Aged like a fine bottle of milk
To paraphrase a bunch of anti-Nazi singing nuns: How do you solve a problem like reviewing a game that's almost 25 years old? The nuns never came up with an answer, but we have to, because this is a review, not a convent, and it's the issue at the heart of this review, after all. Harvest Moon 64 came out in 1999 â the 20th century! â and it certainly plays like it, with clunky camera angles, poor localisation, a dearth of things to do, and music that will drive you crazy with its incessant 32-bar loops.
But no one is coming to the Nintendo Switch Online emulations of N64 games expecting something that could have been made yesterday. There are plenty of people who will gladly gobble this game up from the NSO Expansion Pack service, eyes blissfully blurred by the rose-tinted specs of nostalgia, and to that we say â good for you! We have been that person enough times to know the joy of feeling the warm '90s-flavoured fuzzies running through your blood. But to those of you reading this who are, perhaps, more used to a more modern interpretation of a farming sim â this review is for you.
Harvest Moon 64 is from a simpler time, far closer to the origins of Harvest Moon in 1996 than what farming sims are these days. The series began as creator Yasuhiro Wada's dreams of a rural, pleasantly pastoral side of Japan that is largely gone now, replaced by machines, skyscrapers, and consumerism (a theme that appears in games like Stardew Valley, too). In rural Japan, there's not much to do, and certainly no combine harvesters and automatic sprinklers to help you plant, grow, and reap your crops â everything is done painstakingly by hand, from feeding your cows to watering your fields.
Is it tedious? Oh, yes. Your life will get slightly easier once your tools auto-upgrade after a certain number of uses, which you can cheat a little bit by spam-using them inside buildings, where time is paused, but it's still a pain in the donkey to have to feed all your cattle or sell your crops one-by-one, and it's not helped by your piddly little eight-slot inventory, either.
And let's not forget the harshness of early farming sims, where you'll often find yourself throwing crops on the ground by accident, or sowing seeds one millimetre away from where you wanted and losing half of them, or â like we did â having your horse bravely jump between you and the dirt, resulting in you hitting him with a hoe. And now he's mad at us. MATE. YOU DID THIS TO YOURSELF.
Harvest Moon 64 is fiddly, infuriating, and unforgiving... buuuuut if you're playing on Switch, liberal use of the save-state feature of the NSO games smooths over a lot of those creases. In fact, save-scumming can even come in handy if you want to win big at the horse races. Hint hint.
Speaking of horse races, there are a few festivals to partake in, which break up the pleasant tedium about once every fortnight. There are other events, too, like the mine opening during winter only, or the bridge being built in late autumn, giving access to a new and very boring mountain. But the general feeling of nothing-to-do-ness is sort of the point, isn't it? If you've ever lived in a small town that lost its mind when a McDonald's opened up just off the roundabout, you'll know the feeling.
You will, of course, be expected to marry. Giving gifts and talking to your intended will slowly build up their affection for you, and after a while, you can pop the question with the series' equivalent of an engagement ring: the Blue Feather. Or â because this is a janky game with a lot of bugs â you can do what we did, and spam 'A' to show the tsundere Karen your dog 255 times in one day to take her all the way to maximum hearts. Romance is dead, but our turbo button is alive and well, thank goodness.
Unfortunately, marriage ain't all it's cracked up to be. In fact, seconds after proposing to Karen, she asked us what our name was, and introduced herself. Later that very same day, we met her at the beach, where she yelled at us for... not proposing. Girl. Now that we are married, she lurks around our house, talking about laundry. Every single day. There was even one time where we came in to find her in bed, only to enter the kitchen and discover another Karen, who had whipped up a birthday feast for us. If you can teleport, Karen, why don't you help with the farmwork every once in a while?
These little quirks of code will keep coming up, and as we've already mentioned, the localisation isn't great, either. Typos abound, and some things make zero sense â like when we examined one of our cows to find out that its birthday was 'jis020-13', a date format we're not familiar with, or when Popuri responds to us showing her our dog with "Hand, huh?" There's even a typo on the start screen, where Natsume's name is spelled 'Natume', which feels like a pretty bad oversight. We don't expect this game's bugs to be ironed out a quarter-century later â especially given that the developer, Victor Interactive, no longer exists â but it really makes us appreciate the diligence of modern devs and their thorough patches.
Overall, dunking on how janky and empty Harvest Moon 64 is feels like getting mad at an aging actor for not being cute anymore. Though its jankiness is hard to forgive, the lack of things to do is only so obvious because we've had 25 years of development in the farming game genre. If you want to play something that's better, then you can literally follow the evolution through Back To Nature, Friends of Mineral Town, and the new-ish remake of Friends of Mineral Town â all the characters persist, but the world is bigger, the mechanics more forgiving, and the characters more fleshed-out.
But if you want to experience history, soak yourself in the waters of nostalgia, and learn to appreciate how good we have it these days (and you already have the Nintendo switch Online Expansion Pack)... then give Harvest Moon 64 a go.
Harvest Moon 64 can't hope to stand up to modern farming sims, but sometimes it's nice to get a reminder of how far we've come. If you have a shred of nostalgia for this one, you'll have a great time, especially with the added bonus of easy save-scumming, and you should add a couple of points to the score below. For anyone else, the jankiness and tedium might be too much to bear. Just make sure to play it with a guide, because this game tells you NOTHIN'.