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Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar

For: DS

The low down on the hoe down

Product: Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar | Publisher: Rising Star | Developer: Natsume | Format: DS | Genre: Strategy | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
 
Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar DS, thumbnail 1
Harvest Moon is a hard sell for a publisher to any audience outside of those familiar with the series.

If a potential buyer isn't put off by the saccharine characters or summery setting, the farming premise should finish the job.

But Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar just an hour of your time and you'll see why the franchise has survived for 15 years with well over 20 games to its name: it's addictive as all hell.

After picking to play as a boy or girl in charge of a rundown farm in need of agricultural attention and some very brief hand-holding from the town's mayor to familiarise yourself with some of the core concepts, you're largely left to your own devices.

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Very few games allow you to truly tailor your approach to their primary goals – in this instance making money – so there's a daunting but empowering sense of freedom to the proceedings.

Coin is made in a number of ways, growing crops and raising animals to sell being the most straightforward. You can also forage for items, such as finding branches of wood or naturally growing mushrooms, go fishing in the streams, catch bugs, and a number of other activities which can fill your inventory and be traded for cash.

Gold farming

Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar adds further depth by letting you prepare or combined these items in many ways to raise their overall value. Knowing how to do so involves experimenting or being taught recipes by the many NPCs in the world.

There are literally hundreds of food and item combinations to discover, from combining a branch of wood with a tuft of weed to create fertiliser – which can be used on growing crops to raise their quality and consequently value – to highly desirable tools that require multiple uncommon or rare items.

As you craft these objects, fish, catch bugs, and more, your character will level up in proficiency, gaining ranks. The role-playing hooks stealthily latch onto you through play - the desire to grind out money and titles is as powerful here as in Diablo or Borderlands.

Integrated into this mesh of walnuts, wheat, and chicken feet are smaller, less vital goals that require you to balance work and play, such as relationships with the denizens of the town that can, given enough time, be nurtured into marriage.

Unlike the game's central thrust of selling goods, this element isn't especially complex, often boiling down to giving potential suitors enough presents and answering questions in the right way, but it's more systems to organise for the obsessive, more bars to fill for the completist.

The bazaar is probably the biggest addition, in which every Saturday each shop owner gathers to compete to sell the most goods. Here farming and friendships intertwine, and you have to provide your own high price goods for sale while maintaining consumer happiness by talking to customers in need or chatting to friends.

If you ploughed a lot of time into a Harvest Moon recently then it's not enough of a change to warrant a purchase this year, but if you've skipped a couple then it's definitely an interesting twist on the formula.

Needlessly hard labour

Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar's lack of direction is its biggest turn-off by far, but players who can overcome this will likely relish its free-form nature.

What they won't enjoy is the title's tendency to require too many button presses to perform certain actions. As an example: to chop wood that you're carrying, you must first open up the inventory, then select the wood, move it to your character, exit the inventory, and throw it on the ground in front of you.

After this you need to equip your axe, press the action button, press it again to pick up the cut wood, and then another button to put it back in your inventory.

Other minor issues with presentation, such as the paucity of music tracks and simple animation, ensure that this Harvest Moon is merely strong rather than definitive, but if you haven't put Grand Bazaar down after an hour of play you more than likely won't care - you'll be far too concerned with whether your crop of tomatoes will produce a second crop before the weekend.

Yes it's a farming sim, yes it's cute, but neither of those factors should dissuade you from trying it.
 
Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar
Reviewer photo
Peter Willington | 10 October 2011
A finely crafted RPG-lite of the simple life, set against the backdrop of an idyllic rural world
 
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