Harvest Moon DS: Grand Bazaar

It’s absolutely pointless to try and quantify the success that FarmVille has enjoyed. Not only has it helped make parent company Zynga into a multi-million dollar publishing powerhouse through Facebook in the span of just a few years, it’s likely that everybody you know has at least heard of it. By contrast, Marvelous Interactive’s Harvest Moon series, which has been quietly churning out solid titles since late 1995, has only sampled a fraction of Zynga’s success, despite pretty much coming up with the idea in the first place. This is more unfortunate when you consider that even the worst Harvest Moon games have arguably more charm and gameplay than anything Zynga has churned out, even if Marvelous Interactive’s series are solitary experiences.

A little about the premise if you’re fresh to Harvest Moon, though: you play as a plucky young male or female who has just inherited a spacious, but unloved, farming estate. It’s your job to turn this forgotten land into a profitable farm by mending to crops and raising animals. At the same time, you’ll get the chance to make friends (and develop relationships) with the population of the nearby town of Zephyr, try your hand at fishing and bug-catching, and even plant some flowers. If this sounds like Nintendo’s Animal Crossing series to you, then you’d be partly-correct, although Harvest Moon has a greater emphasis on progression. While time in Animal Crossing passes in tandem to the real world, Harvest Moon has a fast day/night cycle with calendar-specific events. The fact that NPCs shift location throughout the day, and that your character has a limited stamina meter for how much he can farm, forces you to plan your time very effectively.

Everything you’d expect in a Harvest Moon game is here. There are festivals. You can cook. There are pets. You can get married and have a family. There are mini-games, although this time they can be played with friends in limited multiplayer for new bonuses. However, the main addition to this entry is the titular Grand Bazaar system. Every in-game Saturday, instead of shipping your crops off to some unknown merchant from distant lands via that mysterious box outside the front of your farm, you can opt to take your crops to a local market and compete with other merchants for customers. This does add a bit of Recettear-style flair to the proceedings – there are even decent rewards for out-performing other merchants – but otherwise, it’s business as usual. You buy seeds, you sell crops and you upgrade your farm; this continues until you decide to stop. As near as I can tell, unlike some earlier Harvest Moon titles, you won’t be judged on your game performance by a forest spirit on your departed grandfather in heaven after enough time has passed, which kind of removes any sort of goal.

I really wish there was more to say about this game. The character script is as sharp as usual, although the NPC personalities could have been taken directly from any previous game and I wouldn’t have noticed. The game controls well for the most part, with optional touch-screen controls that do the job just fine, though I found it faster to stick to the D-pad and face-buttons. Presentation, meanwhile, is a mixed bag. Grand Bazaar doesn’t have the tight sprite-work of something like Friends of Mineral Town (instead favouring pre-rendered 3D sprites); there are, however, some neat little graphical touches, such as swaying trees or reflections of the player on the lake. On the audio side of things, there are a number of catchy background tracks present, but you’ll have to put up with some tinny sound samples throughout.







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