If you've visited the site recently, you'll likely have seen our review of the brilliant Rune Factory 3, and heard all about how hard it was to tear ourselvs away to write the review. Another week down, and another, pretty similar game dropped through the letterbox in the form of Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar. The latest in the rather successful DS series of farming/life simulator games, Harvest Moon is the arguably more girl-friendly version of Rune Factory, and basically involves a lot of the same principles, just with less battling. The games generally revolve around you moving to a new town and taking over a conveniently abandoned farm, as you pursue your dream to become a farmer. Between growing your crops and tending to your animals, you'll be helping the villagers out with a multitude of problems, and getting the town out of a fix – in this case, Zephyr town's Bazaar is failing, and they want your help to get it back to being the best Bazaar in the region.
Felix is the mayor of Zephyr Town, and has a rather scary laugh...
One of the issues we had with last year's Sunshine Islands
game was quite how pushed for time you seemed to be if you had more than nine turnips to care for, seeing as it would often be getting dark again by the time we'd finished watering our crops. In Grand Bazaar, they seem to have gone to the other extreme, giving you plenty of time to wander round town at your leisure – in fact, we sometimes found ourselves going to bed at one o'clock in the afternoon in the early days, just because we seemed to have nothing else to do that day - but as our farm, our friendships with the people in town, and our list of jobs grew, the peace and quiet didn't last long. They've also got rid of the second fullness bar that plagued our enjoyment of the game last time – this bar needed to be constantly refilled by eating stuff, or you'd end up fainting. And when you can only buy food from the diner in the early part of the game – when you're also not making that much money – we ended up being penniless and and passed out in our field quite often... So that's two things we've noticed they've improved before my first day's even really began – it's certainly off to a good start.
The equip menu makes it a doddle to switch between farming implements.
First things first, Felix the mayor of Zephyr Town shows us round, talks through the controls and then takes us through planting our first six turnips. First you need to till the land with your hoe – pressing the R button will bring up a little box of all your equippable items, so you just need to scroll across to the hoe and press A to put it into your equipped slot. Then you just need to walk round your field, and plough a series of squares, pressing B to use your selected tool. Next up, it was time to plant our seeds, which were equipped and used in the exact same way as before – but as a departure from other DS Harvest Moon games, one bag of seeds fills one single square, rather than the three by three arrangement of previous games. Oh, and don't forget to water them once or twice a day, or they'll dry out and you'll be out of pocket.
I don't care about a lost child - just buy some stuff!
Having walked you through the basics, Felix decides to wander off and leave you pretty much to your own devices, as you get stuck into raising your crops, chatting to the villagers and getting ready for the weekend's Bazaar. The titular Bazaar is the new addition for this game, and is where you're able to sell the crops you've accumulated over the course of the week, instead of by just chucking them in a shipping bin to be taken away in the dead of night and sold. Basically, you stand behind the table, where you display your wares, and ring a bell to attract customers – any that are interested will congregate around your stand, with exclamation marks above their heads. Once they've decided what they want, they'll stand in front of the relevant product, displaying a number above their head – press the button the corresponding number of times to give them your produce, and off they'll trot, having made you a little bit richer. You can also wander round other villagers stores and buy various bits and pieces, like Bazaar-exclusive seeds, animals and tools, as well as upgrading your house and storage space. The morning following, the Bazaar sees everyone congregating in the town square as Felix announces the results of the sale, giving out prizes to the top three earners, and the person who had the happiest customers.
As a break from the daily grind of raising your crops, looking after your animals and Bazaar-ing, you get various festivals and events to pass the time – such as 'Harmony Day', where, depending on the season, one sex traditionally gives chocolates to the other; or the various animal festivals, where people compete to have the best relationship with their cow/dog/sheep (not like that); or the Tea Party, where the town's farmer is responsible for bringing some tea leaves along, for everyone else to drink. There's also the winter Starry Night Festival, a special day to spend with that special someone. Aww. Then there's also the Flower Festival, the... and the list goes on...
Flowers are the cheapest gifts to give people, simply because you can find them on the floor and most people like them.
Having failed abysmally at the first two bazaars by not even breaking the 10,000G barrier (when the target is between 15,000G and 20,000G), I decided I was going to pull my socks up and win this damn Flower Festival "like a boss. Between days eight and twelve of Spring, the Flower Festival takes place, and you need to give as many flowers out to as many people as possible – which sounds simple enough, even for me. So I spent every single day of the allotted time roaming the town picking flowers, and then dishing them out – I must have given out about nine or ten flowers every day, I'm that flipping generous. I mean, I could have saved them all for flogging at the next weeks Bazaar and been selfish, but nooooo, I decided to spread some flowery love about town. So, come the last day of the Flower Festival, I was quietly confident as I strolled up to Felix in the town square as he was about to announce my victory over the rest of the Zephyr Town residents. The winner of this years Flower Festival is... Marian?! My name's not Marian. And how could she give out more flowers than me when she spends ALL DAY, EVERY DAY working in the diner?! Is she some sort of cheating flower ninja?!
Having resolved to end her before next year's Flower Festival, I've decided to do the closest thing I can do on a Harvest Moon game, and ignore her like my life depends on it. Maybe, now I've finally found my kitchen, I'll start taking her all my failed attempts at cooking. How do you like that Marian, you cheat?! I've even started a vain attempt to romance Raul (even though he isn't an available bachelor), because he secretly admires Marian – although, she isn't even aware he likes her, so I don't really know what that's supposed to achieve... Oh Raul my love, alas, we can never be *sigh*.
Ah Raul, with your potato for a nose...
You see, a large part of the fun in Harvest Moon - other than farming - comes from romancing the various villagers, with the intention of getting married, and starting a family. It is a life simulation, after all (Parents: don't worry, there's nothing explicit here. Why not check our Parental Perspective for more?). Raul is clearly the best character in the game. He's a little stereotypical Mexican man who runs the local shop, dressed in a poncho and pointy hat with a star on top – a star which pulls faces to match Raul's. And I love his tinkly 'oooooooo aaaaaah' and fist pump whenever he makes a sale. If he was an eligible bachelor, I'd be there faster than you can say 'moustache'. Instead, you get a choice between a few different non-Mexican bachelors (seeing as I was playing as the girl) – who all seem to have some sort of chronic fatigue syndrome, as every time you talk to them before about mid-day, they're all yawning and saying how sleepy they are. While the characters aren't quite as memorable and funny as on Rune Factory 3, they all do have their moments – like Lloyd, who seems to enjoy criticising me for not working hard enough between Bazaars, constantly asking me if it's my job to wonder round town. Not impressed. I know who I'm not marrying.
Having managed to upgrade the Bazaar in the last week by beating the target profit of 15,000G, Summer came, and it was all go – Chen and Gannon from the Sunshine Islands game turn up, announcing they're going to be setting up stores at the Bazaar, and Felix ambushes me on my way out the toilet (it restores much needed stamina, don't you know) to give me a fishing rod and teach me how to use it. You need to look for the various wooden docks that extend into the rivers around town, and from here you can press B to cast your line – once a fish grabs onto your lure, you'll get a '!' above your head in surprise, and you need to hammer the A button to reel your fishy in.
In order to take your chickens outside, you need to pick them up and chuck them...
By now, I'd bought a chicken and a cow, and nearly killed the chicken by forgetting to bring it in at night and therefore letting it get rained on. To begin with, I was a bit worried I'd bought the one duff anorexic chicken, as for the first fortnight or so it was still only on its first bag of food, and it didn't seem to be getting down it at much of a rate, but he soon found his appetite. I also managed to finally find the kitchen, after a whopping sixteen days and two Bazaars (which was hiding through an archway at the back of the house) – you see, the kitchen comes in rather handy for Bazaars, as anything you cooked automatically seems to command a higher price than it's constituent ingredients, so you can milk those turnips for all they're worth. You can choose to either cook without a recipe and just improvise (running the risk of making a few failed dishes along the way, when you get the recipe wrong), or you can cook from a recipe, which Joan from the Zephyr Cafe in town will teach you with each new meal you buy from her. I'd also been so busy making friends with everyone, I'd progressed to one heart in friendship with a few of the villagers – they seem a lot harder to make friends with than in Sunshine Islands though, who seemed to be perfectly happy with just a chat in the morning; these ones seem to demand presents every damn day before they even think about calling themselves your friends...
There are only really two problems I have with the game. First is the lack of a quick-save option – the only way to save your game seems to be to go to sleep in the bed, which causes a day to pass, so if I've just finished watering my crops that morning and then need to save and quit, I have to go back to bed and lose a whole potential day of chatting up people and hoarding things found on the floor. The other Harvest Moon games I've played – and Rune Factory 3 – have all had a diary on a desk in my house that I can use to save my progress, but this one doesn't. Second is that this iteration seems much thinner on story than the other games – Zephyr town has a Bazaar that's been failing over the years, and they need you to bring in lots of customers and bring it up to the standard it once was – but that's it. There's no Sun Stones to collect, no bells to find and ring – you just need to farm and sell your crops. And while the Bazaar is fun, and the characters are entertaining, it just feels like something's missing a bit. Having said that, I've never really found I have a shortage of things to do to pass the time, finding myself spending every waking hour tending to crops, foraging and fishing for things to sell at the next bazaar.
Best. Feature. Ever.
Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar seems miles ahead of the previous game, Sunshine Islands, and has changed everything I had issues with in the past – although the removal of the quick-save diary seems a bit bemusing. The weekly Bazaar is a fun addition, and you start find yourself getting rather obsessed about accumulating enough stuff to flog each week - while it's still a bit thin on the story grounds, I can see myself coming back to this (and Rune Factory 3
) for a while to come. After all, I can't have poor Raul getting lonely, can I?