Harvestella review – so much for so little
Harvestella wants to be a jack of two trades, but becomes a master of none. Part action RPG, part farming/life simulation, this combination can sometimes be fun, but the two styles collide more often than not. The result is a slow grind that’s more likely to alienate fans of each genre than bring them together.
As an amnesiac warrior, you wake up on the outskirts of a quaint village, unaware of your origins and purpose. Four powerful, monolithic crystals called Seaslight control the environmental stability of the picturesque continent, namely the seasons. However, a deadly fifth season called the Quietus occurs between each of the four normal seasons, wiping out crops and endangering people. This strange normalcy becomes unstable when the Seaslight begins to behave erratically, apparently triggered by the mysterious arrival of Aria, a young scientist from the distant future. Like you, Aria doesn’t know how she got here, so you work together to discover their respective origins while fighting a global crisis. Oh, and build a nice farm too.
To its credit, the action is engaging in its absurdity. In typical JRPG fashion, the mystery gradually becomes more grandiose and unhinged as it unfolds. While much of it is silly, I found little of it boring. One revelation made me laugh out loud at how bizarre it is, and I can’t help but respect Harvestella’s willingness to take some wild turns while sprinkling in some poignant moments. A large band of likable party members, such as a smooth-talking inventor, an AI-powered robot and a talking unicorn, join the main duo, but you mostly spend time with them one-on-one. As such, you don’t often see everyone hanging out, and when they do, the lack of group chemistry is noticeable and disappointing. It’s like inviting a bunch of good friends who know you, but not each other.
Harvestella promotes two playstyles, but feels like an action RPG first and a farming game second. The game involves running through bland dungeons and hacking apart enemies, collecting crafting materials and ingredients along the way. A robust job system offers a good variety of playstyles, but I only gravitated towards a few of them. My favorites include the nimble, combo-centric Shadow Walker and the dancing floating blades of the Pilgrim class. Other jobs, like the mechanic and song-focused Woglinde, are simply not fun to use, and the game rarely encouraged me to experiment once I’ve settled on my favorites. Even with classes and attacks I liked, the combat is mediocre and bosses are either pushovers or annoyingly cheap.
Breeding fans will not find much unique about Harvestella. You plant crops on cultivated land that can be expanded in size several times, process food using machines, but you only raise two species of animals. The farm changes with the seasons, which change every 30 days, and certain foods can only grow at certain times of the year. Quietus, which only lasts a day, wipes out crops, but I found it easy to plan around, making it less threatening than probably intended.
Like combat, farming feels only passable but is critical to success. Selling crops serves as one of the few ways to make money. You also need a full pantry to whip up a variety of dishes. Eating keeps your stomach full, which in turn gives energy to your stamina bar. This meter controls actions such as farming, sprinting, and even performing special attacks. Eating also replenishes health, often in large quantities depending on the dish. However, you can’t eat if you’re full, which becomes an annoying hindrance during tough battles. Since traditional health potions don’t exist, you’ll want to craft all of your recovery items. Doing so takes time, which contributes to Harvestella’s biggest annoyance: the clock.
Harvestella operates on an in-game day/night cycle that runs at 10-minute intervals faster than you’d expect. The night starts at 6:00 PM and your character gets tired at 10, which slows down stamina. That’s why it’s important to return home to crash in your bed—and only your bed because, annoyingly, you can’t sleep in the game’s multiple inns. Staying out past midnight causes your hero to collapse from exhaustion, warping them back home. Falling to exhaustion or death comes at the depressingly high price of paying an increasingly exorbitant medical fee as you click your way through the same unskippable stage. It is an abominable punishment that is too severe for its own good.
Since you have to drop everything to go home each night, progress becomes a huge slow motion. Dungeon crawling consists of progressing before you have to stop and continue the next day. Just reaching a location on the world map burns valuable minutes until faster modes of travel open up. Even after finding shortcuts and quick checkpoints, you’re still running parts of a dungeon repeatedly until you reach uncharted territory. Doing so inevitably depletes your food supply, so you’ll need to set aside time to cook beforehand. Cooking dishes consumes a significant part of the day, which limits the time for adventures. Running out of cooking ingredients means growing more of them, as only a handful of staples can be purchased. That means spending at least a few days waiting for crops to replenish, then making enough food to venture back into a dungeon, and repeating the cycle all over again.
This framework effectively makes it impossible to continue the story for very long. There is often so much work that needs to be done beforehand that I was often lucky to have enough daylight to complete the missions I wanted. This frustrated me the most as the plot took an interesting turn and I wanted to see what came next. It’s a terrible form of gating, as progress is bottlenecked no matter how powerful or well equipped I was. In some cases, it can take days of work and preparation to complete a single dungeon floor.
When I didn’t have enough time in the day to complete a story quest, Harvestella admirably provides plenty to do outside of the main narrative and farming. Tons of multi-chapter side quests await, though most of them involve reading long conversations, completing a basic battle encounter, or running boring errands. Despite some interesting stories, these quests aren’t great, but the game makes it worth completing them, for better or worse. Side quests offer tons of money, important recipes, blueprints, and seeds. To my chagrin, finishing as many as possible became a necessary evil. I preferred the party bonding missions, where I learned about my teammates’ problems by helping them through unique storylines. At least these quests were more interesting and rewarded me with enhanced physical perks, like greater strength, defense, etc., practically making them required to play.
While it runs well, Harvestella also suffers from graphical glitches that make it feel unstable at times. Specifically, a strange bug where half of the screen would occasionally flicker in a solid color, whether docked or in handheld mode. The game also doesn’t look good on the big screen due to its low resolution textures and models.
Harvestella’s systems feed together in a way that forces you to engage with almost everything it offers, whether you want to or not. But these lifetime activities are mundane and get in the way of letting you enjoy the RPG elements on your own terms. Maximizing a day’s schedule is sometimes rewarding, but the slow pace makes it difficult to stay engaged for long. Harvestella forces you to do a lot to complete relatively little. At 70-80 hours, it’s one of the biggest quests I’ve played in a while. It’s unfortunate because the combat, story and characters are decent enough that in a more traditional RPG framework they would shine brighter. As it stands, it is not always worth squeezing this fruit’s small amount of juice.