Harvestella rises above an overgrown field of farming sims
Gardening at the end of the world.
All the cool kids are making farming sims these days. Just look at the September 2022 Nintendo Direct, which had at least five! In order to rise above the crowd, each new title offers a unique twist on the basic formula of the genre. Harvestella from Square Enix is set in a Final Fantasy-esque world. Early promotion for the game focuses heavily on the life sim mechanics, but a Nintendo Switch demo available now reveals the importance of the game’s story and RPG gameplay. This JRPG twist on the genre makes Harvestella an addictive breath of fresh air.
New in town
The opening of Harvestella is standard fare for a farming sim game akin to Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing. You are new in town and come into possession of a small plot of land with a comfy cottage. In order to make a living, you can farm, fish, and mine to support yourself. But this also has the hallmarks of a JRPG opening.
You are new in town because you have amnesia and showed up out of the blue during Quietus, a seasonal storm that threatens to destroy everything caught in it. Oh, there’s also a mysterious human being that fell from the sky who claims to be from the future.
Harvestella makes it clear early that this isn’t just a farming sim. You shouldn’t expect it to be a leisurely cottage core game that just lets you go at your own pace. There are stakes. Hell, the world might end if you just hang out and garden!
Your first days are not even focused on gardening as you are introduced to the basics. The majority of this time is spent on getting acquainted with important characters and the major plot points that will push the story forward.
The Nintendo Switch demo allows you to play till the end of the game’s second chapter or until you hit 15 in-game days, whichever comes first. I spent about two and a half hours with the demo and both milestones and finished the second chapter on my last allotted in-game day.
I have spent countless hours playing Stardew Valley, perhaps the most important farming game ever made. Optimizing the layout of my farm, upgrading my house, and finding my soulmate took up many hours. However, the more I played, the more I often I would need to play something with a bit more action and a story to sink my teeth into, something to cleanse my pallet of all that farming soot. More often than not this meant a Final Fantasy game.
Harvestella seemingly recognizes this presumably common issue by satisfying both gaming desires. While the demo is heavy on the RPG elements, it offers plenty of hints freedom will open up even more for the player, letting them choose what they want to pursue at any given time. If I want to dig deeper into the mystery of the time-traveling women, then I can spend an hour or two doing that. If I ever get bored and want a more laid-back experience, why not just plant some vegetables?
Square Enix has effectively packaged two games into one, and both of them are good at what they do — or functional enough that the rough edges don’t ruin the experience. Rest assured that at this early stage, there are indeed some rough edges, some of which the full game will likely solve.
Combat feels fairly simplistic in its hack and slash loop. The ability to upgrade weapons, acquire skills, and change jobs are only touched on briefly. Accurately plowing or planting seeds on the plot of land you want to can be finicky. Neither combat nor farming sim mechanics are particularly inventive here, but they don’t need to be if they scratch the itches in satisfying ways.
In a growing crowd of farming sims all trying to grab the player’s attention, Harvestella’s fascinating story and relaxing gardening vibes create a built-in solution to burnout that can help it stand out in two of gaming’s most crowded genres.
Now, if Square Enix can just confirm that I can date the pretty women in Harvestella, then I won’t need to ever play another video game.
Harvestella is coming to Nintendo Switch and PC on November 4, 2022. A demo is currently available on Nintendo Switch.