The First Day

Dear Grandpa,

Today was my first full day on the farm. The craziest thing happened yesterday. I met a Goddess and these little Sprite guys. Did you know them, too? They say that people normally can't see them, but since I can, I thought maybe... well, I thought I was just going to come here to close things up, but I think I'm going to try to revitalize the farm and help stop the construction of the theme park. I don't want to see all these memories disappear like that, and I've already started to get attached to the people and creatures living here...

I don't even know where to start, though. It's kind of overwhelming. I spent the day trying to learn my way around the valley, but there seems to be a lot more here than I expected. I did meet some of my neighbors, though, including your old friend Wallace. Everyone is a bit confused to see me at first, but quickly treats me like I've always lived here. It's really nice. Seeing the lake and forest made me really realize how important this land is, and so I'm really convinced we need to save this place, now. Hopefully I can find some help with everyone nearby. Everyone seems a little dejected, though. It's not the most optimistic atmosphere...

I did get to stop by the flower shop and grab some seeds to try to start growing plants on the farm. My little Sprite buddies helped me out and there are at least a few seeds planted just in front of the house. I probably should have paid better attention when I would come to visit you... You always wanted to teach me about the farm, but I just wanted to play around. But Nic, Nak, and Flak seem to know what they're doing. I think.

Love you,

Thaao


Now that the fairytale creatures of this land are out of our hair, we can finally control our character and play the game! Actually, the little tutorial bit where the sprites introduce you to the various amenities on the farm and teach you some basic stuff comes after this part. You only get control for a few seconds. But I'm going to be covering some stuff a bit non-linearly because of the nature of this game. It's not going to be extremely non-linear, but there's a lot of repetitive stuff, so I will probably often introduce things in a different order than I encountered them in my actual play.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: Toy in his house

We start the game, and every game day, standing at our extremely tiny table in the middle of our new house. I can't remember if I mentioned this in the intro, because it's been a month since I last updated (oops) but this game is a direct sequel to Harvest Moon 64, and our hero is supposedly a descendent of the protagonist farmer in that game.

The house is where we begin and end every game day, and it has a lot of useful stuff inside to help us manage our ranch life.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: Toy watches the weather report on TV

The first thing we interact with is the television. We have a television, but no bathroom. So we do not bathe, and we poop in our pasture, but at least we can watch our shows! The TV is actually quite useful, though, and even has three different channels we can watch! TV channels are a fun recurring feature in the series, but sadly this game has a pretty boring selection overall.

Channel 1 is the weather report, and is the main reason for watching the TV. The newscaster tells us every day what the outlook for the following day will be. Since this is a time and resource management game, and the weather affects our activities, it's good to know what it will be like in advance. Early in the game, we don't really have many obligations, though, so this isn't really that big of a deal. But animals can get unhappy or even sick when left out and it begins to rain. Plants do not need to be watered when it rains, so this opens up a lot of free time. And the people in town will change their schedules according to the rain, as well. Sometimes it's useful to put off certain activities if you know you'll have more time to do them the next day because of rain, or to get something done because you won't be able to do it the next day. So the weather forecast gives you a general forecast of what kind of time management you'll need to do the following day, to help plan your activities for the current day.

The other channels are pretty disappointing. Unlike some other games in the series that have entire seasons of TV programs to watch or various other entertainment or useful stuff, the other two channels are a horoscope channel and a tutorial channel. If you're new to the game, the tutorial channel can be quite helpful, as each day the characters on the show will learn about some subtleties of a game mechanic or give some management hints. The horoscope channel is completely useless -- it is pretty much the exact same text every day with a different star sign and lucky item in place of the last. To be honest, I never even watch this.

There's actually a relaxation channel that comes on later in the day that just shows pictures of landscapes. I don't really know if there's any purpose to this, and I almost never catch this show anyway. And like most things in this game, the TV does follow time rules, so if you try to watch the TV in the middle of the night, the programs will be off-air, and you'll not be able to see the forecast. But this is easy to avoid by just watching the TV as soon as you wake up, since it's right next to you.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: Toy looks at the calendar in his house

Another useful item in the house is the calendar. The calendar lets you see the current date, and is color-coded so you know what weather season each day of the month falls in. The game takes place over a year that consists of four 30-day "seasons," which function like months. Unique to Save the Homeland are weather seasons -- within each month, days are divided into a "normal season" denoted by yellow squares, a "rainy season" denoted by blue squares, and a "dry season" denoted by red squares. As expected, the weather tends toward rain in the rainy season and sun in the dry season, with a lot more randomness in the normal season. The calendar helps with planning your long-term activities like planting seeds. In other games, the weather is just random, with different chances of rain for each of the four months. I like this feature that they added to the game, and I wish it would have stayed in the series.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: Toy picks up a Very Berry in the woods

We don't really have any chores since the farm is still barren now, so the first thing we do is head off the land when we get out of the house. Well, after watching the little tutorial with the Harvest Sprites that I covered earlier. After exiting the farm, we can go to the neighboring general store, head past the general store to go further into the village, or make a u-turn to a road that leads into Walnut Forest, which is behind our farm.

We head into the woods first. There's a carpenter who lives in the woods along with his apprentices and his granddaughter, as well as some flowers and berries we can collect. A major game mechanic in the series is actually carrying items. When you pick up an item, you will hold it and carry it around. Talking to someone while holding an item will offer the item to them as a gift. Interacting with other objects can use the item in or upon the other object, like holding fodder and interacting with a feed trough. And pressing the interaction button while not facing anything will cause you to toss the item, making it fall to the ground and be destroyed. It's surprising how devastating this actually is to accidentally toss away an item you didn't want to lose. And it's sad to watch your prized crop or egg or something splat on the ground and disappear.

In some games, dropping items on the road or in rivers or other public spaces is considered littering, and it can have negative effects on you in the game. I don't think there's a littering system in this game, so you're free to toss cakes and eggs and stuff at your neighbors' houses and trees and stuff with no consequence to you.

You can also put the item into your rucksack, of course. In some games, you have to carefully manage your rucksack space as it's very limited, but sadly, in this game, you have plenty of space and most of the time you don't have to think about inventory space at all.

We pick up some of the Very Berries off the path through the woods.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: Toy talking to Parsley at the lake

After walking through Walnut Forest, we arrive at Maple Lake. The villagers often take breaks here to go for walks or go fishing, or stop by the Sunny Garden Cafe on the lakefront. There are some more items we can pick up here, like some blueberries that grow near the cafe, and we can pick Moondrop flowers near the road back to Walnut Forest.

We also encounter another important game mechanic -- conversation! There are many residents of the valley that you can talk to. Characters are full of flavor text and game hints, but they also are the key to discovering a way to save the valley, as we won't be able to accomplish the task on our own. In fact, the game is less about saving the land ourselves, and more about supporting other people in their endeavors so we can all work together to stop the theme park construction.

Characters have a hidden friendship value that will rise as you talk to them, and you can raise it more by talking to them regularly and giving them gifts. Giving them items they don't like can cause them to lose some friendship with you. Despite this game being all about the interaction, the actual friendship mechanic is very simple here, and doesn't have the complexities that it does in some other titles in the series. And there's almost no way to lower people's friendship levels, either. I guess it would make the game a bit too challenging at first since befriending people is essential to progressing in the game, where in other games, if you're not using guides, it can be very difficult to get close to some of your neighbors.

In our first day, it's possible to meet almost every character in the game. But I'm not going to introduce everyone right away -- I'll mostly focus on the characters who are relevant to the story ending that we're currently pursuing. The New Game+ nature of the game makes you restart the story from the beginning every time, so even in the game, we'll have lost all of our personal connections and have to meet everyone all over again, anyway!

The guy in the screenshot above is Parsley, a wildlife botanist who is studying the plant-life in the valley. Come to think of it, I don't know if he even has a house. Maybe he lives in someone's barn or just camps out by the lake or something? Anyway, he's not relevant to our current story so I won't really go into him much for now. I'll also not be covering story events that happen during play that are part of story paths we will pursue in later playthroughs. Because they're all just going to happen again anyway. Though ones that only happen once per save file, I'll go ahead and cover. Usually these involve receiving certain items, as your items carry over between games, so there would be no reason to obtain the item again. But often these scenes are relevant to certain story paths, as well.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: Toy and the Sprites give an offering to the Harvest Goddess

Beyond the lake, there is a road up to a higher part of the hilly woods with a small lake tucked away in the back of the area. This area has its own background music, which is a bit mystifying and peaceful. Along with the ambient noises of the river gently flowing from the smaller, higher lake toward the big lake below and the chirping birds and insects, this place has a really relaxing atmosphere. There are also lots of berries, flowers, and herbs to forage here, but it's far out of the way since we have to pass through the forest and go beyond the lake to reach here, so coming here is a bit of a time commitment.

Upon our first arrival, we meet up with Nic, Nak, and Flak, who introduce us to their home. The Harvest Goddess also lives here, and they tell us we can talk to her if we give her an offering. We pick one of the nearby flowers and toss it into the lake, and she comes spinning out of the water, sparkles and all. From now on, other than when she visits us of her own accord, this will be our only way to contact the Goddess.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: Toy does shopping in the Sunny Garden Cafe

The Harvest Goddess Lake is the end of the road, so our exploration in this direction is finished. On the way back, we stop by the Sunny Garden Cafe which sits in front of Maple Lake. This place is run by a cute older gentleman named Wallace who was friends with our grandfather. And inside, we're able to check out another of the core game mechanics: shopping.

We can't run a successful farm simply by picking up random items off the ground. At least, not in this capitalist society! We're going to have to do a lot of trade to get where we need to be. Many places throughout the valley will have these little order forms, and when you look at once, you'll be given the option to buy items or sell items. Each shop has its own inventory of available goods as well as its own list of items they are interested in buying.

For example, the Sunny Garden Cafe sells food items like cakes and tea. These function as restorative items in the game and can be very pricey. At night, though, the cafe is converted into the Moon Garden Bar, which sells a variety of drinks and some savory snacks like french fries or sauteed mushrooms.

Whether it's day or night, Wallace is only interested in purchasing items useful for cooking, since he serves food. We can sell him nuts, berries, and fish, as well as some farm products like cheese and vegetables.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: The sub-menu

Of course, at the beginning of the game, we don't have very much to our name. We start with only 100G in cash, and the only items we really have are a few of grandpa's old tools and the junk we picked up off the side of the road. We could sell the berries to Wallace for a tiny bit of money, but it won't really increase our buying power that much right now, so we just hold off.

Also, just as a note, we can always press the Start button to go an inventory menu where we can rearrange our items, check on what we have, as well as see our current funds and the date and time. There's also a face in the top center of the screen that shows our current condition, which I'll talk about a bit later.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: Shopping at Lyla's shop

We've already spent quite a bit of time exploring the area surrounding the lake and stopping by the cafe. One convenient feature in this and a lot of other Harvest Moon games is that the clock stops moving forward while you're indoors, so you don't have to worry about managing time with conversations in buildings or whatever. You just have to plan for travel time and outdoor activities.

Anyway, we could explore the rest of the valley in the time we have left, but we want to go ahead and get our farm running! So we're going to have to put off exploring for now so that we have enough time to do some chores at the end of the day. We take the road straight back to the front of our farm, but instead of going home right away, we run past the general store into town and stop by Lyla's Flower Shop.

Lyla's Flower Shop is one of the cutest areas in the game. Most of the residents of the valley seem to be very focused on practicality and don't put much into decorating -- everywhere has that same dull wooden color and some basic wooden furniture and some futons and stuff. But Lyla's shop is colorful and adorable! Lyla sells seeds and buys mostly flowers and planting-related items.

We actually start the game with two bags of potato seeds, but that's not really that much to get us started. A great cash crop is breadfruit, which can be harvested multiple times, so we don't have to keep buying new seeds as soon as we get one harvest. The bags of seeds are 40G a piece, though, and we only have 100G, so we can only buy two. But we do have some of the flowers that we picked while we were by the lake, which Lyla will buy from us for 20G each. We have six of them, but I don't like to sell things until I actually need the money at the moment in this game. Items can have other uses besides being sold, and even though Harvest Moon games revolve around making money, I feel like you can always sell items for money, but money doesn't as easily turn back into the items that you lose when selling them. Now, we can easily pick more flowers, of course, but what if we sold them all right now and then wanted to give one as a gift? What if we sell them all at the end of Spring and then find out they don't bloom anymore so we're stuck without any available at all? Money won't help us in those situations, but having the items will. And if we need money, we can just sell something.

So we sell a single Moondrop flower to Lyla, enough to buy ourselves three bags of breadfruit seeds, and then it's time to head home.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: Tilling the fields in the evening

When we get back to the farm, it's already the evening time and the sun is beginning to set. Time in the game passes so that every in-game minute takes about a real-life second to pass, so an hour in the game goes by in about a minute. So while the walk to Lyla's shop doesn't seem very far or time-consuming from the player's perspective, hours can easily pass while you're running around.

You can open the inventory menu at any time to see the current game time, but since that is a little tedious, you can also pay attention to the environment around you. The sun rises, moves across the sky, and sets over the course of the day, changing the lighting outside with it. The people of the valley have routines, and catching them at certain moments can help you guess about what time it is. After a while, you'll get a good sense of game time and won't need to look at the menu too often, and you'll be able to plan your days pretty well. But in the beginning, a lot of people can feel rushed by the fast clock in the game.

Before we can plant our seeds, we have to till the soil. We have a few little plots of fertile soil in front of our house that we can use for planting, and these are the only places we can till and plant seeds on our farm. The soil is actually divided into a grid, with each plot being 4x2 square units in size. Hitting any of the squares with the hoe will cause it to become tilled. Using tools is somewhat similar to holding items -- with the tool equipped, you press the tool action button to use it, and you'll use it wherever you are, interacting with whatever you're standing by. You can tire yourself out swinging your tools at nothing, plus the animation obviously takes a bit of time, so you have to be careful about how you use your tools as not to waste your energy or time. Accidentally tilling a square you've already tilled can be quite frustrating.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: Sewing seeds at night

Once we've tilled some squares, we can sew our seeds in the prepared soil. Each bag of seeds is used on one square of land, which will eventually produce a single crop of the type of seeds you used. The layout is a little ugly since they are rows of four but we have five seeds -- two potato and three breadfruit. And now it's starting to get quite late, too.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: Watering seeds at night

Once the seeds have been sewn, we can finish the chore by watering them. Seeds need to be watered once per day to grow properly, and can die if they dry out. The watering can also can only hold so much water and needs to be filled, so watering can be a very time-consuming task. We grab some water from the well next to the house, and fortunately we only have five squares to water, so we won't have to refill it. But if you're really wanting to cram as much into a day as possible, it's even important to think about how much water you have in your can and refill at moments when the short run to the well can be done in less time but without having to make extra trips to the well, rather than simply waiting for the water to run out before refilling it.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: The sub-menu at the end of the first day

After watering our seeds, we head back into our house to finish up the day. It's a little after 9PM, and we've managed to end our day with no money, but carrying a variety of items we picked up on our adventure, and we've planted five crops which will turn into moneymakers later. If you're curious about the entire first day haul, we now have:

  • 4 Very Berries
  • 2 Moondrop Flowers
  • 2 Weeds
  • 1 Medicinal Herb
  • 3 Blueberries
  • 1 Limestone
  • 1 Iron Ore

I'm not really sure what happened to the other 4 flowers we had; I'm guessing I actually gave a few away to people as gifts to see their reactions or something.

You can also see that the face at the top of the menu has changed a bit. This is because the work we did on the farm fatigued us a bit.

Energy management in this game works with two separate factors: Stamina and Fatigue. Stamina is your current ability to get things done. You need to have enough stamina to do an action, or you simply can't do it. And doing work will cause your stamina to fall. Fatigue is your current well-being, which affects your ability to manage your stamina. Stamina will fall more upon doing actions the higher your Fatigue level is.

Lots of things factor into your Stamina and Fatigue values -- eating and sleeping can recover your status, while doing work will make it worse. Things like working while it is raining or storming, working late at night, and other factors will cause Fatigue to increase more quickly. Going to sleep at a decent time every night is key to keeping yourself healthy, as this is the main way you restore Stamina and Fatigue. Carrying food or buying food at the cafe is a way to restore a bit throughout the day as needed. You can even eat the herbs and berries you find in the wild.

Doing farmwork early in the morning will maintain Fatigue levels better, but it also requires a huge time commitment, especially once your farm is more prosperous with more chores to do, and the people in town have their own lives to attend to and can't just meet up with you or let you in their shops whenever is convenient for you. So you have to think about how much time you're willing to spend early, as well as how much work you're willing to leave for night. Leave too much work, and you may wear yourself out before you can finish your chores, leaving you stuck harming your crops and stuff.

With money and time, Stamina and Fatigue, water, and all kinds of other things to think about, Harvest Moon is a great series for time and resource management gaming fans. But the game is also lenient enough that you can work at your own pace -- if you don't like being stressed for time and trying to cram lots of chores and errands into each day to maximize your productivity, you can keep your chores simple by not taking on too much work to start with. A lot of the challenge in the game is self-imposed, so the game is equally accessible to both heavy and casual players. The time limits aren't strict enough that losing is difficult to avoid, but the systems are intricate enough that trying to complete more by earlier deadlines for your own satisfaction can be very fun.

Save the Homeland Screenshot: The save screen

In our home, we write in our diary to end the day. Writing in the diary is the only way to save the game file, and writing in the diary also is the way to go to bed. Once you load your save, you'll be waking up the next morning, so saving your game is a point of no return. If you forgot to do some chores, your mistakes are saved to your save file with no way to go back. You can choose to go to sleep without saving the game, moving onto the next day, but there's no way to save the game without going to sleep.

There are four save file slots, each with its own color theme. Of course, I choose the pink save slot. And with that, we've finished our first day of our new life on the farm.