A feeling of dread rushed over me in the midst of facing down a siren in her underwater lair: I forgot to water the tomatoes, didn't I?
The siren destroyed me before I could refocus on the battle, and when I awoke the next morning back at Lethe Village, I found my tomatoes all dried out.
Sometimes you just can’t win.
In the midst of a crowded field of games attempting to find a niche in the farming sim genre, Harvestella sets itself apart by adding Square Enix’s signature storytelling and gameplay. The result is a one-of-a-kind JRPG that artfully blends in farming sim elements, though not in equal measure. A simplified experience highlighted by a nostalgic world filled with lovable characters makes Harvestella work, even if it doesn’t innovate. Sometimes, being good enough is all you need to do.
Hack and slash
The player awakes into Harvestella’s world with amnesia, in the midst of Quietus, a seasonal event where everything outside dies. You are brought into the quiet village of Lethe and given a home on an abandoned farm. The narrative push of Harvestella is to uncover who you are and help your companions discover what Quietus is and how it can be stopped.
You will be able to create your own character in Harvestella. In a first for Square Enix, players can make a non-binary character. While this is a welcome addition, the world of Harvestella itself is devoid of diverse representation. Customization options are fairly limited in character creation, but Harvestella isn’t about being yourself. It’s about playing a very specific role.
In many ways, Harvestella leans into the traditional trappings of a JRPG. With its massive elemental crystals, diorama-like world map, and job system it feels like a forgotten Final Fantasy game. Specifically, Harvestella bears a striking resemblance to Final Fantasy V.
One of the main activities that players will face throughout their journey are extensive dungeons. These dungeons are multi-floor mazes that can take several in-game days to fully navigate, often requiring you to devote all of your available time to progress. Each dungeon concludes with one last grand battle with a boss.
These boss fights look like something out of Final Fantasy XIV, complete with AOE markers to dodge and phases to memorize. The player has 10 combat jobs to choose from, three of which can be equipped and swapped between during dungeons. These jobs are varied with genre mainstays like Monk (called Assault Savant) and Dragoon (called Sky Lancer) as well as unique jobs like the Woglinde class which is a song-based mage.
While these jobs offer a variety of combat styles, combat itself is fairly simplistic. There are only ever two buttons to press in combat, a normal attack you can spam to your heart's content, and a special attack that needs to charge up. Harvestella never presents the player with too difficult a challenge.
But combat is only part of the story in Harvestella.
An elevator pitch for Harvestella might bill it as the Final Fantasy farming simulator. This is accurate but not the whole story. Harvestella will never replace Stardew Valley or any game that is solely a farming simulator. In truth, the game is maybe 30 percent farming simulator and 70 percent JRPG.
This isn’t to say you can ignore farming altogether. In order to upgrade weapons and buy important items, you will need a steady cash flow, and the best way to do that is to harvest crops. As is typical of farming sims, you can upgrade your available crop space, add animal pens, and renovate your house to an extent. However, farming mechanics are simplified and streamlined in the same manner as combat.
The complexity of a game like Stardew Valley will require players to invest many real-world and in-game hours in perfecting a workflow to optimize crop growth and farm management. Harvestella does not. Most upgrades beyond the opening hours won’t add anything drastically new to your house.
Yet Harvestella doesn’t need to be Stardew Valley. By giving the player both a traditional JRPG as well as a serviceable farming simulator, the player can decide how to spend their time. It is a built-in deterrent from burnout. Tackling the first major dungeon of the game took me five in-game days. In the middle of my attempt, I found myself bored with the constant combat and took a day’s rest to spruce up my farm and go fishing. After my little vacation, I was rejuvenated and ready to complete the dungeon.
While the lack of more complex mechanics in the combat or the farming could make Harvestella feel like a jack of all trades but master of none, I found that the two sides of Harvestella complement each other.
Stay for a while
Most of my time with Harvestella has been spent in short play sessions on the couch lasting no longer than one hour. In a busy season of larger-than-life prestige titles, I found myself using Harvestella as a way to decompress.
The world of Harvestella beyond dungeons and farming is a surprisingly detailed pastiche of life in this fantasy world. There are plenty of side-quests to tackle, all of which won’t overstay their welcome and contain some unexpectedly beautiful dialogue. Characters are shown to have connections across the world, something that makes it feel real. These stories will often be told in installments. Unlocking a new town on the map will also open up new side-quests, and I would be excited to see a familiar face and learn what new adventure they had found themselves in. It also doesn’t hurt that you can pursue a romance with a select few characters.
The success of Harvestella is that it manages to be good enough at everything it mixes into its larger fabric. The simplicity of the combat and farming sim elements make this the most approachable JRPG that Square Enix has ever made. One that embraces the joys of cozy gaming and invites players to spend time in the world without requiring them to master complex systems.
Harvestella is the perfect game to cuddle up on the couch with, preferably in handheld mode on Nintendo Switch or on Steam Deck. While it doesn’t deliver the best JRPG or farming sim, it is the only game that delivers both experiences at the same time, delivering a unique entry in a crowded genre that manages to be a breath of fresh air.
Harvestella is now available on PC and Nintendo Switch. Inverse reviewed the game on Nintendo Switch.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.