With Harvest Moon 3D: The Lost Valley, Natsume is Exploring Greener Pastures

A dash of Minecraft, and a focus on flow and freedom could make this the developer's most modernized farming sim yet.

Preview by Bob Mackey, .

It's easy to forget the relevancy of Harvest Moon until Natsume's booth creeps into your vision on the E3 show floor—for a company that produces games far removed from the biggest, loudest attractions at E3, they certainly occupy a lot of floor space. Nearly 20 years after the series' launch, the day-to-day aspects of farm living still hold the same strange appeal they did in the 16-bit era.

Still, so much of Harvest Moon feels antiquated. Creator Yasuhiro Wada always intended the farming aspects of his series to be similar to random battles in an RPG; they give the player repetitive and rewarding tasks to perform between narrative bits. But where RPGs have become much more thoughtful about grinding, Harvest Moon has stuck to its nose to the grindstone mentality, which evokes the same emphasis on hard work as the older Dragon Quest games. If you're willing to put in the time, the rewards will be much more meaningful—if you have the time, that is.

Harvest Moon has grown much friendlier over the years, but in the past few generations, the series' very deliberate pacing made me wonder how it could stay relevant to players who haven't necessarily been knee-deep in the series since the mid-90s. I unexpectedly loved Rune Factory IV—my very first go at the Rune Factory series—because it sanded down the majority of Harvest Moon's rough edges, all while making its familiar tasks more intuitive than ever before.

After sinking way too much time into this spin-off, I wasn't surprised when Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley grabbed my attention at this year's E3. As someone who's been with the series from the beginning, my brief time with the game showed one of the most drastic rethinkings of Harvest Moon to date while still keeping all the elements that have given this farming sim so much longevity. The Lost Valley takes cues from Minecraft by letting players sculpt the world as they see fit, even as it cuts down on the tedium of equipment management by making its interface much more contextual. If you see a plant that needs to be watered and you have a watering can in your inventory, you only need to walk up to that dry patch of seeded land and hit a single button.

But even with these changes, the series hasn't veered too far from its focus on player diligence, as Natsume's Graham Markay explains: "What, in essence, is a Harvest Moon Game? [It's] the fact that hard work gets you rewarded in every aspect of your life. That fundamental message has to stay the same—always. It's a balancing of trying to figure out what works and what doesn't work. And in this particular case, the tool system [affected] the flow—the flow was interrupted. Bottom line is, we want that user to still have the flow of getting the hard work [done]. You still have to till the land, plant the seeds, water them, harvest the crop, and then you can use that crop however you want—that satisfaction of getting that crop, it's still there. But the flow of it [is faster]—we didn't speed how quickly the crops [grow], or anything like that."

Natsume hasn't released too many details about The Lost Valley, but what they showed me looked promising—especially for a series that could use a little disruption. Keep an eye out for my upcoming review this fall to see if Harvest Moon's overhaul avoids going to seed.

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Comments 6

  • Avatar for metalangel #1 metalangel 3 years ago
    I am currently chugging through HM: New Beginning and hope and pray that they will make the interface faster and the gameplay smoother, or building things will be unbearable. Cutting grass for fodder in New Beginning has your guy swipe the sickle, pick up the bundle of grass, cram it into his pocket (ouch) and then pull the sickle back out. When a character gives you an item, they pull it out and hold it above their heads (and it's gigantic) and then sort of throw it so it bounches off the ground and you catch it above your head. I know it's all about a simple life of farming, but watering each individual plant by hand with a watering can is not even subsistence farming. You have a fridge and a oven so why not buy a tractor or at least a sprinkler?
    If my save ever gets corrupted, I will just stop playing New Beginning. The introductory sequence and first few seasons of the game are an extended tutorial, where you are treated to screen after screen of exposition. Characters burst into your house in the morning to tell you something and you have to stand and listen. Every converstation is punctuated by long pauses and stupid emote animations as your character singings happily or nods furiously in response to almost each statement.
    Minecraft works as a landscape-changing construction game because the game and interface will keep up with whatever pace you care to set. If this new HM game has extremely fickle object placement (all the town buildings are bigger than your FOV even zoomed all the way out, good luck) and a plodding avatar it'll be a tragedy.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #2 bobservo 3 years ago
    @nimzy As far as I know Story of Seasons is being developed by Marvelous, and it's actually going to have the Harvest Moon name in Japan. I believe the split was amicable.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #3 bobservo 3 years ago
    @metalangel I had the same issues with ANB, which is why I loved Rune Factory IV so much—seriously, give that game a try if you haven't. From my interview, it seems as if Natsume understands the importance of making things much snappier.
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  • Avatar for metalangel #4 metalangel 3 years ago
    @nimzy from the Fogu forums, this is what is different in Story of Seasons compared to A New Beginning:
    This everything that Story of Seasons have that was improved on or what is different in this game.

    - Three additional animals were added such as camels, angora rabbits, and angora chicken (I believe that is what its called)
    - Customization returns, but no longer can you edit the town since every house is stationed in a certain area, but there is some small grass areas in town that you can customize to a extent.
    - You can edit the inside of your house. You can place things how you want it like Magical Melody, Tree of Tranquility, and Animal Parade.
    - You now taking care of a safari and building up the safari with wild life animals that you get from the trade depot.
    - You can now swim in water such as lakes and rivers and get stuff from diving.
    - Crops now grow in a 3x3 area and a lot easier to manage
    - The animal treat system has been simplified with only requiring one treat and there is a bar that shows you how close you're to completing it.

    LV by comparison seems to be a new direction with a lot of focus on the 3D landscape being diggable (and, alas, DLC). I'm not really sure what it'll offer beyond building a farm in Minecraft but we'll see!

    Right now my money is on SOS.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #5 bobservo 3 years ago
    @metalangel Thanks, that's helpful!
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  • Avatar for Gametasikcom #6 Gametasikcom 3 years ago