Being a hardcore gamer, I sometimes find it difficult to wrap my mind around some of the casual games that people play, often for hours on end. Puzzle Bobble, Fish Wrangler and Farmville are prime examples of games I hardly understand, even if I spent many an hour playing Maxis’ Sim Farm back when computer graphics were hardly more than a large collection of square, ugly looking pixels. It stands to reason that a game such as Farmville was inspired by ‘hardcore’ titles such as Sim Farm and, to some extent, Harvest Moon. Perhaps it is in these types of games where hardcore and casual games meet.
With Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar, developer Marvelous returns their flagship series once again to the Nintendo’s DS. And when I say flagship, I really mean flagship: the game already has 20 brothers and sisters, not counting the numerous offshoots such as the Rune Factory games. With such a rich pedigree, I decided there must be a reason for its popularity, threw my prejudice against the series overboard and dove headfirst into the life of a virtual farmer.
If the introduction had not made it clear already, Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar is a virtual farm simulator. The game starts as you arrive in a new town where you are greeted by the local mayor who tells you how excited he is that you are planning to breathe new life into the local farm. He shows you your farm and explains how the town has fallen on hard times when the old farmer left town. The weekly bazaar has shrunken to only a few stalls and all his hopes are on you to bring the bazaar – and with that the town itself – back to its former glory. A few instructions later, you are on your way buying and planting seeds, watering your crops and familiarizing yourself with the townsfolk.
As it turns out, there is a lot more to do than just growing and selling crops. The game is divided into four seasons, each consisting of 30 or 31 days. There are day and night cycles, meaning you will wake up to an early morning haze, go to bed in darkness and spend your time in various meaningful ways in between. It is up to you how you will use your time, but the primary objective of the game is to sell huge quantities of goods at the weekend bazaar. In time, the bazaar will grow bigger, sell more diverse goods and bring more visitors to buy your products.
Crops and livestock
The most obvious route to having something to sell at the bazaar is by growing some crops and nurture them to a state in which they can be harvested. Fertilizer and water are key ingredients for healthy, valuable crops although figuring out the right amounts to give of each can be a real pain. This is mostly because the game is so sketchy on the effects, other than that ‘giving too much’ is a really bad idea. A better explanation would certainly have been appreciated. Crops come in various forms and are season dependent, meaning that most won’t survive a shift in weather and will wither and die from one virtual game day to the next. Some crops can be harvested multiple times while others are a one-off deal and it is usually a good idea not to focus on a single crop type for reasons I will delve into later in this article.
Livestock on the other hand, is clear as daylight. Cows, chickens and sheep can be purchased at the bazaar and will produce milk, eggs and wool on a daily basis. If you purchase ‘baby’ livestock, you will have to raise them to adulthood before they will start producing, but don’t be too quick to buy an adult animal as there are some drawbacks. You see, an adult animal is far more costly to buy and will start with producing low quality products.
Interacting with the animal will cause its love for you to grow and its production to increase and it seems young animals are easier to befriend than older ones. For example, I bought cow Nina when she was an adult while buying calf Majella when she was still a babe. I ended up with lots of poor quality milk from Nina and by the time Majella started producing, her milk was already up a full star from Nina’s. This example illustrates Harvest Moon’s depth quite well. Almost every item, person or animal has a relationship with something else and can be manipulated in some way or another.
Tons of stuff to do. Proportioned introduction of new gameplay mechanics.
Will feel repetitive fast when playing in long stretches. Interface can annoy at times.