Don’t bring me onto your farm unless you want the Fourth Reich

Harvest Moon - Friends of Mineral Town (USA)

Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town (2004)

On the rare occasions when I find myself forced to go rural, it’s no surprise that the whole experience makes me get down on my hands and knees and thank the urban gods that I wasn’t born out in the sticks. Let me explain: in Ireland, there are 4, maybe 5 cities, and the rest is just sheep-infested fields and high smelling turds. Our well-renowned greens are not always full of four-leaved clovers, I’m afraid – it’s far more likely to be hay and mad farmers instead. Drive too far in the wrong direction and suddenly civilisation dries up, there isn’t a streetlight or road marking to be seen and massive tractors are hurtling towards you at seemingly impossible speeds. Welcome to the jungle.

All the same, it makes me wonder about the life of a farmer. It seems very isolated, which is a real hit with me, being a misanthrope and all that. And there’s surely good money to be had from it, although the farmers in this country and the thousands of committees representing them would probably hurriedly shout me down on that one. Plus I have to say. commandeering combine harvesters looks a right laugh.

On the other hand, you’ve got to train your nose to deal with the overpowering and constant stench of bovine foulness. And you’ve got to squeeze the little coo’s teats as well, which could turn you into a bit of a deviant. Not forgetting the poor little chickens whose children you’ll be aborting and who you’ll often have slaughtered anyway – both heinous acts for which you’ll personally be responsible.

No, even I’m not enough of a dreamer to believe that farming is any kind of pleasant walk along the silage. That’s why a game series based on the actual, honest-to-God exploits of farming could never, ever work. Any boardroom, even the quirkiest of Henshin Omake Japanese ones, would have been shaking their heads and exhaling deeply. Yet when the first Harvest Moon game came to the SNES, so late in its life that the Y2K bug barely even got the chance to affect it, I was simply dumbfounded at how addictive and playable it was.

The SNES game, which’ll require you to remortgage your house if you want it in its original format, established the typical flow of the best Harvest Moon games – you’re given a massive, horribly maintained plot of land and told to turn it into something you can live off, and more importantly, a sight to be proud of.

You’re given a glimpse of civilised society in the form of an adjacent town, which typically features five lovely ladies to woo, and that takes a huge amount of time considering you tend to be one of the few eligible bachelors around, and the only one who’s actually going places. Finally, you grow crops, abuse animals and hook fish in your attempt to make as many fat stacks as possible.

Yes, it all sounds terribly depressing, but it works – by God does it work. Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town follows this template faithfully, bolting on all kinds of additional content to keep you interested for many in-game years. This GBA entry to the Harvest Moon series is basically a port of the PS1’s iteration of farming madness, Back to Nature. But Friends of Mineral Town’s 2D topdown perspective gives it far more accessibility than the isometric view of the PS1 original. When I hear ‘isometric’ I think ‘rotten migraines’ and when I hear ‘2D topdown’ I think ‘Zelda’, so which do you think I prefer?

FOMT starts off with some excuse plot where you’re penpals with a poor old left-on-the-shelf farmer, the kind who probably set his vicious dogs on the Mineral Town locals and burst any footballs that come into his land. Anyway, he passes away, much to the delight of even Mineral Town’s mayor, and it’s up to you to mop up the absolute mess of a farm he left behind.

On this new apocalyptic wasteland of yours, your two main means of income are crop farming and leeching the resources from animals, two methods which I think those funny, compost-dwelling, ruddy-faced people known as farmers call tillage farming and factory farming, but which I prefer to call ‘making rude bank’.

You’ll start slowly, but after a while it really won’t be a stretch for you to buy and redevelop Mineral Town several times over. After that, there isn’t much for you to spend your money on… except a house that costs 100 million large. And if you think you’ve seen it all after about five or six years, there’s a maison that you’ll need to play for a nifty fifty years to get.

255 levels of two mines to get to the bottom of, endeavouring to ship one of about a gillion items, max affection levels achievable with everybody in town including your wife, child and your animals, minigames to perfect… there’s a huge amount of goals to strive for in this game, even if some of them are perhaps a bit on the overly extreme side.

Yes, you’ll most likely have the game’s economy broken over your knee in about two or three ingame seasons – especially if you conscript the hard-working local Harvest Sprites into your totalitarian farming regime. And it’s pretty easy to do this actually: simply hang an Arbeit Macht Frei sign over your farm’s entrance gate, and watch in glee as your Untermenschen Sprites potter into your farm, single file, and begin a whole day’s worth of back-breaking labour, completely unpaid. Cover your whole allotment in yams, and hey presto – you’ve got enough dough to deck your farm out in crass golden lumber. That is, if you really wanted to lord it over the other villagers.

Just like winning the Euromillions lottery (probably), money being no object now means that you can pursue other important ventures in the game, namely wooing women. Yes, Harvest Moon may dress itself up as a farming sim, but anyone au fait with the series knows that it’s really all about being the sexiest damn bachelor in town. I’ll take a few moments to go through each of the lovely ladies on offer in this particular entry to the series. After all, picking up a waifu is a big selling point in these games, believe you me.

We’ve got Mary, the shy and demure librarian who the otakus tell me is a “meganekko”. The last time I used the word “mega” to describe a woman’s appearance, I ended up with a right couple of achers, but there you are. Next is a Harvest Moon staple, Ann, the spunky ginger who’s had more forms in the series than Princess Zelda has had in her outings.

You’ve then got nurse Elli, who’ll get hoovered up by the mysterious Doctor if you’re not quick enough. Not that a farming oik like you would really stand much of a chance against a rugged guy who looks after humans AND animals, but at least you’ve got a headstart. There’s Popuri, the pink-haired, scatterbrained, possible chicken molester, bootleg version of the SNES Harvest Moon’s Nina – in fact, most of the girls are expies from the original game.

And finally there’s my favourite: the dirty-blonde, borderline alcoholic Karen, who I always imagine to be more fun than a barrel of drugged up monkeys. There’s also a Harvest Goddess – yes, a genuine deity to marry, although she proves high-maintenance and elusive enough to provide a courting challenge comparable to real life.

Once you’ve identified yourself a progenitor of your glorious children, it’s time to pursue them. You do this in much the same way as you do in real life: memorise their entire weekly schedule, whether it be raining, snowing or shining. Then find out what genus of flower they lap up the most, and throw one (and only one) at them every day for about a year or so. And on the rare occasions they actually relent and engage you in conversation, make sure you always choose the obviously correct, creepy-crawly response.

That’s about all you’ll need to do, but Christ if it doesn’t take an eternity to get them onside; I’d end up feeling like Elliott Rodger at times. You needn’t worry though, since it takes something like four full years for your love rival to swoop in and hoover your belle up. Yes. you’ve actually got love rivals, although since I only ever had to compete with this bespectacled div called Rick, it was never an issue for me. But if you find yourself getting lazy about showering bottles of perfume and luxury pink hair dye on Popuri, you’ll have to be careful – the swarthy Kai may just wipe your eye.

There’s not much else to say – I’ve told you just about everything the game has to offer. But you’ll start the game up and string a few ingame days together becoming a genuine superstar of farming. Suddenly, these days turn to weeks, which turn to seasons which turn to years. And the replay value of eventually starting life all over again and chasing different broads and sucking different crops from the land is staggering as well.

For me, it’s primarily between this and Rune Factory 3 for the title of best Harvest Moon. And since the latter is technically a anime-infested spinoff, that probably makes FOMT the GOAT. It’s got more direct goals than the hugely regarded Animal Crossing games, and about as many items to collect as well. It’s got variety, it’s got love stories, it’s got cows, and it’s got a frisbee game with your lovable dog. What else could one ask of the rustic life?

09 February 2015

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