|System: 3DS, DS|
|Dev: Marvelous Interactive|
|Release: November 1, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Comic Mischief, Use of Alcohol|
by Becky Cunningham
Harvest Moon is a long-running series of farming simulations in which a cute anime-style character is tasked with running a farm, helping the local townspeople, and even marrying and starting a family. Its entries have suffered on this generation of portable gaming devices, with some major bugs, poor control issues, or sometimes just a general lack of fun. How does the latest DS and 3DS game, Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns, fare? Far better than its predecessors, it turns out.
As usual for Harvest Moon, Two Towns begins with the main character (male or female) riding into town with the goal of starting a farm. This time, the setting is a mountain with a town on either side of it. Bluebell is a European-style town that focuses on raising livestock, and Konohana is an Asian-style town that mostly concentrates on crops. Although the two towns were once friendly and connected by a tunnel, a fight between the two mayors several generations ago caused the local Harvest Goddess to throw a fit and seal up the tunnel. Now, the mayors continue to feud, and people have to go all the way up and down the mountain to visit each other.
As you might guess, the main storyline goal of the game is to bring the villages back together by becoming a prosperous farmer and helping the mayors become friends. Other than the feud between the mayors, it's an awfully friendly intervillage rivalry. The villagers don't seem to bear any ill-will toward each other, and some of them even send each other gifts. Still, it's more interesting than the usual barebones Harvest Moon story, and the towns and mountains provide a lovely setting for the usual activities of farming, ranching, fishing, wooing eligible singles, and scrounging around in the wilderness for edible treats.
Yes, all the basic Harvest Moon activities are here. Players must choose which town to settle in at the beginning of the game, but though Bluebell has bigger barns and Konohana has more tillable land, both towns allow for planting crops and raising animals. The mountain is a major feature in the game and is quite fun to run around in, sporting a veritable playground of bridges, bouncy mushrooms, earthen slides, and even ziplines. There are places to catch fish by hand, traditional fishing holes, bugs to catch, wild animals to befriend, and plenty of nooks and crannies in which to forage for mushrooms, herbs, and flowers. Mining opens up later in the game and isn't as important as it is in other titles, but is there for rock-breaking enthusiasts. All these activities generally fill the days quite nicely, although until the tunnel is repaired it can be a bit tedious going all the way over the mountain to visit the other town.
All of these basic farming, fishing, and foraging activities are relatively easy to do. Thankfully, there are no mandatory touchscreen controls here, as Harvest Moon is far better suited to a traditional movement stick/directional pad and button setup. The game's menus are well-organized, tools are easy to find and select, and the ability to dig irrigation trenches makes watering crops far less tedious than it usually is. The other frequently tedious Harvest Moon task, taking the livestock out to pasture every day, can be automated by buying pet dogs and cats who quickly learn to tend to the livestock in your stead. The only frustrations I found with the game's control scheme are that digging trenches can be tricky and it's easy to accidentally eat a held food item that was meant to be given to a villager instead.
Speaking of villagers, there's a good crop of them in Two Towns, and the developers have switched up the usual personalities found in Harvest Moon games. For instance, the doctor is sexy and mischievous instead of solemn, and the local blacksmith is a weird little dude who is obsessed with pandas. The woo-able bachelors and bachelorettes have a nice visual design and are all appealing people in their own way—the odder personalities have been reserved for the side characters. Although the characters have a limited repertoire of sayings, what they do say is well-localized and does a good job establishing their personalities. It's nice to see a cast in which few of the characters are limited to simply being "the guy who loves fishing too much."
Approximately once per week, Konohana and Bluebell compete against each other in a cooking contest. The contest will feature appetizers, salads, main dishes, or desserts each time. Participating in the contest is the main way that the player repairs the relationship between the two towns' mayors, so the player will need to cook the required kind of dish each week. The main challenge of participating in the contests is obtaining quality ingredients by raising livestock and fertilizing crops. Even when the player creates a high-quality dish, however, the other villagers on the town's team can sabotage the contest results by cooking poor dishes. This random element can be frustrating until the player realizes that the friendship between the mayors goes up either way. It's unfortunate that what could have been an interesting challenge is instead mostly a random event.
Beyond the cooking contests and the usual (generally unremarkable) village festivals, a new bulletin board request system helps keep gameplay moving forward. Characters in both towns will post requests on the local bulletin board. Fulfilling these requests nets the player a reward and increased friendship with the townsperson. Unfortunately, the message board quests all involve fetching an item for a townsperson. While sometimes the townspeople tell a story after being given their item, the quests repeat frequently, and hearing the same long-winded story several times can get old. This request system has a long way to go before it lives up to the great system found in the most recent Rune Factory games, but it does at least help give players small goals to reach and a way to structure their gameplay.
Pacing issues are common in the Harvest Moon series, and there are several that plague Two Towns. While crops and animals grow and improve at a nice, steady pace, the friendship growth between the player character and villagers is glacial. Even when filling many requests and giving characters gifts they like every day, it takes some time before the player will see an increase in friendship level. Making friends with wild animals moves at an even slower pace and may not be worth the effort, as the only benefit to befriending the wild animals is the occasional gift from them.