’s a map on the upper right that I rarely found helpful. In town, I had to learn my way for myself. There isn’t a big map to study.
Like with any game, Lethe Village was a maze to sort out. By the end of the two weeks, I had a good handle on it. I had time to go and grab one last photo before I went to finish the demo (I was waiting for the Inn to open—so I used the time to fish).
The dungeon maps unveil as you get to each new section. Honestly, the maze they build is intriguing. I just felt rushed trying to make sure I reached the end on time for this review.
The main reason this was rather bland was that I only played a demo. They mention that things unlock in Chapter Three (I imagine the training wheels come off, and the game expands).
But for the first two chapters, it’s relatively basic and straightforward, but you only have two moves. Luckily, the dungeons’ monsters are low-level and quickly taken out (most I could wipe out with magic before they got in range to attack me).
This is real fighting and not turn-based moves. As I alluded to earlier, Fighters move faster than Mages. It really depends on your fighting style.
This is an area I’m excited to see how it develops in the game. I’m also hoping this is the only time you get locked out of other dungeons in favor of the one hosting the main story (see the time section for the full story).
The issues with time are a significant factor in why I brought Harvestella’s score down. While I can use the save file from the demo in the full game, I’m curious if anything changes and may start from scratch (which would also allow me to better prepare for longevity than I did in this demo).
But the story is intriguing, the farming mechanics are very familiar, and the art is beautiful.
My score for Harvestella’s demo is 3.5/5. I recommend the game and cannot wait to play the entire game myself.