Somewhere in Harvest Moon: One World there’s a really interesting seed of an idea for a new take on farming sims, which would be much appreciated after 25 years of very similar games. And in the right hands, turning a farming simulator series into a plot-driven, exploration-focused adventure game sounds like a brilliant idea. And yet One World fails in just about every way to do anything interesting or innovative with this new idea other than layer it on top of a deeply mediocre farming sim.
Unlike its numerous Harvest Moon predecessors and competitors, One World does not have you inherit an old farm in a dying village and spend years rebuilding them, getting to know your neighbors, and generally settling down. Rather, you’re handed a portable farm (your scientist neighbor turns up on your doorstep and says “Look, I made you a portable farm” and that’s the end of the discussion) in the first 10 minutes and sent off on an adventure across its world, through five different towns with their own climates, hazards, and problems. You’ll park your farm in one spot for a season, finish whatever local plot is in front of you, and then move on.But the one world of One World is boring in every way. Everything looks bland, except for the named character models, which are exactly fine. Towns are dull and empty with just a couple identical houses each, the areas between them are mostly long and same-ish paths, and everything just looks flat and simple. There’s no detail, no personality – just long stretches of empty space, maybe with a tree thrown in if you’re lucky.
It also sometimes does not work correctly. Sound frequently sputters when you’re moving from area to area. Characters and objects appear and disappear from existence – sometimes on purpose according to their respective schedules, but sometimes just because they’re not loading in fast enough. It’s especially bad when you’re riding your horse. As much as I despise calling anything “X-era graphics,” the GameCube version of Harvest Moon was far more detailed and exciting to look at than this. (But then, that was before the original developer went off to make Story of Seasons instead).The aesthetics of One World are not where the mundanity ends. Unlike other Harvest Moon games where you get to know a town of distinct and personable neighbors, there are few actual developed characters in One World outside of its roster of bachelors and bachelorettes and one other named character in each area. The vast majority of the cast is made up of same-looking individuals with names like “Awkward Man” or “Thoughtful Woman” whose only personality trait is sending you endless mail to ask you to bring them random items. And that’s a terrible idea because again, these characters tend to disappear completely at certain times of day, sometimes right in front of your eyes, and sometimes as you’re about to turn in a quest.
Harvest Moon: One World Sreenshots
The bachelors and bachelorettes have a bit more going for them in the personality department, but are still largely pretty samey in the end. They all care about their respective towns, they need your help saving them, and they think the main character is neat. For the most part, they are distinguished almost entirely by their looks and what town they hang out in the most. Marrying one is inconsequential, seeming almost like an afterthought gated behind a lot of time spent in the extremely boring mines and, for some reason, finishing the main plot – you can’t get married until then. You can have a kid eventually too, but your offspring take after your spouse’s side of the family in that they do nothing interesting whatsoever.
Oh, and you can’t be queer, despite Harvest Moon’s competitors Story of Seasons and Stardew Valley having recognized what year it is already. The developers say this feature was missed due to COVID-19, and that it will be present in future games, but it’s still massively frustrating when so many other games offer it. And since One World doesn’t really signal to you who is and isn’t dateable for quite a while, I spent a lot of time handing gifts to Kirsi for no reason.
With an empty world and a soulless cast, that leaves the actual farming to carry One World… and it doesn’t. The Harvest Goddess is, as usual in Harvest Moon games, absent, which has caused everyone in the world to just forget how farming and seeds work. So instead of buying seeds at the store, you have to hunt them down. Harvest Wisps scattered throughout the world will hand you one seed per day per wisp, meaning much of your ability to actually use your farm is also tied to exploring the world.
And like the exploration angle, One World’s farming has several interesting new ideas that might have made for an exciting new direction had it been handled differently. For instance, each crop has certain seasons and regions of the world it grows better in. You can still plant crops off-season or in other areas, but they’ll grow more slowly – or become different crops entirely. Eggplant grown outside of its favored zone might become a White Eggplant, or a Tomato may become an Ice Tomato in the snowy region.There’s a lot of potential here for fun experimentation with where you put your farm and what you grow and when, but it’s never realized. The problem with all this is that nothing is ever really explained. After 20+ hours into One World, with the Harvest Goddess resurrected and the main story finished, I’m still not entirely clear how they work. There’s no real log that indicates exactly how to get which mutations even after you’ve already obtained them, and even if you plant the same crop in the same region at the same time, it doesn’t always seem to mutate. I’m sure there’s a trick here I’m missing, and while mutations are largely inconsequential (I’ve been able to find seeds for all the mutations I’ve made so far separately as well), it’s really frustrating if you’re trying to grow, say, an Asparagus from regular Asparagus seeds for a quest, but keep getting Purple Asparagus instead and have no idea why.
One World lacks clear instruction throughout, often placing you into frustrating situations without a way out. One later quest that’s critical to the story wanted me to gather four of a certain kind of sheep wool… but there were only three slots in my barn at the time and they were already taken up by a cow, a horse, and a regular sheep. No matter what, I would need to purchase the special sheep required to get this wool and wait multiple in-game weeks for it to become an adult and produce the wool. But I would also either have to get rid of one of my other animals to make space for it in my barn, or expand my barn – which I had no idea how to do at the time. Barn expansion turns out to be gated behind a long series of fetch quests that give no indication building expansion is at the end of them.That was just one example, but this obtuse quest and upgrade design became a frustrating hindrance repeatedly throughout One World, with many progression quests requiring specific seeds or tool upgrades and no hint at all as to where those might be found. Your best bet, outside of a guide online, is just to talk to everyone constantly and repeatedly and do every single quest possible until you accidentally stumble over the thing you’re looking for.
I haven’t yet mentioned all the many small annoyances that cropped up as I played, none of which are worth a paragraph on their own but all contributed to my growing ball of frustration with One World. Why can I not have more than one stack of a single item in my storage or inventory at a time? Why does my stamina drop constantly just from walking around? Is there any point to giving gifts to random nameless NPCs? Why can’t my dog go outside? Why does keeping my animals happy seemingly do nothing at all, and why do they drop dead after a year or so automatically?
The best I can say about One World is that it’s fine – something you can mindlessly play on mute with a podcast on and feel not-horrible about. That said, with two Story of Seasons games out within a month of this and Stardew Valley’s 1.5 update on top of that, I can’t think of a reason why anyone who loves the Harvest Moon tradition should play One World. It’s lacking just about every possible forward-moving feature any similar games have, and its attempts at doing something new with the series are half-baked and frustrating.