On Nov. 4, Natsume yet again released its redundant farming simulator under a new title, “Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley.” Since its first installment on the SNES, the Harvest Moon series has been making its way through all of Nintendo’s home and handheld consoles with generally the same story, protagonist and objective — as an ungodly optimistic newcomer in some-serene-sounding-named valley. Before long, you try to establish yourself as a farmer with crops, anime animals and a partner of the opposite sex who lives in said valley.
This simple formula has kept the game series barely alive for the past 10 years and there’s nothing wrong with that. The appeal of simulators is not for fast-paced action, but to live out a sample of everyday life that is not one’s own. It’s to relieve the boredom or stress of one’s own life by living out the boredom or stress of a virtual character’s life. Why go to your local coffee shop when in “Animal Crossing,” you can have a silent pigeon serve you a cuppa joe and a suave dog somehow playing 8-bit music on a guitar? While others have memories of the outside, my childhood was spent meticulously cleaning up my Sim’s home while ignoring the accumulating trash polluting my own hovel. Simulators are often great distractions, yet what happens when you take out this simple formula and have a simulation game focused on one task for hours and hours of gameplay? You get the car wreck that is “The Lost Valley.”
In the midst of an everlasting winter, the player is faced with the task of awakening the Harvest Goddess and restoring the four seasons to the Lost Valley (for once a somber-named valley) via the sheer power of magical farming. This curse is an odd blessing for returning players, because all plants and animals can now prosper in the dead of winter. What better way to reinvigorate a spin-off than giving players the ability to harvest an eggplant from frozen soil? Yet, in exchange for free-for-all farming, the standard, idyllic town that is there to greet every player is gone, along with its usual cast of weird townsfolk. Allowing the player to establish preferred friendships through gift-giving was a defining feature in the “Harvest Moon” series, yet with this feature’s removal from the newest installment, random strangers merely pass by your sad cabin asking for difficult requests and run off at sunset, leaving you forever alone in the cold.
In contrast to previous titles, “The Lost Valley” prides itself on an entirely new feature in its gameplay — terraforming. What sounds like a daring attempt to recharacterize the “Harvest Moon” franchise is actually a sad “Minecraft” ripoff. With your shovel and pickax, the player is immediately limited to what they can create, since building structures can only be unlocked through, again, a series of mundane objectives. The greatest architectural feat the player can hope to accomplish is constructing random staircases to heaven in an attempt to escape the Lost Valley. Furthermore, all the building structures are premade and destroy any hope for true limitless customization that Natsume first implied. Unless weeks are spent completing requests, the player is stuck in the cute, frozen wasteland surrounded by chibified cows and chickens for company.
A definite far cry from its predecessor for all the wrong reasons, “Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley” lacks the customization necessary for its slow-paced gaming style. It’s refreshing to see Natsume revamp its popular series with daring features new to it, but this time it just does not pull through. It’s sad how ironic the title’s game is by losing its main gameplay that made it popular in the first place. If you wish for a simulation game, play “Animal Crossing.” At least the anime animals of that game talk to you.
Rating: 1.5 stars