by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on NDS
By far the most complex relationships appear in the game’s ‘production chain’. Everything you produce can be used in the kitchen and finding and cooking recipes are the key to financial success. Base ingredients such as vegetables and livestock products are usually worth selling at the market without any further work, but using them as ingredients for drinks, deserts and dishes increase the price dramatically. Recipes are not readily available and can only be acquired at the local café and a stall at the bazaar. They randomly offer foodstuffs which, upon purchasing, also give access to their recipes. The randomness does mean that some recipes may well stay out of reach for many game years, severely limiting your options to work with your farm produce. But once you have them, along with the necessary cooking utensils, you can replicate them to your heart’s content. Or can you?
Many recipes require multiple ingredients – one reason for not growing just one type of crop – and not all ingredients can be grown or made by your own hands. For instance, many recipes require butter, which is made from oil and milk but the oil is only available at the bazaar and weeks can go by that the stall has no stock at all. Other recipes require multiple vegetables that may not always grow in the same season. Unfortunately produce only stays fresh for so long, meaning that many recipes will only ever be made with less than pristine ingredients. An upgrade to your stores can be made to lengthen the time that produce stays fresh, but to me this mechanic should not be in the game at all.
With a substantial amount of items, products and recipes, one would expect the game’s creators to put extra effort into keeping lists manageable. While it is true that most lists are divided in different categories, many lists get so long that scrolling through them can really ‘push’ you out of the game and back into the real world. I can’t fathom why, when opening the cooking screen, the game doesn’t present me with – just – the recipes that I have the required ingredients for to cook. Similarly, using any of the windmills in the game to create half-fabricates, shows long lists that could be so much more intuitive when shortened to just the relevant items, based on what is available in my inventory.
Further proof of the developers having dropped the ball with the interface are the sometimes minute icons that need to be tapped on the touch-screen to access some of the game’s deeper functions. I would say that 99% of the game is played without the stylus so why make us pull it out just to tap these icons? And lastly, Harvest Moon gives the original release of Windows Vista a run for its money when it comes to unnecessary confirmations and other frivolous and frustrating screens.
While on the topic of ‘gripes’, another issue is time, something of which you will usually have too much. You’ll need only a couple of hours a day to nurture your future harvest and care for your animals. The rest of the time can be spent in the mills or fishing a far too wide variety of fish that can be sold at the bazaar. You could also go skateboarding or talk to other characters but this gets boring fast, especially when they will tell you the exact same thing each and every day. Unproductive and hardly any fun.
On bazaar day, the game sings a different tune. Here, time is too short. The bazaar is the best place to buy seeds and, among other things, the only place where you can acquire upgrades for your farm. But spending time shopping around means you are not selling your products. On most days, you will have trouble selling all your stock even without doing any shopping of your own, so you can imagine how often you will be taking stuff home on days you need that stores upgrade. This could have easily been prevented if the market would stay open until later.
Despite my original misgivings about the genre, I must confess to having enjoyed my time with Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar. Growing and selling crops isn’t as boring as it sounds and bazaar day – the day on which you finally get some money for your labor – is really a happening to look forward to. I don’t, however, see myself playing the game for hours on end. There are too many repetitive tasks that need to be performed each and every day and progress is too slow for it to have lasting appeal when played for long stretches. Play an hour, maybe two every day and you are guaranteed to find enough enjoyment in this game to keep you happy for months.
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.