Harvestella’s Farming Sim Nature Belies Its Narrative Ambition
2022 was a busy year for Square Enix. The company ended up releasing a whole bevy of interesting titles that were not big budget blockbusters, but allowed its developers to experiment more and provide interesting takes on various elements. While it was great to see so many neat lower-profile titles offering new ideas, the other side of that was the market becoming a bit saturated, especially in the fall. This in turn led to many being overlooked, none more so than perhaps the most interesting of the bunch: Harvestella.
Developed with studio Live Wire and released worldwide on November 4, 2022, Harvestella is a blend of farming sim and action RPG set in a world where four giant crystals called the Seaslight ensure stability between the four seasons. The life sim genre has bloomed in recent years, but Harvestella manages to stand out with how it positions its farming sim elements within the game as well as just how ambitious it goes with its storytelling. Make no mistake, the story is Harvestella’s driving force, and it is all the better for it.
Harvestella’s gameplay cycle revolves around spending the early hours maintaining the farm, before spending the rest of the day accomplishing other tasks. While these tasks may involve working towards upgrades and advancements for the farm, a spot of cooking, or side content, it all drives towards being able to progress the main story. All of the farming systems work together to support the action RPG and story advancement, be it as the primary method for gaining healing supplies or earning money to spend on upgrades. While players can freely spend lots of time on their farm and making it as good as they can, it’s very much built as part of a cohesive whole.
Though this means Harvestella’s farming sim elements aren’t as in-depth as other titles, the game fully makes up for this with how hard it goes with story. The amnesiac player character wakes up near the village of Lethe during Quietus. This event sees the populace hidden away in fear, and players learn that Quietus is a season of death that poses a threat to all life that ventures outside during it. Increasing the intrigue, players soon encounter a girl named Aria, who claims to be from the future, and the two start investigating the Seaslights to learn just what is going on this world.
Without wishing to spoil the details, the many twists and turns Harvestella takes are surprisingly hard-hitting. Although Harvestella doesn’t quite aim for the same visual spectacle, there are certain reveals and sequences that wouldn’t be amiss in some of the bigger JRPGs of the current era. Admittedly, some of its secrets can be guessed a decent way ahead of time, but the execution of its narrative is excellent. It is easy to get sucked into seeing where the story goes, and Harvestella is absolutely one of those titles that manages to take the journey and lead-up to the ending and stick the landing.
The fascinating story and world building is expanded by an impressive array of side stories. There is lots of emotion to be found in each of the character’s individual story arcs, as well as in the shorter quest lines focusing on regular villagers, and the writing behind them is excellent. It would also be remiss to not to mention the impact the music has on the narrative and setting of the scenes as well. Go Shiina’s score hits all the right notes. From the relaxing and upbeat pieces for the towns and farm to the exciting battle themes that feature some of his notable vocal stylings.
It’s almost a pity that Harvestella came out when it did, though with the current saturation of the market, it’s also hard to see a time where it would have stood out. Nonetheless, I felt that as the game marks its first anniversary, it was a worthy one to look back on and encourage people to check out. It is a fine example of an overlooked treasure in danger of being washed away by the neverending rush of new releases.