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Harvest Moon 64 (N64)

Life on the farm. It's certainly not the thing for everyone. There are plenty of people out there who prefer the hustle and bustle of life in the city. Waiting for plants to grow pales in excitement compared to sitting in an office cubicle for hours. Walking is tiring on the legs, and it's much more convenient if there's a bus or train around to catch instead. It takes a special kind of person to want to wake up each morning and milk a cow. It's not the sort of thing that's going to drag everyone out into the middle of the farmlands away from their usual daily living. It's the same thing with video games. As farming isn't for everyone, a farming video game isn't going to be for everyone. Why scatter seeds and cut down lumber, when you could be scattering bullets and cutting down monsters? Waiting for crops to grow might be far less interesting than running through a minefield with enemies chasing you. Compared to fighting off aliens, chatting with the townsfolk might seem dull and boring. Plus, why try to woo a local lady, bringing her gifts and talking to her, when you can just rescue one from a monster and of course she'll fall in love with you? Again, it's not the thing for everyone. If one is looking for a bit of a break from all the high-paced action and stress out there though, a nice break on the farm might be just what one is looking for. Of course, it won't be long until you discover, that rushing out to chop lumber, hurrying home to get the crops out before the shipper comes, and still not forget about your ladyfriend takes a good deal of effort as well. It's not all just a walk in the park, and, while it doesn't have the same sort of "action" that other games may provide, there are definitely a number of goals and tasks to apply oneself to, and which are going to require more than a couple of guns to solve.

Things start off simple enough. Your grandfather has passed away, and his farm is left abandoned. You visit the town where his farm is located, and go around as the villagers offer their thoughts. Afterwards, you head out to the farm and find it overgrown with weeds and covered with rocks, and just in a general mess. You though, being the hard-working individual you are, volunteer to take it over. So, it's left up to you to clean up the debris, get things organized, and set the farm back on a steady course again. It's not going to be an easy task, but, you're not going to let a bit of hardship get in your way. There's work to be done. Once you're finished with the introduction and being shown around town, you're plopped down in your farm, and pretty much it's up to you what you want to do and how you want to go about things from here. You have a little farmhouse, and in front of it a big open field. Or, well, it would be open, aside from all that stuff cluttering it. You don't have to clear off the whole thing right away if you don't want, but, you'll want to pull up some weeds, cut up some stumps, pound down some rocks, and clear away enough space for you to get started. Can't get a good farm running with all that stuff all over the place. For the purpose of clearing and preparing your field, as well as various other tasks, you have an assortment of tools at your disposal. These range from a hoe to till the soil and a watering can to water the crops, to an axe and hammer to remove stumps and rocks, and other things such as a fishing pole for a little bit of fishing on the side. These tools start out basic at first, but will improve with use, watering more ground, chopping up things quicker and improvements such as those. When chopping up stumps in particular, it's not only helpful in removing them from areas you might want to plant, but, the wood is also stored in a shed at your barn. This wood can then be used for other things, such as building a fence, or using when ordering expansions on your house.

Off to the side of your farm, you'll find the main town area. This section has a number of buildings, featuring shops to supply you with various needs, houses where you can talk with people, and various other living and social environments. One of the most important things here, is the florist with a variety of seeds that you can buy. The selection of seeds varies by season, depending on what grows well under certain conditions, and by price as well. Some produce costs less to buy, but less when you go to sell it. Some crops just grow once, are picked and then you need to go out and buy more; meanwhile, some crops will grow to a certain point, allow you to pick just the vegetable itself, and then re-grow another one from a midpoint (an example being corn, where you can just pick the ears off and let new ones grow in). So, you'll have a number of choices and considerations to give when looking for what sorts of crops you'd like to purchase and grow. The game progresses through time, not at the pace of real time, but based on a game clock. So, while you do have to pass through seasons and wait for crops to grow, the time in the game is moving while you're playing and stopped while you aren't. It isn't as if you have to just place the crops and then don't get to play the game again for a couple of days, or that you have to check in on things periodically to make sure nothing's going wrong. The game is ready to be played when you are, and won't go anywhere when you need to take a break. During the course of play, however, it will progress through the time and seasons, and you'll have to take that all into consideration when planting your crops or planning your daily activities.

There's more to your farm, however, than just clearing and planting. After all, what would a farm be without animals? As additional ways of raising money, you can also purchase cows and chickens, and they will produce milk and eggs. The milk can be sold, and the eggs can either be sold or incubated and hatched. So, whether you choose to do either or both of those along with the crops, or instead of the crops if you wish, is up to you. There are a number of different ways that you can choose to go about raising money. In addition to animals you can use to gain money, you can also get a horse, which you can use for transportation and for help when gathering crops. As well, during the winter, unless you have a greenhouse, you won't be able to grow crops out in your field. So, during that time, you'll have to go about finding other ways to earn money. Animals are one option, but there's also a mine that's open in the winter where you can dig for ore. So, things change depending on the season, but, there's always a bunch of stuff to be doing. It's not all just about your farm, however, as there are many other things to do in the course of your day's activity. You can visit the town not just for purchasing things, but to talk with the people there. In addition to just talking to the people, some of them will give you recipes for food that you can collect, working to build up a cookbook of interesting food concoctions. There are also a number of various festivals which come up on certain days as well, which you can choose to participate in if you wish. These activities range from food competitions, to horse races, to dances and stargazing. These things serve to bring something to look forward to as opposed to just day after day of farming, and are very nice for a break from the ordinary. Whether it's a friendly competition, or just a bit of relaxing and chatting, the festivals serve for some interesting diversions.

In addition to the people in the town who are just there to talk with, there's another important role that some of these people play: Marriage. While this is completely up to you and you can progress just fine through the entire game as a happy bachelor, there are a couple of eligible women around town who might be interested in a relationship. So, if you can pull yourself away from your farming work for a bit, if you can take the time to bring someone a gift, have a little chat, or pay a bit of extra attention to someone at a festival, they might return your interest as well. After a while of this, you might even find yourself ready for marriage. Once married, your wife will move in with you, and do a couple of things around the farm to help out. Not just that either, but you can even have a child as well. While the child will never progress all the way to a full adult, staying at an infant stage no matter how long one plays, it's still a very nice thing to have a child. Plus, of course, it's good to have some company around that house, as opposed to just the daily routine of chores every day. The game progresses through a couple of years of all of this, and, at a certain time, your father will come to your farm and check in on you. He'll look over everything that you've done, and give you a grade based on your work. This is the "goal" of the game, to produce enough work to get a good grade when he comes. Regardless of what he says, however, it's not as if the game just stops and ends there. After he leaves, you're free to continue on with your life for as long as you want. There is no "end" to the game, you can continue working away at your farming, improving your farm, talking to the townspeople, and spending time with your wife and child as long as you'd like. While after a while you'll have done everything in the game there is to do, it's still nice to be able to just wake up every day and see your wife's shining face there next to you, and your child crawling around on the floor, and knowing that these things make all that farming worthwhile.

At this point, there have been a number of games in the Harvest Moon series released. For someone looking to get into the series (if all of this has sounded interesting), they may be wondering if this is the one which they should choose for their introduction. If someone has played some of the other games in the series, they may be wondering if this game is worthwhile to pick up in addition to others. This game, while there are a number of things to do, isn't quite as complex or involved as some of the later games in the series. Likewise, it is more involved than some of the earlier games. So, depending on how much one is looking for beyond just the basic core of "plant stuff, harvest stuff," one might choose to go with either one of the earlier games (for less stuff) or the later ones (for more stuff). This particular game, however, has a very nice balance of everything. There's not so much stuff to do that one is going to feel rushed and overloaded and like they have no time to actually get anything done. There, however, isn't a lack of things to do, where one is going to feel like, if one has to see one more head of cabbage that one is going to go insane. There's the relationship aspect and various areas both in and around the town to keep one occupied and interested after one has finished their daily planting. On the other hand, the planting and animals and such are straightforward enough where one isn't going to feel like one never has a chance to stop into the town and actually be social with people. While certainly many of the other games in the series are interesting as well (and worth checking out if one does enjoy this and wants more), this is probably one of the best choices out there either for someone looking to just get into the series, or anyone who has liked other games in it and wants to check out another one of them.

Again, it's not a game that's going to appeal to everyone. If you've read to this point and are still thinking "Great, farming. So, what else is there?" While there are other things to keep one interested, if the idea of running a farm is the most boring thing one can imagine, it's not like there's some action shooting side game to keep one interested or anything. While there are a number of details and intricacies to it, the game is what it is: A farming game. If one is looking for a chance to run one's own farm, and to socialize and to have fun with it, however, this is definitely a spectacular game. If one has read to this point so far and hasn't been driven off by any of it, and thinks it sounds interesting, it's at least checking out. One never knows what sort of game one might find appealing. One might end up falling in love with it.