Autumn is my favourite season. Every time it rolls around I feel the most alive and reflective. During these months, nothing’s better than cozying up with hot cocoa and some chill games, so I was very happy to hear about Harvestella, from Square Enix and Live Wire.
I’m no stranger to farming simulators like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley. Farming games have been getting a lot of love in recent years (gee, wonder why), so I’m not surprised other companies are puttering in the garden. While I do enjoy the previously mentioned titles, only Rune Factory Frontier came close to the rustic fantasy life I was hoping to live through. It had magic and a medieval setting along with more attractive characters, in my opinion. Finally here is Harvestella with Square Enix’s patented painterly touch to 3D character design and the world around it. I wonder, will I be able to have a Carbuncle as a cat?
The demo consists of the game’s first two chapters, where you’re introduced to the town, your farm, and a few characters to kick off the plot. You get a choice of a male, female, or non-binary avatar, and you can make adjustments to your character’s skin tone. The addition of a non-binary option meant a lot to me, and the characters do in fact use appropriate pronouns regardless of the body type you choose. After a short tutorial with an angelic figure, your character passes out below the ominous red light of a large twisting obelisk in the distance. They’re going for the classic amnesiac hero here, folks!
We’re quickly introduced to the town of Lethe through the resident doctor, Cres (heh). She mentions we were out on the night of “Quietus,” possibly a reference to Live Wire’s previous game, Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights. Quietus marks a turn in the weather and ushers in the season of death. This season withers crops and makes it dangerous to go outside. Every year it grows longer, so it feels like this game is touching on some allegory of climate change—at least, I’d like it to.
We’re not the only random stranger introduced, though. A strange object crashes into the north side of town. Inside we find an armoured body. We get the first hint of internal strife with Cres hesitant to help, thinking the armour is a being called an “Omen,” but it actually turns out to be a girl called Aria. According to her, she’s from a different time, possibly closer to our modern day based on some of her reactions to local architecture as being from the “middle-ages” and skyscrapers cropping up in dungeons alongside her appearance.
But enough about the story, what’s farming like? Well, pretty decent. The plot of land the mayor gives you is large and includes several garden spaces and a fishing spot. They call your home base a “shed,” but it’s so spacious and cute that I hope a few more “sheds” open up in my city. The attic is completely empty, which I desperately desire to decorate!
Our player character has a strange tool that can become what is necessary for them at any given moment. So instead of switching between different physical tools, the tool in question changes shape. While I enjoy this multitasking aspect for certain functions, such as being able to move while watering, it doesn’t work as well for other actions, like tilling: the “mode” I’m in tends to cancel out before I can till the next patch, causing the character to run. Tweaking the timing would make the system a nice change of pace from Harvest Moon play styles, where your player character has to stop and charge up in order to increase the amount of space tilled or watered. Another issue is how long and boring fishing is. Like other farming sims, Harvestella‘s fishing mechanic involves waiting for the bob on your fishing pole to snag, indicating a catch, which you then reel in. However, waiting for the bob to snag in this game takes way too long. It reminded me a bit of Reel Fishing on PS1 with the lack of locations to cast and the pre-rendered photo, but even that let you start an underwater fight with the fish.
It seems like the full game will have several dungeons to explore, although in the demo you only get to try out two, with one of them blocked off near the entrance. The main dungeon is a winding branching path inside a perpetual Autumn forest. There’s opportunities to arrive at your destination in different ways, so I didn’t feel railroaded in. You can even create shortcuts back to arrive home quickly and avoid threats. This is especially important as you need to be conscious of the clock and your stamina and health. You need stamina to swing your sword, and it won’t replenish if you have an empty stomach (shown like a tank you need to refill). Be sure to bring plenty of food for your journey!
Enemies are already present in the field, and you approach to fight them in real time within the same area, giving you the chance to plan ahead or run if things get hairy. There will be more strategy to combat here since you have skills and a job system! Currently in the demo you only get to try out Fighter and Mage, and each job has different skills you map to four trigger buttons (you need to press ZR to access your skill menu). There may be certain monsters that are weak to a fire blade skill or magic spells. There’s a cool down timer to both, so think before switching or you’ll be stuck as a squishy mage in a tight spot.
Another fun RPG staple is you’ll be able to have party members! It’s possible some are temporary based on plot relevance, as I couldn’t equip my Omen friend Dianthus during the demo. I also wonder if we can bring creatures or monsters we raise to battle alongside us, similar to Rune Factory 4. Having help makes me push away the dark thoughts of grinding dungeons all by my lonesome. Others delving the depths of the mines in Stardew Valley can relate. I’m interested if social connections come into play in the form of upgrading a particular party member’s social link by battling together or gaining buffs from a strong connection during explorations.
It’s still not confirmed if romantic relationships will be an option in this game. However, if there is, I hope with the inclusion of our playable character being non-binary that there won’t be gated romantic options or that we meet more people outside the binary. Not many with full character portraits have shown themselves in the demo, so right now I got my eyes set on the renovator, who provides upgrades to your house and farm, telling me that as I age so do my tastes…
Overall, I think my main concern for Harvestella is that the story may take over, resulting in an RPG with small farming sim elements. It’s too soon to tell, but since most of my time with the demo was going into dungeons to complete a story-specific task, my anxiety over Square Enix’s take on farm life may not be unwarranted. Still, the gorgeous art for individual items, the atmosphere of the world and the refreshing dialogue with characters who refuse to be pigeonholed into tropes, makes me hopeful that Harvestella could be a new cozy life to explore during our own real-world quiet seasons.
When I’m not co-oping in a FromSoft game or trying to convince someone how good the Venom movie was; I usually enjoy crafting, drawing and hanging out with my two cats.