The Harvest Moon franchise has been running for fifteen years and the key to its continuing popularity is its ability to tweak its formula with each new addition to the series. While Tale of Two Towns shares most of its game engine and graphics with last year’s DS iteration, Grand Bazaar, it adds a new twist to the series by forcing the player to choose to focus on either growing crops or raising animals.
|It just wouldn’t be Harvest Moon without turnips…|
Our tale begins with—as you might guess from the title—two towns, located on either side of a mountain. The inhabitants of Bluebell raise livestock and those of Konohana grow crops. Once upon a time, the towns’ inhabitants were close and dug a tunnel underneath the mountain so that they could easily go from one town to the other. However, when the mayors of the two towns began to quarrel over whose home had the best cooking, they enraged the Harvest Goddess who caused an earthquake that destroyed the tunnel. Ever since then, Bluebell and Konohana have remained bitter rivals. It’s your job to reconcile the two towns by making friends and participating in the weekly cooking contest. Players get to choose a male or female farmer and then the big twist: you have to choose a farm. The Konohana farm gives you large fields but only a small barn; the Bluebell farm gives you hardly any space for crops, but a huge barn for raising lots of animals. While previous Harvest Moon games allow—and very much expect—you to both grow crops and raise animals, Two Towns forces you to concentrate on one. At the end of each season, however, you have the option of moving to the other town. You can play through the main objectives without ever moving, though, so players who have a clear preference for one town shouldn’t worry that they’re missing out by staying put. Players will also (eventually) be able to expand their farms, allowing them access to more space to grow crops/raise animals and to accessories such as a fishpond on the Konohana farm and bee huts on the Bluebell farm.
You can marry characters from either town, but you only get to pariticpate in festivals for the town you live in. Each week a cooking contest takes place on the top of the mountain with a rotating theme: salad, soup, main dish, dessert. Bringing a dish (whether you cooked it yourself or not) will allow you to participate and slowly increase the mayors’ heart meters, which is just what the Harvest Goddess is hoping for. Finding ingredients can be challenging early in the game, and since new recipes are only acquired randomly when cooking it can be tricky if you’re not using a guide. (It should be noted that Natsume generally expects players to internet use guides for their games.)
|Old MacDonald had a farm. And on that farm he had an… alpaca?|
The mechanics of raising livestock is basically unchanged, but players have access to a couple of new animals. Alpacas become available midway through year two and will give higher quality wool than sheep. In addition to cats and dogs that will herd your livestock, you can also unlock an owl that be summoned to fly you partway over the mountain. As for farming, Two Towns introduces a new watering system. Players can dig trenches and need only use the watering can once on the trench to water all the crops along its length. Since optimal crop growth requires that crops be watered twice a day, trenches allow farmers to maintain large fields without expending all their energy, which is good as the energy bar in Two Towns is small and not easily expanded. Also, since crops are essential to the Konohana farm, you have access to a variety of winter crops.
Bug collecting is back, and as with Grand Bazaar, players can leap and bounce on objects to reach new areas or catch high-flying critters. Shallow streams on either side of the mountain allow players to hand fish. Yes that’s right! For the first time in Harvest Moon game, you can catch small fish before even getting the fishing rod, which is a huge boon to a broke farmer in the first spring. Another interesting addition is request system. Townsfolk will post requests for items on billboards outside of town hall and players can complete requests from both towns. Completing requests nets cash and item rewards. Special requests will also appear at the start of each month. The most important of these are the expansion requests from Bluebell’s carpenter. If you bring her (yes, a female carpenter!) the materials she requests, she will upgrade your farm… or work on the tunnel between Bluebell and Konohana. There’s the rub—only one upgrade is offered per season and the tunnel upgrades seem to take precedence over all others. I was offered a field expansion for my Konohana farm at the start of my first Summer; every season thereafter I was offered the tunnel request until it was finally complete (except the season where I was offered a larger bed so that I could marry my sweetheart; yes, that, too, was a separate request). The only way to thwart this system is to intentionally avoid making progress in reconciling the two mayors by skipping out on the cooking contests. The fact that these upgrades are available only once per season is the most frustrating aspect of the entire game. Each farm has a dozen upgrades, but most players will never see the majority of them unless they plan to play through five years of game time.
|Who says you can’t grow crops in winter?|
Another frustrating element involves the availability of seeds. First of all, the appearance of specific of seeds is random. Several might be available in a season, but one sort might not show up until halfway through if you’re unlucky. Second, the seed shop is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, which can be rather inconvenient if those days happen to fall on the start of the season. Additionally, for some peculiar reason, all shops are closed on rainy days, so it is entirely possible to have bad weather leading to the seed shop being closed for several days in a row. This can be really frustrating, especially early on in the game when you don’t have enough cash to stock up in advance. It’s one of those bizarre decisions on the part of the game designers that makes you wonder why they wanted to torture you so.
The graphics are in the same style as Grand Bazaar. They’re pleasant, colourful, and accompanied by adorable character portraits to accompany dialogue. The music fades into the background but is cheerful and appropriate for each season. Controls are based on the directional pad and buttons, but touch controls are also an option and useful when you’re combing through inventory and selecting items.
On the whole, Tale of Two Towns is a fun addition to the Harvest Moon series, whose twists offer a fresh take on the tried and true formula of the game. A few frustrating elements (such as the artificial limitation on upgrades), however, prevent the game from being one of the top tier entries to franchise.
This game was played to completion and reviewed using a retail copy.