Harvestella Demo: First Thoughts

When Harvestella was announced earlier this year, I was mindblown at the art style and how gorgeous it was. It was everything I wanted from Rune Factory 5…and then more! Never mind the fact that this was Square Enix’s first farming sim, so I wasn’t too sure how well it would go, I saw the trailer and it instantly went into my 2022 games wishlist. I knew I needed it and it was going to be a for sure buy, next to Pokemon Violet of course.

And then the demo dropped and I barely made it through work that day, my shift went on for so long and I was just so eager to get started in playing (which is a funny point since I’ve been so busy I only managed to get through the first two or so cutscenes before dropping the game to finish my current project on hand and only JUST finished the demo). The game comes out on November 4th and I figured to celebrate finally getting through the demo, I’m going to replace this week’s Thursday review with a “first impressions” demo review (totally not because I haven’t read a book since Righteous Prey. Totally.) So, here are my first thoughts on Harvestella, based solely on the demo and outside news/rumors.

Will I still get it? Or is the demo bad enough to reconsider?

Stick around to find out!

PROS

It’s drop-dead gorgeous: The first thing I noticed in both the trailer and when I booted up the demo was the artwork and art style. Everything is beautiful and it’s all so shiny. The characters are wonderful, the background is beautiful, and all of the giant crystals (the seaslights) just sitting and glowing in the back, always part of the scenery (and you know how I’m with shiny things and everything’s shiny here). I adored the item arts, the food pictures from the cooking crafts have this lovely realistic art style, yet still noticeably illustrated. So when I’m going about town or exploring the canyon, no doubt, this is one of the key points and pros.

There’s SOME customization: A bit both pro and con, though I can’t judge the lack of options based just on the demo. I was pretty surprised and excited to see the nonbinary option when creating my character. This is something that I’m starting to see in many games that are releasing in the last few years; the ability to choose a male or female form followed by types of voices, but this is the first I’ve seen a nonbinary option. I haven’t seen much of an effect so far, and both female and male are kind of similar in look, but it may affect more things later in the game, especially once I get more dialogue, such as pronouns when being addressed to or talked about. Still, a con here, was that there wasn’t much option outside of gender (3 options), voice (2 options), skin tone, hair color (but not style), and eye color (also no style). Hopefully, there’s more to come later in the game. Maybe a hair salon? I loved the MC’s design though!

I’m hooked on the story: Set in a world whose seasons are governed by four seaslights, the crystals have recently been acting weird; abnormally and not in a good way. It brings a fifth season between the four others called Quietus and it seems that it’s worse and longer with each run. Once Quietus is here, it’s dangerous to stay outdoors and it quickly establishes itself as the “Season of Death.” Somewhere during all of this, our MC (default name: Ein), is found collapsed outside before being healed and rescued by the town doctor, Cres. But, despite his recovery, he’s lost his memories and…Dr. Cres says the best way to heal up is……farm work?? Okay, doctor…whatever you say.

I’m absolutely hooked on the story so far and if nothing else convinces me to buy it, the story alone is enough. But of course, coming from a bookworm, that’s one of the main/first things I look for, right? Between the villager’s hatred of Omens (these huge humanoid, mecha armor-wearing beings) followed by saving an Omen in the forest, finding another girl named Aria (who comes from the future) who also has amnesia, and the seaslight acting off, I’m already deeply invested in the story. There was a point where some very interesting structures show up and even Dianthus (the Omen that Ein helps) remarked that it shouldn’t be there and that was it. The selling point. It sounded like two worlds (or more?) worth of realms are colliding and I’m a complete goner. I must get the game.

Simple Fighting: Having played Astral Chain (and loving it!!) and learning all of those combos, fighting can be a huge turn-off if it’s too complicated. Sure, I love me a good hack-and-slash game like Vindictus. I love putting in effort and skill to beat bosses. I LOVE combat-heavy games. But! Let’s face it. I absolutely suck at fighting games and generally like games that aren’t too heavy on combat, especially if battles are essential in completing the story. Story, characters, and world are the most important aspects of a game to me, so being put off by not being able to beat a level for the 10th time is a massive no-no. Astral Chain, for example, is so combo loving, that if I leave the game alone for a few months, I’d have to relearn it all because I would forget how to fight!

There’s no worry here! Fighting is pretty simple. There’s a skill tree and you can switch from main attack to a boosted attack via a quick single-button switch, but that’s about it. There’s nothing hard and it’s relatively easy to get a hang of and play. I still suck at it, especially dodging, and damn do some monsters hit hard, but if I had to rank fighting itself for difficulty? I’d give it a 2 or 3 out of 10. Simple, just the way I like it.

The MUSIC: Music is another very important thing to me. I knew I loved the music as soon as I turned it on and let it sit on the menu screen. I loved the music that played in-game and the few I’ve already found on Youtube. I find myself whistling tunes all day after a quick run in the demo and I’m looking forward to more of it as I progress through the game. It’s just so pleasant and warming to listen to and it’s different than the usual music I hear from SOS/Harvest Moon or Rune Factory. It’s got a very special touch to it that I can’t really seem to explain other than to suggest you look up a few Harvestella OSTs yourself. Give the Higan Canyon one a try or maybe even the main theme that I’m constantly whistling all the time!

Exploration! There’s so much to explore!! So much to do! Besides the town (which I actually found kind of bland), there’s plenty to discover, especially in the dungeons. Even on your farm (or boring ol’ town) you might find a fishing spot or a hidden nook that contains a treasure chest. Once you reach the Higan Canyon, the place can be huge with multiple corners to look for and different paths that can either diverge somewhere different or you may find yourself linking a forked path back together again later down the road. There’s plenty to do as well, different actions such as fishing, foraging and gathering, finding treasure, finding treasure you swore you found but new ones seem to constantly pop up, piecing together your fogged-out map as you explore deeper into the forest. There’s a lot to do in dungeons besides fighting the monsters and you might even find yourself admiring and resting up at a waterfall, looking through a pile of leaves for an item, or fixing bridges and ladders! I’ve played a lot of games with dungeons and it’s always the ones with little puzzles in it that really helps keep things interesting.

Time Passage: OK, fair warning, down below in the cons, you’ll hear me absolutely hating on the time passage system. It’s so bad that it really made me reconsider buying the game for a hot serious minute right there. However, I do somewhat like it for the realism aspect. Time management is important and while I’m not the greatest at it, it does keep things interesting and real. In real life, if I spent all day crafting 10 times, it’d quickly be nighttime already. In games, you could craft 100 items and time might not even pass unless you had to run out for more ingredients/material. Here, a lot of things take time. Events? Time skip to noon when you’re done with the scene. Crafting? Things could take an hour. Do you want to continue? Fixing that bridge? Need material and time. It’s already 7pm. You choose. I hate it at times, but I can’t help but appreciate the simple realism in it.

CONS

TIME PASSAGE: The same heading as above except angrier and meaner because damn does the time feel angry and mean here. It’s like the planet is disgruntled about its job so makes sure to end the day as fast as possible. The passage of time here is so ridiculously fast, it’s insane! I feel like I blink and it’s noon. Blink again and it’s evening. Again and suddenly you’re in bed.

If that’s not enough, around 6 or 7PM, the game already starts sending you signals that your character is starting to get sleepy. Even earlier in the game, once you hit a certain hour, they even teleport you back home and you aren’t allowed to leave the house afterward so if you missed shipping something, tough luck buddy! This eases off later in the game, being able to stay up so late that you’ll collapse from exhaustion (at midnight; so even earlier than Stardew Valley’s notorious 2am knock-out hour) rather than auto teleport back home.

There are a few main key tasks in this game that you may spend your day on. There’s fighting and exploring the dungeons (and keeping the storyline going), exploring town and talking/making friends with the villagers, and of course, farming/fishing. Time is so fast, however, that you’re really forced to manage your time and choose one or two things to focus on in a given day. Which is fine with me, I’ve definitely spent all day farming and harvesting pineapples (if you know, you know!). However when I’m forced to do so, having no choice in it, then the game feels rushed and being rushed is never a good feeling ever. Even worse, in the overworld, when traveling from one place to another, time passes only exponentially more. The good news is, I hear that Square Enix is looking to fix this part at least, and make it not as broken to place.

Large Maps + Fast Time = Multiple Runs: The canyon was huge, but not really. I’ve faced way more similar-sized maps with about the same amount of enemies and at most, I might have spent a day or two in that dungeon. Higan Canyon took me maybe 4 or 5 in-game days. Between the fast passage of time, the map sized, getting lost, and being a bad fighter, I found myself constantly ringing the bell to teleport back home. Often. Even with the teleporting checkpoints mid-map, it still took me that long to reach the boss area and when I did reach it? I had to head back home because it was already dark, my health low, and I might as well just not deal with it until the next day.

WHY IS EVERYTHING BLUUURY??: I know a lot of people remarked on this, and I believe it was meant to be that way (part of the art style) but the outdoors is so incredibly blurry. I think they were trying to achieve a bokeh effect, but it only made things look blurry. I’ve seen bad graphics blurry when you have to turn settings down to accommodate a computer that doesn’t have a lot of graphic capabilities, but this is different. Someone had mentioned it was like a thin film of vaseline was globbed on top of the visuals and I haven’t been able to unsee that. Indoors, it’s pretty good. Outdoors and far away seems fine as well (that giant seaslight still glows with decent edges) but up close everything’s awful. EVEN EIN WAS BLURRY!!

That’s a lotta cutscenes: I’m perfectly fine with cutscenes, but I know it irks certain people when cutscenes become excessive. Especially given that the cutscenes seriously eat into your already limited budget of hours in a day (and that they’re unskippable) this is something to at least mention. Typically the day starts at 6am, but then a cutscene hits and you start the day at 11am or noon and bam, the quick time passage hits you again. I’m very forgiving to this con though. There were fewer cutscenes towards the end of the demo, and since the demo is limited to 2 chapters or 15 days (whichever hits first), having your time limited AND rushed might make people reconsider. But I know there’s probably going to be so much more freedom once the full game releases, so heavy on cutscenes aren’t a bother to me.

NPCs are kinda bland: There’ll surely be more characters to come, but I kind of felt disconnect from town, especially given that it’s somewhat empty and devoid of people is something I dislike. Then there’s the naming issue. I’m so used to walking into a town where everyone was named and the houses are at least a little different in style. In those games, unless you were a tourist/outsider in SOS: POOT or Island of Happiness, you’re average NPC/villager will be named and have portraits. Here you see tons of people wandering about and called just “middle-aged woman” and it really broke the immersive feeling. Afterall, these aren’t outsiders, these are villagers that live right in town. Even with the huge cast of characters in SOS: Trio of Towns, where there were three villages worth of people, everyone was named and had a personality. Here, even the general store owner isn’t spared from being nameless and that’s kind of sad. Makes me not want to go into town.

Mind your stamina: It’s not fun running out of stamina. In some games, running out means blacking out and if you have some of the older Harvest Moon games, it just means losing the rest of the day you had plans for. In some other or newer games, you straight up get ROBBED of money or items and in Rune Factory 5, the exorbitant pricing was so bad, I nicknamed it “the American Healthcare System.”

Here, it’s no fun either, running out of stamina. Harvesting/foraging, working around the fields, and fishing require stamina. All reasonable. But, to replenish it, you need to eat some food and you’ll gain it back eventually. If you run out of food, that’s when trouble hits. Your stomach is empty, you’re already out of stamina, and suddenly you need to leave. No more fishing, no more gathering or mining, you’re stuck on just talking to people. Heck, you can’t even run without stamina so you’re punished for bad food and stamina management with a slow walk of shame home.

The farming aspect is…just there: It’s just there, like a last-minute add-in. It’s repetitive, as never have crops grown faster in my life of farming sims. Certain crops grow in even just a single day and it becomes just a money-making cycle of planting, watering, harvesting, and dropping in the shipping bin. Rinse and repeat. In a single day’s worth of growing. I used to love my farming tasks, but now it’s just a background gimmick. For all the media and talk about farming and considering the name of the game is Harvestella, the farming sure felt kind of underwhelming. I did see some very interesting breeds though, so I’m sure this will eventually become an aspect I grow to enjoy in the future.

Also, I found it hilarious that when it’s in the middle of growing, there are four plants to a square but when you harvest, only one items is harvested. Where did the other three go?? I’m not even mad. I’m just baffled!

Verdict

It remains on my wishlist! Square Enix heard the community’s feedback and are aiming to fix some things including the traveling speed, fishing hit time, and loading screen length. To me, a company that listens to its audience and is eager to make changes means the game is worth buying; the company and team worth supporting.

Again, like I said before, no matter the cons, the story itself was compelling enough to power through all the bad things. I felt under-leveled and did poorly fighting even basic monster grunts, so I’m definitely worried there, but nothing grinding can’t help, right? And for all the trash-talking I did about the time passage, I felt like being rushed was much more of a demo issue. You only get so many days and here you are flying through it. Once the calendar opens up to freely playing, no matter how fast the days go, it probably won’t matter as much anymore.

So with all that, I’m still looking forward to the release and I’m very much eager to continue playing in the near future. I may no longer pre-order it (which is more of a budget & lack of time issue), but it’s a definite buy.

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Game Review: Death Palette by SleepingMuseum

I decided to take a weekend to gaming, no books just me and games.
Of course, this had actually meant pouring my waking hours into Vindictus and chatting with in-game friends and guildmates, but…after returning from the grocery store yesterday, I wasn’t in a mood for anything, not even MMORPGs. I just wanted a nice and chill Saturday of being lazy…on my phone. While scrolling to download an old game (that had been deleted) I saw a different one instead.

I saw the art, the reviews, and the escape room-like gameplay, and clicked download (free to play). After completing it in a mere few hours, I was left speechless. I loved the game.
From the art style to the storyline and gameplay, I loved everything about it!

It was enough for me to sit down and replace my weekly wrap up post with Cozy with Book’s first ever GAME REVIEW!

LINKS: APPLE STORE | GOOGLE PLAY
TW/CW: Death, Blood, Violence

PLOT & STORYLINE

An art collector pays an artist a visit, someone who has been in a bit of a block, a slump. The art collector presents a painting to the art collector, explains the history behind it and quickly dips out of there. His warnings? To never ever upset her.

“‘Hold on! Be gentle when you take the sheet off. And pay attention to the light and temperature levels. She’s delicate, you know. Carefully, now… Carefully…
What do you see when you look at this painting? You see a girl with a blue flower in her hair, right? Well…
Actually, this painting hasn’t been completed yet.
Maybe the painter died before they could. Who knows what happened.
So, she’s waiting. Waiting for someone to complete her.
But everyone who’s tried has been annihilated.
If you upset her even the tiniest bit, it’s curtains for you.'”

Excerpt of the prologue; exchange between the collector and the artist

You, the player, or rather, “the artist”, is a gloomy and quiet person, chosen to be the painting’s next painter. When first uncovered, there is nothing but a dark canvas, a mass of black paint. It’s devoid of a subject and after the collector leaves, you suddenly gets claw marks all over your body. In a panic, you go to grab your cellphone, only to have the image on the phone turn red, it’s broken. Turning back to the strange canvas and there’s suddenly a girl sitting there who states, “Are you the next artist?” Though the canvas now has a subject, she’s grey-toned and still seems to be unfinished; she’s lacking all color otherwise. Requesting the artist to paint the real her, you gets dragged into another world, a gloomy and just as grey-toned studio, with no escape, not until you can fulfill the little girl’s request; to paint the real her.

The story is interesting and the climax was unique. The ending was honestly heartbreaking, but when you think about cursed objects out there, you either get demon possessions (malicious by nature) or sad/angry/strong memories and emotions attached to them. This painting is no different. You won’t immediately understand the story right from there, but by the end, and after piecing through [in-game] days of notes and dreams [from another person; I believe the original artist], you start to understand the girl in the painting more and the ending is kind of bittersweet.

The story’s chapters are divided by days and parts. There’s obviously the prologue and epilogue, but in between you’re stuck in that other world studio. In part one, you survive up to a certain point and something happens so that you wake up back on the first day and it’s now part two. You, the artist, realizes that this a repeat (she requests the same thing but something is slightly off) and the game will let you know that, instead of it being “Day 1” again it’s “Day 1+.” At a certain point, you reach the same amount of days that ended part one and the Days afterwards would go back to the original numbering labels “Day 5, Day 6, etc.” The game ends on Day 7.

I know that you are supposed to fear the girl in the painting because she’s a cursed painting that has killed every artist that has attempted to finish the original artist’s portrait for the model. But, after a while, you realize that it isn’t all that terrifying or even slightly scary. There’s also a tinge, an undertone, of loneliness and sadness. The end eventually shows you why and everything makes sense.

Speaking of endings, the true ending is the one that I love and ends with a bit of that bittersweet feeling mentioned previously. The other endings (that I know of) are plentiful…and bad. There is literally a whole gallery of ways to die. If you’re a perfectionist or trying to complete the game, you could go ahead and try to find every way to die so you have all the death pictures. They’re not scary photos either and nothing is overly graphic in a real sense because there is still blood or, for one instance, the player’s body was contorted into a spiral… I mean, there’s plenty of deaths, but the gallery is full of silhouette styled art.

CHARACTERS

There are two main, active, characters and multiple, inactive, memory characters. The active characters are, you, the player/the artist, and the girl in the painting. The inactive characters are the original artist (that you dream as) and the previous artists’ in the form of notes left behind.

You are a relatively gloomy and quiet artist. Despite your general frustration, and the desire to get back to the real world, you seem to take up all of the challenges in stride. Even the girl remarks that you are calm and quiet, at least compared to the other artists who, if you can read by the notes, seem to be freaked by the whole ordeal (I’d be too.) The girl also says that you reminds her of the original artist that never got to finish the painting. There’s not too much that’s known about the artist and you’re closer to a silent protagonist, although you do hear the artist’s thoughts (which is greatly helpful) when you’re thinking about hints and whenever you pick up anything.

The girl in the painting is the main subject of the game and she and the painting are supposed to be cursed. From the memory dreams, she’s based on a real little girl, the original model for the painting. Constantly throwing fits, causing trouble and headaches for the staff (maid, kitchen, ALL of the painters), she’s a handful. The old man, who had adopted her, had requested her portrait to be painted, but she does everything in her power to prevent any of the artists from succeeding to do so. She keeps the curtains drawn in her room and throw fits if the artists open the curtains or try to request the painting to be done in another, more lit, room. Without the light source, all of the artists only succeed in painting exactly what they see; the painting’s depicts a black mass…the dark room where the girl stays. You can imagine the constant flow of painters that the old man hires, hoping that the next one is the artist that finally paints her.

Just like the original model, the girl in the painting does the exact thing, making it hard to paint her, getting upset extremely easily if something isn’t done exactly to her liking, and so on. Unlike the model though, the players will die rather than the girl just getting into a mood and kicking you from the room.

Again, by the end of the story, you’ll see exactly why she acts like so (both the original model and the painting [who admits to have acted so so that she could be as close to the model as possible in appearance and temper]). I thought the story was actually beautiful and heartbreaking and loved how it ended.

To finish and beat the original storyline, you have to eventually fully paint the girl, meaning paint the correct colors to her grey-toned shell. The finished portrait is actually gorgeous, with all the different colors to her outfit, and the girl looks kind of sweet.

GAMEPLAY

This is a puzzle game and once you’re in the other world, the studio, you are allowed to click around and try to find any clues you can. There are arrow keys to the side of each screen so you can view that side of the room and if you can’t go any further, the bubble simply doesn’t show an arrow letting you know that you’ve hit the end of the room. In the main room, there is the painting and the arrows will take you around that main room which has doors to other rooms. Depending on what chapter, some doors are unlocked and others are not; there are no keys to track down and it’s just dependent on the story’s timeline on which doors you can access.

The game is divided into chapters or “days” and with each day is a new piece of the storyline. You don’t get to continue on until you have satisfied the girl’s requests for that day. To do so, you much give her what she asks; usually the artist will paint an object with a specific a color.

You need to make sure to pay attention to a lot of things. The game has dreams, your cellphone (that still miraculously works despite it being broken) showing you notes from previous victims artists and your/the artist’s thoughts (as extra hints). From there, you must pick up motifs, or you will have nothing to draw. Clicking around the rooms will help you locate the motifs, which are objects that you can pick up, sketch into your sketchbook, and you/the artist will eventually paint out. The color of the object matters a lot and you can usually get those from the dreams or previous artists’ notes; your phone randomly buzzing to letting you/artist know that there’s a new note from old artists.

Every small detail matters. For example…there was an instance where the girl wanted a peeled apple. You, after finding an apple and adding it to your sketchbook, would paint the apple…but you can’t paint it red…that’s an unpeeled apple, it’s got to be yellow…the inside of a peeled apple. Another instance would be painting the apple in the wrong area and the apple drops and rolls away…in both instances, the girl would kill you in a way that relates to how you erred. The slightest thing would upset the girl and ta-dah, a new death gallery picture. With each successful request, color is added to the girl, piece by piece (her shawl, her brooch, etc.)

Ease of game wise, it’s not too hard. Unlike a lot of other escape room like games, there isn’t too many things to pick up. Usually after exploring around you’ll easily have retrieved all motifs/sketches and hints (colors) and you’ll be ready to paint! The hard part is making sure you have things down right, the perfect combo of which object with which color, or you’re dead. BUT! Even if you die, the game is very forgiving and you start off where you left off, right before you had started painting. No need to go and gather more motifs, it’s all in your inventory already.

If you’re ever stuck or only there for the story, Youtube has videos for walkthroughs and I think I only got stumped once (a cat painting) so I had to consult a video. Otherwise, it was fairly easy and I had finished the game in maybe 3 or 4 hours.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really enjoyed the game. It wasn’t scary and, again, there are minor jump scares (like the painting killing you or a quick leap at your screen) but it’s not scary in the slightest. The graphics are painting like and isn’t stellar, but it adds to the charm of the game. It’s a quick play and it’s free (though I believe there was an option to pay to remove the ads). After the ending, you’re free to go back to a specific chapter, erase progress, and play again. The game is very forgiving with deaths and instead of waking up at the beginning of a Day, when you pick up after a fail, it just plops you back in front of the painting to try again. The story is unique, kind of sad, and ends beautifully. The gameplay is simple and very easy to catch on and the challenges are not too hard to figure out. The hints are sometimes right in front of you and, worst comes to worst, you can just keep trying all sorts of combos (and die a bunch) until the girl is satisfied (or consult good old Youtube.) Overall, a fun little game that entertained me for an evening and I won’t even lose sleep over it.