Natsume recently announced a new in-house Harvest Moon title, bringing the series to a few new platforms. Harry Papadimitriou got the chance to try out the Nintendo Switch version of Harvest Moon: Light of Hope at this year's E3. The game is heading to PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch at a currently unannounced date, with Rising Star Games publishing the title in Europe.
At this year's E3, Natsume showcased Harvest Moon: Light of Hope on the Nintendo Switch, with the game also coming to PlayStation 4 and PC. Notably, the game features a more robust plot than is typical of the series. The story begins with the player setting sail to get away from it all. Unfortunately, he encounters a storm and finds himself on an island in a town also heavily damaged by the storm. The plot then revolves around restoring the town and the island's lighthouse, and discovering why the town is in trouble.
Like in previous games, the main gameplay revolves around farming, tending to livestock, and collecting materials, which can also be used to repair buildings in the town. A number of new animals have been added, including the brown cow that produces chocolate milk, which is a great improvement to the regular cows available in previous games if you ask me. The game also has a new quest system, and in the demo these quests generally revolved around gathering the right materials. Every day the player can perform a number of the aforementioned actions, depleting a stamina bar which can be replenished by sleeping. As players fix and grow the town and farm, more areas become available, with increasingly rare materials. In addition to the town and farm, in the demo I was also able to explore a beach area, and other areas mentioned but not available in the demo included swamp lands and mines, offering a bit of variety.
Most actions in the game can be done with a single button, with actions being contextual to the tile on which they are performed. Rather than selecting actions from a menu, the game maps the actions available for any given tile to a single button (when only one action is available), or lets you scroll through them with shoulder buttons in the few cases with multiple options. For example, to plant a seed on a tile you might first hit the B button on the Switch to clear anything on that tile. You would then hit B again to till the soil, and B again to bring up the seed menu. Here you can scroll through the seeds using the shoulder buttons, and hit B to select the seed. You then hit B to water the seed, and so on and so on. This keeps gameplay simple and intuitive, avoiding the need for navigating unnecessary menus. This system does have the danger of leading to unwanted actions — for example, accidentally targeting the wrong tile, or chopping down a tree you wanted to keep, but the gameplay consequences of such a mistake are minor and outweighed by the benefits.
Speaking of tiles, the game features a very tile-based look, and retains a visual style similar to that of Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories. It's very reminiscent of mobile games, with overly smooth sprites and tiles that lack the necessary detail to create an immersive and cohesive world. Instead, the world feels very flat and gamey and I personally found the look of the game to feel a bit cheap. If this were a game targeted to mobile platforms as well, the visual style might make more sense, but it seems utterly strange and out of place for the target platforms. I wouldn't be surprised to see a mobile version at some point.
Overall, the demo was fun and intuitive, offering more of the gameplay we've come to expect from the series. There was a lot to do even with the demo's very limited scope, leaving an impression of an engaging sandbox with many options. The greater focus on story and goal-driven gameplay sounds intriguing, but it wasn't clear from the demo whether the game would deliver on that promise. Fans of the series will likely be pleased by how this latest entry is shaping up, featuring increased depth and improvements to many of the gameplay systems.