Harvest Moon The Light of Hope Review-Nothing but Despair
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4
Harvest Moon the Light of Hope is Natsume’s fifth Harvest Moon game since the split with Marvelous. This game is also Natsume’s celebration for the series 20th Anniversary in the west, and seems to be a good indicator of where this series will be heading for the future. So now we need to ask how did Natsume do with this game? Did they learn from the several mistakes and finally create a game that could compete with the mainline Bokujo series, or is this a game filled with despair rather than hope?
You begin this adventure waking up stranded on an island that was decimated during a major storm. You are informed that the only way to bring the island back to its former glory is to somehow restore the lighthouse on the island, and repair the many rundown buildings in Beacon Town for the inhabitants to come back. So you may be asking, how do you manage to restore the lighthouse and bring glory back to the land? Well by farming of course.
Harvest Moon Light of Hope’s farming mechanics are more reminiscent of Harvest Moon Seeds of Memories on IOS and Android devices, by that I mean it’s just basic farming, there’s no terraforming the land. Farming in this game is boiled down to simple one button presses. When you approach a patch of land that can be farmed you press a button to till it, press it again to plant seeds, and press it again to water it then fertilize it. This is actually pretty cool as you don’t have to constantly switch between tools, but I guess it’s because the game has never given you a real reason to either. The downside with this mechanic is that the button for farming is tied to the overall action button, so say if a wayward villager or Harvest Sprite walks over your farm, the game will instead automatically talk to them. This would happen to me more times than I would like and it would just be quite annoying. That said, the farming in this game is pretty simple to get the hang of, and tool upgrades can make the process more streamlined. There is just one small problem with the overall farming in this game. It’s pointless.
Outside of growing crops for food, which even then is debatable, there is really little need to actually farm in this game. Outside of farming, mining and fishing return from previous games as a separate way to make money, and let me tell you it’s not only more optimal to make money this way, it is probably the only way I could recommend for you to make bank in this game. I would often struggle to see a point for farming when an afternoon fishing or a day in the mines would yield me better results than an entire season of farming. When I realized that this was the case, I only ever began growing crops for the point of the game’s story, or for the occasional villager request. My income in this game soon became reliant on just what I could fish out of the river or what rare gems I could find deep in the mines. So yes, a video game about farming, raising animals and the like forgets to make the core focus important to the overall game. I dare say outside of the few plot points where farming is needed you could probably get by in this whole game without ever farming on your land and that’s a huge problem.
It’s really sad because it seems like Natsume put a bit of effort into making the farming a bit refined this time around. These games have been known for experimenting with where you grow your crops so you can create cool mutations which sell for more or create better items. That said I saw no reason to ever venture out and try farming on other lands outside of completing the encyclopedia. When I realized that the only point of growing crops was for that purpose I realized that Natsume got the entire point of farming in these games wrong. This is a side tangent, but in Story of Seasons what I love about farming is seeing my progress grow in front of me, I know that the harvest I am about to reap will be used to make money to better my farm, to please villagers, or achieve whatever goals the game gave me. Not just to fill a book. I get some sort of small pride and joy from those games when it’s time to Harvest, now in this game I feel almost nothing. Which honestly is really sad.
Now let’s talk about the new gameplay mechanic that was added, and that was rebuilding the decimated Beacon Town after a storm that happened before our arrival. The whole point of rebuilding the town is to try and get the old villagers to move back. When you approach any of the broken buildings it will tell you how much material you will need to repair it. Once it’s repaired they will somehow know, and return the next day. This is how you go about unlocking new stores and upgrades for your farm. There are also bridges and other buildings in the mountains and on your farm to repair as well. For some reason these buildings are more pricier to fix than some of the more luxurious areas in town. So after everything is fixed…that’s pretty much it the mechanic is done. It just feels like the town repair aspect, which was such a major selling point in the marketing, was just one over glorified tutorial process to include in the story. This is a shame too because rebuilding things in games is something I love to do a lot.
My problems really don’t stop there either. The game’s plot is really just a copy and paste of the 3DS games. The Harvest Goddess is in trouble, the land is dying, please get these certain items from the missing Harvest Sprites to restore the land. The overall story just feels like an over glorified checklist of things to do. The story issues don’t really stop there. Natsume once again has opted to use the same cast of villagers from Skytree Village in this game, along with a sizeable cast of characters they have used in every game since The Lost Valley.
Having played both of those games, and understanding the character quirks of everyone already (they weren’t that good to begin with either) makes me extremely disinterested in interacting with the people of Beacon Town. The character writing in these games are just so boring, that I honestly have a hard time finding a person to even marry. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with bringing in fan favorite characters again. I would love to be able to marry Elli again in a future game, but that’s because Story of Seasons has enough diverse and well written characters across several games that they give me enough time to miss characters from old games. If Marvelous constantly used the Mineral Town crew for every single game, I would honestly grow tired as I already know everyone’s story and tropes. There is enough gap between games where I can be like “Oh, hey! I missed you!” Not only that, but Story of Seasons manage to keep the feeling of a connected world. So when I do see characters again I feel like they are the same one from previous games, not a group of characters that were uprooted and put into an entirely new universe. In summary, character interaction to me makes up one half of the experience in these games, so to have them so watered down just makes it all forgettable and makes me not want to invest my time into this world.
Visually, the Light of Hope is a really odd looking game. It’s not bad looking per se, but it just looks like the game is a copy and paste of their mobile game. You have 3D models walking on a 2D sprite backdrop, and at times it just looks rather jarring, and the games animations just come off as lazy. The game’s soundtrack is no better either, through your time playing this game you will hear the same handful of tracks over and over again. This wouldn’t be a problem if they weren’t some of the most generic tracks I have ever heard. So on a presentation standpoint this game just falls flat on its face. When they announced that their next game would be coming to PC, PS4, and Nintendo Switch as opposed to the 3DS I thought as if the games would finally have a bit of effort into their look. Sadly I was mistaken, I often at times felt that Skytree Village on the 3DS had much more effort in it than this.
At the end of the day, Harvest Moon Light of Hope isn’t a completely bad game, but I wouldn’t say it’s a good one by any stretch either. While yes there were times I enjoyed the game, there were more times where I got bored, and the game began to feel like more of a chore to play. I honestly would have been a bit nicer on this game if this was Natsume’s first attempt. Sadly, it’s not. It’s their fifth. If this is the direction they want to take the Harvest Moon name with, I wish them the best of luck, but I find it hard to recommend this game to anyone. Specially at the $29.99 price point, where you can buy a better game for half that price on Steam, or pick up Story of Seasons on 3DS for that price. I’d like to hope Natsume will try and improve this series, but as it stands now, the Light of Hope they wanted is filled with nothing but despair.