Still the Hero!
By now, the Harvest Moon series has the farming sim down to a science. Introduce a young hero, throw in a catastrophe that threatens the land, and let the player farm their way to fame and glory. Of course, there are always little variations on this formula; sometimes you’ll have to raise a family and sometimes there will be some bonus mini-games to participate in, but when all is said and done, Harvest Moon is all about the farming (and subsequently saving the world, of course.)
The latest game in the Harvest Moon library, Hero of Leaf Valley, is also all about the farming. But, instead of feeling stale like some previous games in the series have, Hero of Leaf Valley introduces a number of subtle new elements (and reintroduces some old elements) that help this title feel like the freshest Harvest Moon title in awhile. And the brilliant thing is most of these elements aren’t essential to the game. If you want to play through the game like a regular Harvest Moon title, farming until your dreams come true, you can do that; if you want to focus on working, part-time jobs, or forming relationships, you can do that too.
The plotline in Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley revolves around an evil company trying to acquire Leaf Valley’s beautiful rolling hills for their new amusement park. Fortunately for you, this company can’t do anything with the land for two years, and they have made you an offer. If you can come up with 50,000 gold before the next two years, they will give up their claim to the land. It’s a pretty nice offer from a heartless corporation, but making the money in such a short amount of time can seem like a rather daunting task at first. Fortunately, this is where Hero of Leaf Valley gives you options. You could become the lone hero and raise the 50,000 gold by yourself, or you could form relationships and have townspeople help you gather the money. The way you play is up to you, and there are a total of 16 different ways you can save Leaf Valley, each with their own unique ending.
The farming mechanics are nearly identical to previous Harvest Moon titles, and players who have had experience with prior titles from the series will feel right at home with the grid-based controls. In fact, the game almost assumes familiarity with the series, and it completely skips the tutorial phase. Of course, if this is your first time with a Harvest Moon game, you can check out the menu for some gameplay pointers, but by and large, this game plays directly to its fans, which is a good thing, as playing through a planting tutorial in a Harvest Moon game for the umpteenth time can be a little draining.
Although the farming aspect of the gameplay is almost identical to prior titles, some subtle improvements have been made to the game’s menu interface. While previous titles have utilized a shortcut menu, it has been streamlined in Hero of Leaf Valley. Once you press the shortcut button, you can choose from either an item or a tools list, and then directly equip your item. The streamlined shortcut button makes it a lot easier to do some rapid-fire gardening, and you won’t have to worry about it taking all day to hoe your field and then not have enough time to plant and water.
The livestock aspect in Hero of Leaf Valley has also been streamlined, and there is a renewed focus on keeping two service animals: a horse and a dog. Although this feature has been present in some really old Harvest Moon titles (like 2001’s Save the Homeland), it has been downplayed in recent releases, and it feels brand-new in this title as a result. Raising a horse is particularly rewarding, as it gives you a fast and efficient way to travel around the town, and you can use a simple whistle command to bring the horse to your current location. As far as raising general livestock goes, Hero of Leaf Valley has all the livestock options you’ve come to expect from the series, and you can raise chickens and cows to sell in town.
Although the game’s main objective is to save Leaf Valley, there is some post-game content, which includes the dating sim portion of the game. More personal action sequences will become available once the valley has been saved, and you can eventually marry one of the ladies who live in the village, or the Harvest Goddess. Although this portion of the game is completely extraneous to the main goal, it’s a fun addition, and it adds some replay value for those who like to experience all the dating sim possibilities.
Visually, Leaf Valley is a lush, green environment that features a rich and vivid color palette. However, the world does feel a little constrictive at times, and compared to some other recent Harvest Moon releases (like Tree of Tranquility), the world of Leaf Valley can feel a little tight. There is also an above average amount of loading screens in the game, but fortunately these screens only last 1-2 seconds. Music in the game is pleasant to listen to, but if you are playing for a long stretch of time, it can become repetitive quickly.
Harvest Moon has been around for more than a decade, and even the biggest fan of the series can tell you that its most recent iterations have been little more than lackluster. However, even though some titles have shown Harvest Moon’s Age, Hero of Leaf Valley shows the game when it’s at its best. Sure, the formula is essentially the same, but there isn’t much room in the series for bombastic innovation.
The subtle changes made in Hero of Leaf Valley make it a standout title; one that fans of the Harvest moon series should definitely check out, even if they have missed some of the past few iterations.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.4 Graphics
The world of Leaf Valley is quite charming, but there isn’t too much to discover and some areas look a little barren. 3.9 Control
Controls are easy to use and intuitive. The quick menu selection is very handy and makes tool switching a breeze. 2.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is nice, but repetitive. 3.7 Play Value
Like all Harvest Moon games, there is considerable depth to the farming/livestock element, and the relationship sim aspects can add some replay value for committed individuals. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.