Harvest Moon fans on Xbox were salivating when Mad Dash appeared on the store front, signalling the series’ first foray onto the console. Whilst not a true Harvest Moon in terms of gameplay, it left the door open for more.
Now, we have a traditional Harvest Moon game to enjoy, in the form of Light of Hope. However, without jumping too far into the rabbit hole of the licensing issues surrounding the whole franchise, does this hold up against some of the series greats?
To give it its full title, Harvest Moon: Light of Hope Special Edition Complete – just missing the 2.8 HD Final Chapter Remix – is a re-release of the same game that came out on PC in 2017. As has been the basic premise for the series, you inherit an old farm and must restore it to its former glory. In this version, you awaken on a beach after a bad storm. Thankfully, a doctor called Jeanne stumbles upon you laying unconscious in the sand and saves your life. In return, she asks you to look after the abandoned farm on the island and restore the town to bring back the previous residents.
This time, the town is called Beacon Town, as it has a mysterious lighthouse that also stopped working after the storm hit. However, you quickly discover a stone tablet that fits nicely into a recess on the floor near the lighthouse; using it briefly illuminates the lighthouse. There are four remaining recesses which require four more stone tablets. Whilst trying to get the farm up and running again, you must use the island around you to locate the missing tablets.
After a lengthy tutorial where you are taught the ropes of growing crops, the stone tablets and learning about resident requests, things finally start to open up. You can choose which buildings and amenities to repair first, due to the open-ended nature of Harvest Moon. Certain buildings will also progress the story, such as by repairing the mines or the Doc’s house. Light of Hope will give you subtle hints as to what to build next to hunt down the next stone tablet, but you can choose to ignore the advice completely and focus on anything you like. It’s also integral you repair those barns housing the farm animals.
All of this reparation work requires time and money though, and the best way to earn is to sell as much produce as you can. Anything you harvest from your crops – or indeed what you are able to forage when out and about – can and should be sold in the early hours. Once you have access to the mines you may be lucky and find a rare material deposit that can help your bank balance greatly, but in order to do pretty much anything around the town, money is essential.
Light of Hope also retains much of what has made the Harvest Moon series great for so long: plenty of friendly characters you can form strong friendships with, and perhaps even marry and have children with. By completing their requests – usually gifting them specific items – or just talking to them, this can help improve your relationship with people. Each NPC has a relationship grading that consists of five blank musical notes; the more the musical notes are filled in instead of greyed out, the stronger your relationship is with them.
Then there is the usual animal husbandry, fishing, cooking and various other stalwarts of the series. These are unlocked as you repair the necessary buildings, but perhaps aren’t explained very well what exactly is entailed for each activity. That’s surprising really, especially after the lengthy tutorial, but most of this information is hidden on your bookcase back in your house. This Tips section is a trove of helpful insights if you are struggling with anything, but feels almost hidden away and could be better communicated.
As with any good farming/life simulator, you are probably unknowingly creating a mental checklist each time you play, detailing what you want to achieve in your next session. Sometimes though, Light of Hope will throw random elements your way to scupper those plans. It isn’t designed to frustrate – in fact Harvest Moon typically does the exact opposite and provides a relaxing distraction to real-life – but elements such as not finding what you need down the mines, or rain (which promptly shuts the town shop and your main source of income) will require players to think on the fly and re-plan for the next day. Also, don’t expect to get much done on a Sunday; this sleepy town pretty much closes down on this day of rest.
All this works in Light of Hope’s favour though; you can take things at your leisure, even avoiding the whole main story if you so wish, and life will continue on the island.
Unlike some of the more recent releases that were in 3D, Light of Hope reverts back to a 2D setting. Sort of, anyways. There is a 2D background, but many objects and characters appear in 3D, along with a completely different art-style. Honestly, it doesn’t work all that well; playing Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life on the PlayStation 2 introduced me to Harvest Moon in three dimensions, and this revert to the older style doesn’t work as well.
Being that this version on Xbox One has released a couple of years after its original release on PC and other consoles, coming as the Complete edition now means that all the DLC is included. This includes additional decorations and equipment upgrades, more marriageable characters and a few extra side-stories to complete. However, when playing through for the first time this DLC is fully integrated into the main story, so it may not be obvious to new players. It’s hardly an issue though; having all the post-release content included is always a good gesture.
Many of Light of Hope’s 28 achievements are story-related, so will be unlocked naturally through progression until you finally recover all five stone tablets. If you aim solely for this, it should not take too long to wrap the story up. Indeed, for me, within the first in-game month I had three tablets already and well on my way to a fourth. But then you will have a large gap in terms of unlocking achievements, as many others require you to harvest all types of crops and flowers, catch all fish and mine all ores. Many of these are seasonal too; miss any out when they are available, and you have to wait until the season rolls around again. But once again, there is no rush in Harvest Moon.
For a game that requires only 800MB of space, there is a lot of game here. For those that have missed their Harvest Moon gameplay fix over the years, or for newcomers to the series as it makes its full debut on Xbox consoles, Harvest Moon: Light of Hope Special Edition Complete is a very good place to start. It might not quite reach the lofty heights of previous entries but it contains most of what has made the series so successful over the years. And as the nights start to draw in, there are few better games to unwind with on an evening with a nice brew and a couple of biscuits.