A couple of months back, I wrote about how Harvestella is unironically the Dark Souls of farming sims. And while I still stand by that statement, I wish I could rewrite it because now, at 101 hours deep, I’ve gained a fresh perspective. That Square Enix’s RPG farming sim hybrid is one of the best games in recent years. And it hurts my soul to see it not getting the praise and popularity it oh-so deserves. Let me explain why.
Harvestella Has a Drastic Shift in Tone
I was five hours in when I wrote that piece and had barely gotten past the first dungeon. Back then, it felt like a pretty decent balance of combat and farming, which was tricky in its own right, especially with Cres charging an arm and a leg every time I died. But as the time ticked by and five hours became 50 and 50 became 100, the tone and gameplay dramatically shifted.
After Chapter 3 ends, the story quickly goes from zero to 100, and Harvestella no longer feels like that cozy Rune Factory-like story. The pace ramps up, turning into a sci-fi trip that – as spoiler-free as I can be – would give The X-Files a run for its money were it still airing today. Everything you think you knew in Chapters 1-3 is turned on its head.
This Twilight Zone-like tonal shift makes the game equal parts brilliant and disappointing. But it is disappointing only because it feels like if it had this change of epic proportions much earlier, perhaps more players would have stuck to it to see the experience through. I personally know of three people who played around 10 hours of Harvestella and called it a day, and that’s not saying that they definitely would have continued had the gameplay gripped them more earlier on, but they might have. And that makes me sad because of how absolutely phenomenal the title turns out to be in its later sections.
It Isn’t a “Farming Sim” and I’ll Die on That Hill
Calling Harvestella a simple “farming sim” is an injustice and isn’t giving the game the credit it needs. It isn’t a farming sim – it’s a JRPG with farming elements. Yes, planting crops and selling your harvests is a crucial part of day-to-day life, but you’re not just doing it for the sake of it; you’re doing it because you need to survive. You need to grow fruits and vegetables to cook meals so you can venture out into challenging dungeons to collect materials to upgrade your weapons. You need to craft various machines to get better accessories and remove Quietus from resources so you can upgrade. Everything you do serves a more significant cause: beating the living crap out of monsters and making it to the endgame.
The official Steam description for Harvestella calls it “an all-new life-simulation RPG” and it’s the “simulation” part that lets it down, as evidenced by the Steam reviews. “Save yourself the trouble and either go play a real farming game like [Stardew Valley] or [Rune Factory], as farming feels like it was added last min,” one critic wrote, but this only serves my point. If you go into it thinking it’s just another Harvest Moon-like farming simulator, you’re going to be disappointed. And I’ll go as far as to say that Square Enix somewhat failed the game with its marketing, putting too much emphasis on the farming aspect and the seasons in promotional materials and gameplay snippets.
Yes, they showed the combat and dungeon crawling, but the grave error here is that most people went in with the idea of it being a farming sim with battles on the side rather than the other way around. Your farm supplements your journey as an adventurer and world savior, not the opposite. Most of my many hours playing have been spent in combat and earning upgrade materials rather than planting crops and going fishing.
Harvestella is One of the Most Underrated Games in a Long Time
Returning to the fact that I have 102 hours in Harvestella without running through it a second time is simply proof that the game holds much more meat than first meets the eye – and I haven’t even finished my playthrough yet! To say that Square Enix’s RPG is underrated is actually an understatement: it is tragically underrated. Criminally so. It deserved a bigger spotlight and a more significant score than the 73 critic and 3.9 user numbers it received on Metacritic. I’d give Harvestella a 9/10, personally.
And, because I know I have to address this somewhere, it’s OK to disagree with me if you played it and hated it. That’s what opinions are for. But if you did only play for a handful of hours, I urge you to give the game another go, at least past Chapter 3, where things shift. And if it still doesn’t click with you, totally fair.
If you’ve yet to play Harvestella and are a fan of JRPG and action gameplay, maybe pick it up when it’s on sale. I’d suggest you play the demo, but it isn’t a proper accurate demonstration of what it is in the end.
Let me end by saying this: you’d better make Harvestella 2, Square Enix. It’s what the IP deserves.