Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town
Nothing in life is free; no pain, no gain. Keep these quotes in mind when turning on Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town for the very first time. Instead of the usual ‘fight/maim stuff for experience’, players have to grind it ‘the country way’, performing backbreaking tasks such as land cultivating, seed planting and, of course, harvesting. It’s in the name. Considering this premise the Harvest Moon series shouldn’t be popular, nor should it have millions of adoring fans.
The secret is its charm. There’s no arcade machines to pass the time on, television shows to watch or bars to get drunk in; your time in Mineral Town is spent either working or socialising with the locals, and to eventually raise a family. You’re made to work hard for luxuries and so when you’ve finally raised enough cash to buy your first chicken, you’ll be checking on its welfare each and every day. Time in life is precious, and this is carried over to Mineral Town as well as the rest of the series remarkably well. Will you spend the evening planting turnips or should you go take that bottle of wine to one of the bachelorettes to woo her heart more? Should you go fishing to boost your earnings or brush the cows to improve your relationship with them, thus boosting their grade of milk? Time waits for no man.
The story of Mineral Town is as romantic and innocent as many other title in this series. As a small boy you came across a farm whilst on holiday with your parents, and the kind old man in charge let you play with the animals. The two became such good friends that the boy started visiting during school holidays to help out on the farm, and the two exchanged letters for years to come. One day, the letters stopped coming through the letterbox and, concerned, the boy sets off to the farm in the far away land to investigate. Upon his arrival, he learns that the old man has passed away, and after chatting to Mineral Town’s Mayor the boy gains the rights to the farm. What happens next is down to you; there’s a field of rough soil full of weeds, lumber and rocks and a small town to the North. As good an opportunity to get by in life, if my Harvest Moon instincts are anything to go by.
Mineral Town is a vibrant marketplace and every building can be entered, though not straight from the start. Farms will sell you livestock and all the associated tools and equipment to keep them happy and healthy, and there’s a supermarket with a wealth of seeds, food and items to blow your hard earned money on. As if your time wasn’t stretched enough, town amenities react to the time of day. Shops only open on certain days and some folk will close for lunch; depending on the weather their routine will change completely, going for a walk on a sunny day and staying in at work when it’s raining. The locals are a caring bunch and the information and help you can get from them encourages you to befriend them and even give them gifts. Each has their own personality and tastes and so whilst one may like a wedge of cheese, another will feel disappointed. However, you never feel forced to talk or to part with your items. You can still get by in the game without conversing or socialising with the locals, but you’re also shunning a lot of help to make your farm even more profitable.
In every Harvest Moon title your aim has always been to settle down with a family to carry on your farming legacy, and Mineral Town is no different. There are 5 or so girls working in the town that can be wooed by chit chat, gifts or simply being in the right place at the right time. Each bachelorette has a love rival that competes against you for their eventual marriage, and by being seen with the girl as that rival approaches it boosts the score in your favour. As with everything else in the game, progressing towards marriage is torturous and sometimes unforgiving. The tide will swing for and against you as each season passes and there will be times when you wonder if it’s worth chasing the girl at all; such is life. But the fruits of all this labour are someone who will cook for you in your house, thus regaining health and boosting your stamina to work in the fields for longer periods.
As if all these activities weren’t time consuming enough, each year is divided into four seasons comprising of 30 days each. Certain crops will grow in certain seasons and winter serves purpose to only cultivating fodder for your livestock. It’s certainly possible to have your farm ticking over without planting any crops or rearing livestock at all given the opportunities in the town and countryside, but each consists of a lengthy walk and equipment to match. You’ll find herbs and grasses growing in the wild which differ each season to deposit into your shipping box; early on these give you a good income but as you progress the daily routine of walking becomes tiresome. There are also two mines in the area, one only accessible in the winter months as the lake freezes (and that holds the more valuable rocks and gems) that offer stones to upgrade your tools as well as minerals to sell. The coveted Time Stone lets you teleport around the town to save walking and can be found in the mines but only at the very bottom, which saps your stamina somewhat getting there. The river that surrounds your farm on three sides offers plenty of fishing trips and there’s a beach at the far end of town offering larger catches plus treasure to boot.
Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town is a game of life with a plethora of opportunities and avenues to explore and exploit, all in one tiny cartridge. It’s one of those rare moments in videogames whereby you’re not forced to do anything, but instead feel compelled to contribute and join in. Life in the town doesn’t become a daily grind as each season brings with it various festivals and carnivals to spice things up and offering vast amounts of money and items to win. Mineral Town is, in my opinion, the absolute pinnacle of the Harvest Moon series and is so accessible with being on a handheld system. Its sheer charm and character have won over millions and, in keeping with the game’s character, is time well spent.