February 26th, 2016. That was the day a little independent game, made by one single person, titled Stardew Valley was released on Steam. The game, heavily inspired by Natsume’s classic Harvest Moon (or Story of Seasons, depending on the publisher’s mood) series of farming titles, became a tremendous hit, both critically and (especially) commercially. Something not even its source of inspiration has ever managed to achieve, most notably in the West. That obviously raised the opportunity alarm at the Natsume headquarters, prompting them to develop a new Harvest Moon IP, the first title in the franchise to be released on PC. And then we got this.
Harvest Moon: Light of Hope is the worst Harvest Moon game I have ever played. There, let’s just start the review by stating the obvious. This isn’t a good Harvest Moon game, let alone a good game in general. It’s ugly, it’s lazy, it’s heartless. There are enough reasons for me to justify my statement so let’s just dive right into the source(s) of the problem.
The first thing you’ll notice upon starting a new game is how hideous Light of Hope looks. Previous games in the franchise weren’t exactly graphical achievements, but they did manage to, at the very least, be charming. Light of Hope, on the other hands, features an abysmal presentation, mixing RPG Maker-esque 2D backgrounds with very poorly modeled polygonal characters. It feels completely off-putting, as those two graphical styles don’t fit properly with one another. That alone would be enough for me to criticize the visual presentation, but it gets worse. The polygonal characters are, in fact, recycled assets from a previous Harvest Moon game on the 3DS that, mind you, at the very least, was entirely polygonal. That leaves Light of Hope with an overall cheapness in its design and presentation. Definitely not a good first impression. You can also apply that to the sound department, which features nothing but a few uninspiring tunes. Sound effects? Nah…
Another con is the game’s story. Harvest Moon has always had a little story, and so does Stardew Valley, but everybody knows we’re here for the farming fun and the social interactions, not some cookie-cutter tale about magic and saving the land from impending doom. When it comes to Light of Hope, well, there is a heavy emphasis on story, and a poor one at that, which includes the two aformentioned elements. There is a lot of dialogue, as any other Harvest Moon game would obviously have, but add tons of unskippable story-focused dialogue featuring uninteresting and clichéd characters, as well as gigantic versions to the aforementioned cheap polygonal models and you know you’re in for a boring mess.
If there’s a (bittersweet) saving grace in this game, that’d be the gameplay. This is the first time the franchise has been released on PC, and it shows how well you can integrate the mouse and keyboard layout to the overall Harvest Moon gameplay. The game features a somewhat interesting mechanic that “foresees” which action you’re going to do on a certain spot, therefore allowing you to perform the action by clicking the left mouse button without the need of equipping an item. For example: if you see a trunk that can be chopped in order to get more wood, just click on it and you’ll automatically do it, without the need of equipping an axe beforehand. See some crops that need watering? Click on them and there you go, they’re now watered. On one hand, that makes the game feel faster and more fluid, as there will be a lot less time spent on menus. On the other hand, and I don’t know how to explain this properly, it made the game a bit more mechanic, a bit “cheaper,” a lot more lifeless. Because this is how this game feels in general: lifeless and uninspiring. Every single gameplay aspect present in any other Harvest Moon game is here, be it crop producing or be it getting married, but it feels so dull, so uninteresting, so devoid of charm, you don’t feel motivated at all.
Light of Hope severely disappointed me. Nothing in that game stood out, at least not in a positive way. Given the amount of recycled assets from its underwhelming 3DS predecessor, it looked like a game that was rushed out in order to compete with the juggernaut that is Stardew Valley. Funnily enough, a game made by just one guy managed to be a lot better, both in terms of technical quality and overall charm, than a new entry in a long-lasting franchise that not only influenced it, but also used to be a juggernaut of its own back in the day. This is the lowest Harvest Moon has ever reached, I definitely can’t recommend the game for anyone.