In the Name of Brownie Farm

Dear Grandpa,

I may have gotten a bit too excited about everything that is going on. Around the time that the summer officially came, I worked myself so hard that I got sick and had to spend the entire day in bed. But don't worry, my friend Gwen was there to help me out. At least, I think. I don't remember it very well.

After that, I decided to be more diligent about taking better care of myself. But everything is still so exciting! I've gotten very close to Nevile, and he can run so fast now! Bob brought him to his farm and we had a race. Nevile won! We even got to race Gwen, too. It seems like Nevile is the fastest horse here, so we're going to enter him in the big race. If everything goes right, maybe we can get them to hold the horse race here next year. Then we'll be able to appeal the theme park construction, right?

Everything is so exciting...

Love you,

Thaao


It's SUMMER TIME!

Our days had been pretty routine by the end of Spring, so there was just a lot of sameness, which was hard to write about. But the season changing is a big deal in Harvest Moon games, sometimes even enough to change your routines up! In our case (and in this game's case, really), there's no real reason for routine to change, though. One really disappointing thing about Save the Homeland is the lack of seasonal crops. In every other game in the series, crops only grow in certain seasons. If you plant too late in a season, you could end up with dead crops when the season changes over, never able to harvest them (and a lot of work to do weeding them all out!). This also means that when the seasons change, you get a new variety of crops to play with, which have their own pros and cons, their own growth times and stuff, and villagers would react differently to them as gifts and stuff like that. You always had the new work of planting a new set of crops at the beginning of every season and stuff like that.

But in this game, it's just... the same four crops for the entire game. Now, this game is much shorter than other games in the series, and it focuses heavily on the interpersonal relationships, so much so that they decided to cut back on the farming aspects of the game. So I mean, I understand it, in a way... but it's still very disappointing and one of the biggest flaws I personally have with the game.

Another big loss from previous entries was the sheep. The last main title in the Ranch Story series (Ranch Story 2/Harvest Moon 64) introduced sheep as a type of animal you could take care of, selling their wool to make money. They were interesting because they only produced wool after a long time, unlike the cows which produce milk every day, so it added a bit of variety to taking care of animals in your barn and stuff. All of the spinoff games released after that included sheep, too, so sheep had become a new staple of the series. Until this game, the long-awaited next main title in the series, where... they are just gone.

But yeah, I guess complaining is not the best way to start out an entry. Let's get on to what is good about the summer in this game!

Save the Homeland screenshot: Picking up a walnut in Summer

The first thing you will notice is that the music has changed! A common trait of games in the series is that each season has its own background music at least for working on your farm, to add to the feeling that seasons are really changing, and to give you a bit of a break from hearing the same music the entire time. I actually love the spring music a lot more than the summer track, but after hearing it for a while as the BGM, the summer music feels very refreshing and soothing.

The most noticeable gameplay change right away is that the items we can forage around the valley have changed! There are some that are still around, but some are gone, and we have some new ones, too, like the walnut in the screenshot above, or the cranberries we can find at the Goddess's pond or the villa. There's a new type of flower that is very cute called Pink Cat.

The other changes are less noticeable, like some villagers will have different little routines, but this is usually pretty minor and subtle.

Save the Homeland screenshot: Staying up until 4AM to see the moon set

I decided to spend the entire day running around and picking up all the new stuff I could find, so I ended up getting back pretty late. So late that everything we did caused us to get tons of fatigue, and I ended up having to eat many eggs to finish up the crops, which only made it take even longer. And then, the moon started to set. This is a pretty rare sight, because you have to stay up past 4AM in order to see this.

There are various indicators of how late it is getting. The most obvious one is that the sun sets and it gets dark, of course. But after that, the music will eventually cut off and you'll hear nothing but ambient noises like crickets and owls. Eventually the crickets will go to sleep or something and the owls will go into overdrive, hooting a lot. And eventually, the moon sets and even the owls get tired of making sounds and you're left in complete silence, other than the sound of your footsteps and stuff. It's a little eerie, really. If you stay up until 6AM, you will just be in your house and a new day will begin. But of course, since you didn't sleep, you won't have restored any of your stamina or fatigue or anything.

Save the Homeland screenshot: Getting a nasty cold

Though honestly, staying up all night can actually be the better option then trying to get in two hours of sleep before the next day. Going to sleep a little before 5AM, we ended up waking up sick in bed the next day. We don't even have the strength to get up and watch TV! We decide we need to take the whole day off, resting up so that we can become healthy again.

Save the Homeland screenshot: Gwen intruding on sick Toy

But something interesting happens! Gwen appears and enters our house, scolding us for pushing ourselves too hard. She gives us some medicine and tells us to go to sleep. The screen turns black (I'm assuming this is to show we're sleeping), and Gwen calls us an idiot when she thinks we can't hear. Well, maybe the character couldn't hear it but we as the player could. Doesn't she know we see EVERYTHING in the text box?!

Save the Homeland screenshot: Gwen leaving in the evening

When the screen comes back, we see it's evening already. Gwen seems to have fallen asleep watching over us. She says good night and leaves. Then we get a message that says we slept the entire day and are feeling better, and the next day starts.

To be honest, I completely forgot this could even happen in this game. Like, I remembered that you could get sick, since that's a pretty common mechanic across the series, but I forgot that you could get a cutscene where a friend comes to take care of you if they like you enough. Because that's not a very common thing.

Save the Homeland screenshot: Nevile looking unhappy

While the cutscene may have appeared like a reward, pushing yourself to the point of making yourself ill is definitely not a good thing. Because we stayed in bed all day, that means we didn't get to do any of our chores that needed done. Nevile didn't get fed, so he is unhappy now and likes us a little less. Fortunately none of the chickens got sick.

Save the Homeland screenshot: Dead crops after being sick

Some of the crops died, though, just from one day of going without water. It wasn't too many; I think in all we lost about six of the 48 we had planted. So about 1/8 of them. Yay math. I think if this happens during the dry season, though, your crops are much more likely to die.

Save the Homeland screenshot: TV weather report

Another thing that changes in the summer in this game is the weather report. The Spring weather reports are generally pretty reliable, with your options being pretty clear. You usually have stuff like an 80% or 100% chance of rain, or a 20% or 0% chance. But now we're seeing things like 65% chances, where we may be more likely to risk leaving the animals out to avoid having to put them back inside and bring them out again. Not only is moving the animals a hassle, but the animals are happier if they get to stay outside. Of course, it's all ruined if they get rained on, though.

Save the Homeland screenshot: Taking a quiz with the Goddess

I decided to spend the whole day at the farm since we lost a whole day being sick. Instead of running out and trying to talk to people and stuff, I stayed and watered all the crops and took care of the animals and everything right away. But I realized there was still a little bit of time after all the chores were done, so I raced off the Goddess Pond on Nevile (who can run pretty fast now) to throw a tomato in.

The Goddess appeared, but instead of her normal dialogue, she told us that wishing time was over for the day, and asked instead if we wanted to "take a quiz." I said yes, and she said we were walking through the forest and saw an animal, then asked us what kind of animal it was we saw. I answered "a small, scared animal," and she replies by saying this is a personality quiz, and the kind of animal we see is the kind of person we are. So, I am a small, scared little weakling I guess.

This was another thing I completely forgot could happen in this game. While I was little annoyed to miss out on wishing time, it was fun to see this little feature that I otherwise would have left unnoticed.

One interesting thing about Harvest Moon games is that players tend to typically get into a strict routine as they play -- doing the same things in the same order every day. It helps you make sure not to forget your chores and stuff like that. But at the same time, being so strict about your routines can make you miss out on various things. There are often small timing windows for various events, and if an event happens during your normal time you spend on your farm or something, you may end up never running into it. Of course, as you play, your routine changes as you add and remove chores and stuff like that, but there's still a lot of chance to miss out on various things by accident.

Very little is permanently missable, and usually that which is gives you huge opportunity to find it. And usually if something is missable, it's a branch in a path where you inevitably will have to take one or the other. But this is why Harvest Moon was able to thrive, I feel, because this made it into a very social game. Everyone had a different play style due to the open nature of the options available to you (though Save the Homeland is probably not the best example of this since it has fewer options for things to do than the rest of the series) and players quickly realized that their friends were having very different experiences while playing, and it made it fun to talk about. I remember when Harvest Moon 64 came out, I was in middle school, and my friends and I bought a copy of the game together. The three of us would trade the game to the next player in line every Monday at school, and spend the week talking about our progress while the others played. Even though we each had to go two weeks at a time without being able to play, it was still fun because we could compare what was happening between our save files, and we were learning about all kinds of things we didn't realize were even in the game, or hearing about how the others did something differently than us.

This is also something I miss in the current games. Somewhere in the late Nintendo DS era, the games started becoming nothing but barely-not-linear collectathons. Everyone had the exact same experience for the most part, and there was very little accounting for individual play styles. Basically you had to go at the game's pace, and things were unlocked one by one as you completed the intended tasks. Sure, you could accomplish the tasks more quickly or more slowly than someone else, but in the end, you're doing the same tasks in the same order for the same reason as any other player. In earlier games, you could aim for the goals you wanted and work toward them at your own pace. In newer games, you basically just have to keep playing how the game wants you do until you eventually get to the thing you want.

Even Save the Homeland is more open than newer games, even with its huge lack of variety. So far, I've been able to make the choice of what to focus on. Part-time work? Raise crops? Raise chickens? Train a horse? Adopt a dog? All of those things could have been done in any order. In newer games, it's things like "grow 50 potatoes and the option to have a chicken will appear, then harvest 30 eggs and the option to buy tomatoes will appear..." and stuff like that. Or in even more extreme cases, the stuff just unlocks after playing for a long time. I remember playing Tree of Tranquility (an obnoxiously linear game) after playing Magical Melody (a gloriously open game) and expecting things to work like the title I had just finished, considering this was the next game in the series. In Magical Melody, the town started out pretty desolate, and you would attract more people to move in based on how you played. If you liked to mine a lot, you'd easily attract a blacksmith, but if you harvest herbs in the mountains a lot, you would attract a doctor... stuff like that. The game evolved based on your play style, and eventually as you got around to trying out everything there was to do in the game, you'd discover everything, but you got to do it in your own way at your own pace and set your own goals. In Tree of Tranquility, however, you were given these "missions" to collect items to make rainbows (like you made rainbows out of like fish and pizza and rocks and ostrich eggs, it was super weird) and then the requirement for a new character appearing would be, for example, "wait 90 days after you finish the first rainbow." I remember wanting to attract a certain character, so I was trying to do everything I thought that character would like, but couldn't get them to move in. So I had my friend look at a guide (so I wouldn't spoil myself) and tell me what the requirement was. He found a list of all the people who could move in and the entire list was just "wait n days after making x rainbows" and you had to make the rainbows in a certain way so there was no real option to do things how you wanted. You just had to keep playing and everything would be introduced to you in order.

That's the main reason I've fallen out of the series anymore; I still appreciate it, but I can't really get into any of the newer games. But yeah, enough of the rant... let's get back to the actual game.

Save the Homeland screenshot: Bob arriving at the farm

We've gotten a lot closer to Nevile, Bob, and Gwen. Gwen now smiles and gossips with us regularly when we run into her out about town. And Nevile is now running quite fast! Bob takes notice of this and comes to visit us on the farm. He invites us to his farm for a friendly horse race, I guess to prove that Nevile is a good horse.

Save the Homeland screenshot: Beginning the horse race with Bob

Gwen is there, too, standing at the starting line, I'm assuming to judge the outcome if it is a close call. She's also standing behind a fence which is kind of funny looking. Bob declares the horse that is in front after three laps around his track will be the winner.

Save the Homeland screenshot: Gwen cheering as we cross the lap line

Gwen watches the race and cheers each time we pass the lap line in front. Well, I assume it's when we pass in front -- I was never behind. Bob's horse is pretty slow and he doesn't even stay tight on the corners, so it's very easy to get ahead of him and stay far ahead. Controlling the horse is just the same as controlling it when you use it as normal transportation, which is the same controls as walking. You just push the analog stick in the direction you want to go. The horse does turn somewhat slowly, so you have to account for that as you move, but we're just going in a circle so it's not too hard here, anyway. The hardest thing is trying to navigate it around your crops when it gets "stuck" in the little wedges between them. Don't drive horses through crop fields, kids. (But yet I ride through the crop field literally every day despite my own advice...)

Finishing the third lap way in the lead, Bob is impressed with us and decides it's a good idea to enter Nevile in the horse race.

Save the Homeland screenshot: Gwen appears to challenge us to another horse race

BUT WAIT! A NEW CHALLENGER APPEARS!"

Gwen yells, "Hold it right there!" while dramatically standing atop a high hill with her horse (even though she was like, right next to us a second ago).

Hmmm, dramatic girl shouting for us to stop right there from atop a high place with her sidekick animal...

Sailor Moon

Now where have I seen this before...?

Save the Homeland screenshot: Nevile about to race with Gwen

And Gwen challenges us to a race, too. Even though she was just cheering for us and has been so nice to us leading up to this point. Now she seems mad again. I guess it's less than Gwen hates us and thinks we're unfit for training a horse, and more than she is just super bitter that she wasn't the one chosen and is really adamant about proving her worth.

Save the Homeland screenshot: Racing with Gwen

Gwen and her horse are significantly better challengers than Bob. But no one can beat Nevile! Because he has all of my love inside of him :D

The race with Gwen is a lot more intense. While we never fall behind, she's always right behind us, and she's still only just behind as we cross the finish line. If you're not very good at controlling the horse, you would probably lose this race. I don't know what happens when you lose though.

Save the Homeland screenshot: Gwen can't believe she lost

Gwen seems disappointed in her loss at first, but quickly turns stern again. Stepping close to us and putting her face up to ours, she demands that we not lose the big race, which is only two weeks away. After that, she turns away and asks us to take good care of Nevile while blushing.

And so it looks like we're all set to enter Nevile in the big horse race. I wish they would have given the horse race a name, instead of just calling it "the horse race" the whole time... But either way, GET HYPE GET HYPE!