Harvestella is a JRPG. This may seem like an incredibly obvious thing to say about a role-playing game from Square-Enix, but it’s the most important thing to know going in. Billed as a life sim RPG, and with a title that evokes farming, you could be forgiven for expecting something along the lines of Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, but with more monster biffing. Instead, Harvestella sits firmly in the epic quest camp, with your adventuring being supported by your rural activities.
Anyone looking to build a pastoral paradise is going to be sorely disappointed, as the farming elements are somewhat rudimentary. Even calling your property a farm is a bit of a stretch. Even after a few upgrades, my plot is more of a large garden, maybe an allotment, if I’m being generous.
If calling your plot a farm is overselling things, the initial description of your dwelling as a shed is quite the opposite. It’s a lovely cottage that I’m pretty sure has more square footage than my two-bedroom house. The downside is, much like the farm, there’s no customisation to speak of. While some new bits of furniture pop up during the game, like a kitchen you have to unlock early on and an impressively large tome that keeps a record of your various farming and fighting achievements, it’s all pretty static. Character customisation is also limited. You can pick your gender presentation as well as your eye, hair, and skin colour, but that’s it. In a nice touch, you choose your pronouns, voice, and body separately, although the latter is between androgynous and girl. No beefcake adventurers for you!
That’s not to say that the farming and crafting side of things aren’t well integrated with the adventuring. Your stamina bar only regenerates when you’ve been fed. Food and drink provide all the healing, curative, and buffing properties you’d expect from potions and the like in a typical fantasy RPG. You also craft tools such as repair kits and bombs, which are used to open hidden areas and shortcuts while your dungeon delving. Excess produce can be sold for cash, and one of the most reliable sources of income is cooking up various dishes for the inns located in each town.
Most importantly, the life sim side of things gives a solid foundation for your adventures. You start the day, water and harvest your crops and collect the produce from your animals, a process that only takes a couple of minutes, thanks to some well-positioned quick travel/save game crystal thingies. After any replanting, you set off on whatever quest or mission is on the agenda until 10pm when your character gets tired and their stats drop. Then you return home to sleep and start all over again. The clock pauses whenever you’re in a cutscene or a conversation, so if you’re doing a lot of side quests, a day can last a good while. Otherwise, it only takes 10-15 minutes of real-time to get through a whole day. This lends a pleasing rhythm to proceedings, cutting things into bite-size chunks and adding that moreish, “just one more turn” feeling.
Constantly jumping in and out of dungeons because of these time constraints could get frustrating, but they’ve been cleverly structured to work with the rhythm
Constantly jumping in and out of dungeons because of these time constraints could get frustrating, but they’ve been cleverly structured to work with the rhythm. Dungeons come in two types, they’re either areas of wilderness that you’re trying to cross, after which they can just be walked through on the world map, or they’re locations with objectives and a big boss at the end. In both cases, they’re filled with shortcuts to unlock as you progress, making it quicker and easier to reach the same point next time. It’s a bit like working through an area in Dark Souls, except instead of retreading the area because you died to an undead monstrosity, it’s because you had to go back home for a kip and to make some more snacks.
As for the combat itself, it’s…fine. It’s simple real-time fare with a single attack button, dodging, and up to four different special skills on cooldown timers. They’re mostly big attacks, but there are some buff and debuff abilities too. It’s livened up somewhat by a job system, which I’m always a fan of. Every time a new character joins the party, it unlocks their class as a job for the protagonist. You can have up to three of these equipped at one time and switch between them during combat, though there’s a short cooldown involved. Enemies have elemental weaknesses and resistances, and what little depth there is comes from matching up your party and jobs to deal with the spread of foes in a given dungeon. Bosses can be “broken” by doing enough damage of a type they’re weak to, which gives you a period of bonus damage. Achieving a Double Break allows you to unleash a pal’s special move. Like the farming side, it’s all fairly basic, but it meshes together well.
It may sound like I’m being quite down on things, but the truth of the matter is that I’ve enjoyed the game immensely. As I may have mentioned, Harvestella is very much a JRPG, which means that it’s stuffed full of over-designed outfits and charmingly pretty towns, and is annoyingly handholdy for the first hour or two. It’s also absolutely bonkers and I am a sucker for an over-the-top anime-esque rollercoaster of a story. The game opens with your amnesiac protagonist turning up outside the village of Lethe (I see what they did there) not long before a big crystal thing containing a girl from the future plummets out of the sky. Before you know it, you’re off to save the world by fixing some even bigger crystals called Seaslights and that’s before it starts delving into light, fluffy subjects like the meaning of life and death, or the nature of faith.
Side quests ground things and let you get to know the gang of misfits you accumulate along the way. A lot of these go straight for the cheap melodrama and had me reaching straight for the tissues. They have an orphanage in the second town, folks, the second bloody town. Harvestella goes straight for heartstrings, through your ribcage if necessary.
Overall, the presentation is lovely, especially the music, however it’s very obvious that it’s a Switch game. The limitations of the hardware it was designed for are clear and there are few graphics options to tweak. It’s not entirely a negative though, as it felt like a game well suited to curling up on the sofa with a handheld, and it made me really wish I had a Steam Deck to play it on.
Harvestella is far more than the sum of its unexceptional parts. Almost every aspect of it just does the job it’s supposed to do, but it all slots together so well that it becomes a compulsively enjoyable experience. If you’re looking for a meaty JRPG to gobble up in palatable chunks over the ever-longer nights, you absolutely cannot go wrong with this one.