What does one do when one is left a farm in the will of a beloved grandfather? One farms one's arse off, that's what one does - and so must the protagonist in Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town if he wants to make anything of himself.
FoMT continues the scenario of Harvest Moon: Back to Nature... and the scenario of all the Harvest Moons, for that matter. The player has to build up the farm from scratch by clearing the field, planting and tending the crops, and eventually caring for animals. The player may do this in any order they please, but they only have three years of game time to make the farm profitable. Fortunately, since there's no going back and reloading old saves, only the least agriculturally-inclined will fail and get kicked off the farm. Once the three years are up, the player can continue playing until the end of time.
There are social fruits to reap, as well. There are five girls in town that the player (via their male-only avatar) has the chance to marry. Courting is done by talking to the girls, offering them gifts, and participating in festivals with them. The girls' affections are measured by the color of the heart that appears when talking to them. A red heart means that they are open to any proposition. Act fast, though - pretty girls go fast in Mineral Town. There are five bachelors in town - not including the player - so it is possible to miss out on marrying, and lose that entire aspect of the game. Sure, a guy can have tons of fun hangin' out at the ranch with the dogs and chickens, but they just don't fulfill the same needs. At least there's always someone to talk to in Mineral Town - there are at least 27 major NPCs that the player needs to deal with on almost a daily basis.
Harvest Moon's RPG advancement comes from the upgrading of farm and tools. Over time, new diversions and sources of income become open to the player. One of the first is animal husbandry, but there are also less predictable and farm-oriented ones. As astute readers have noticed, the name of the game is not Friends of Humus Town, and indeed, there is mining to be done around these parts. There are two mines in the game, and though they take away from valuable farming time and energy, they are excellent for making cash in the winter. The ores, which can be found using the basic farming tools, can be sold for an instant profit. There is a bit more involved in fishing. Once the line is pulled up, the catch can be sold, given away, or bred. Fish farming is farming too. Then there are the fun, no-experience-required activities, such as cooking various meals or foraging for fruits in the surrounding areas.
All of this is typical for a Harvest Moon game, but FoMT does make some positive changes, specifically when compared to Back to Nature. Namely, the days are shorter, so progress arrives at a more agreeable speed. It's easier to keep up with it too, since the accursed dash is gone, and replaced with holding the run button while walking. The town is supposed to be bigger, as well.
Despite the GBA's supposedly inferior hardware, some are also proclaiming FoMT's victory over Back to Nature's graphics. Certainly, a strong argument could be made that the directly-overhead, solid sprites of this title beat out Back to Nature's unnatural polygons. Indisputably, Mineral Town is the best looking of the handheld Harvest Moons. Its localization is shaping up nicely as well, but the music is as boring as ever. Hey - it's all part of the experience.
Both Nintendo and Natsume are singing the joys of GBA/GameCube connectivity. FoMT's partner in crime in this endeavor is HM: A Wonderful Life, and connecting to it will allow GBA players to trade items and animals between games, and visit A Wonderful Life's Forget-Me-Not-Valley. Will the hybrid crops and new animals (ducks, goats) that the GameCube title offers be among the possible trades? Only time will tell.
The Harvest Moon series has been appeared on more system than perhaps any RPG series ever, and its success over the years has silenced the doubters. With Friends of Mineral Town, the series is showing that it has no intention of slowing down.