Natsume continuing Harvest Moon without the original Story of Seasons team has made fan appreciation decline. Harvest Moon: Light of Hope looks closer to the original formula but did they manage to make it as entertaining as the latest Story of Seasons games?
Looking at the graphics, my initial impression of Light of Hope was less than stellar. They're cute for sure and hanging out with adorable animals on the farm is still eye candy for those who appreciate everything adorable but overall, the graphics simply aren't varied. As you progress through the different seasons, building your farm, mining, foraging, and meeting villagers doesn't really change all that much. Winter is the only season that adds a little more visual flair. The village is full of the same sprites copy and pasted over and over again to represent trees that can be cut down for either softwood or hardwood, rocks, weeds, and the odd rare item that can be foraged. By the way, these foraged items consist of just a few plants and they are all represented by the same simple sprite.
The audio isn't impressive either. In fact, when I made it to summer, I frequently got annoyed at the constant sound of cicadas. In recent Story of Seasons titles, bug catching can be a big part of the gameplay, including catching different types of cicadas. So, the constant chirping makes sense there. However, in Light of Hope, there is no bug catching whatsoever so why do I have to listen to this constant high pitched chirping while I'm walking around? It's just a reminder of something lacking in the gameplay.
Another audio issue is the Zelda style sound when you get down to one heart. Getting your energy down that much is extremely common in Harvest Moon games and I often use most of my energy up then spend the rest of the day talking to villagers and doing other things that don't consume energy so it's annoying that I couldn't do this in Light of Hope unless I turned the sound down. Once, I wasted my crops that I had grown in order to replenish my bar just to get rid of that beep.
The farming in Light of Hope is quite basic. Other than sowing seeds, watering, using fertilizer, and harvesting, there's also the possibility of crop mutations. An example could be planting a tulip and getting a different coloured one or getting a specific special type of corn. You can increase the chance of mutation by planting crops in certain types of land (of which there are four) and using fertilizer. It's neat that there are more than just basic seeds but when I had a plant mutate, there wasn't really a sense of accomplishment due to it being random. They sell for more and can be used in some recipes and requests from villagers but that's about all the extra enjoyment they give you. Kudos to Natsume for at least doing something to mix it up but it's definitely not enough.
One major thing that makes no sense to me in Light of Hope is the fact that there are so many lots of land but it's impossible to maintain many crops and there's nothing else to put in the left over areas. Story of Seasons games have you building makers that create things like cloth and pottery and you're constantly hoping to get just one more patch of land that you can use to your advantage. Light of Hope keeps unlocking new areas as you play but you're never excited to unlock them because you know you can't maintain more crops than you already have and there's nothing along the lines of makers or other structures to build on that land.
You'll spend a lot of time mining in Light of Hope due to the fact that it doesn't handle making money through tasks very well. When you need money, you'll run right to the mines because unearthing one gem and selling it can make way more cash than planting and caring for any crop or getting milk or eggs from your animals. That being said, mining is a tedious process where you hit pieces of ground with your hoe and hope to find the ladder down to the next floor. Each floor has a few stones you can break to find ore or gems and as soon as you collect them, it's back to trying to find the next ladder. It's boring and tedious albeit financially rewarding work. It's also frustrating how you need multiple pieces of lower grade ore to trade at the blacksmith for one piece of refined ore whereas when you find gems, you mostly only need one. It's just as rare to find ore as gems yet you need the ore to fulfill requests and unlock new areas.
Light of Hope's animal selection isn't bad but it also isn't impressive either. You start out with just chickens, donkeys, cows, sheep, and a horse that you can ride around on. After finishing the main storyline (which I had completed halfway through summer), you unlock brown chickens, brown cows, cotton sheep, and silky donkeys. They offer different varieties of the same items you'll find from the original animal set such as chocolate milk and silky fur. I should mention that the donkeys are adorable, by the way.
Requests help add to the gameplay variety. You'll often wake up to find a letter in your mailbox from a villager asking for something. The lack of difficult requests to fulfill really illustrates the generally shallow game mechanics. Finding and making items is essentially what Harvest Moon is all about and surprisingly, Light of Hope even includes a sparse catalogue of all of the item types you can collect. At the end of the day, you're stuck with items that can be grown, taken from animals, foraged, mined, found in the river, or made with a recipe in the kitchen. There's no other method of combining ingredients to make something interesting (unless you count fertilizers and animal feed). Seeing as Story of Seasons does this so well nowadays with tons of makers, it really feels like this aspect is missing.
Light of Hope's story is short and unchallenging. As mentioned earlier, I finished it by mid-summer. I usually don't finish these games until the end of winter or early in the second year. You work with sprites that only you can see to restore light to a lighthouse. As you uncover each of the five stone tablets and place them into the base of the lighthouse, a new light shows and you've unlocked the next chapter. The tasks you have to complete to get each tablet are too easy and I sometimes finished two tablets at once. Other Harvest Moon games would have you building up to a finale after working hard for weeks or even months to get all of the necessary items you need in order to progress but due to the lack of item variety and barely any crafting, Light of Hope is too easy and unvaried.
Once you finish the main story, you can have fun pursuing your marriage candidate and have a child if you want which is pretty standard stuff. However, I'm not the best person to have an opinion on the marriage candidates as I've historically gone for the person who's the easiest to please. There are five male and five female candidates to choose from which seems like not enough. Making villagers happy by giving them gifts also feels too easy. I rarely made a villager mad by giving them something they didn't like and I often found it easy to get little hearts to spawn above their heads which shows that they absolutely loved the item that I gave them. Sometimes, it can be annoying when you can't figure out what some villagers want in Harvest Moon games but in this game, it's a bit of a letdown that it's as easy as it is to please absolutely everyone. I'd like a little bit of a challenge, please!
Events are mostly absent in Light of Hope, too. There's no calendar to look at which seems like another attempt to hide the lack of depth in the gameplay. The complete list of festivals include: fishing contest, flower festival, cooking contest, dog race, fireworks festival, harvest festival, fall festival, starry night, and new years. That's not enough to keep you excited for the next event and not having an in-game calendar to plan around and see birthdays means that you can miss events very easily.
The controls are actually adapted quite well for the Switch version considering it's based on a PC release. I really like how the character automatically selects the appropriate tool for a job and I wish every Harvest Moon title had this mechanic. However, there's no strafing and this makes it frustrating to farm sometimes. When I'm tilling land, I want to create squares or rectangles of land to plant my seeds on but I have to constantly reposition my character to get it focused on the right spot and I often tilled patches of land that I didn't want to. Strafing is a must in Harvest Moon and it's a control that's simply missed out in Light of Hope.
A unique addition to Harvest Moon: Light of Hope is a two player mode that allows you to add an additional player who can follow you around and help with chores. They also apparently have super powers that allow them to maintain a patch of nine squares of land in one hit which is really helpful if you have a lot of plants to maintain and someone sitting next to you who's willing to hear your cry for help. There's no online connectivity like in other recent titles so there's no way to trade items; not that there's many to trade.
Harvest Moon: Light of Hope brings the core Harvest Moon concepts to the table but it doesn't do anything more than that. The lack of item variety and multiple missing gameplay elements really shows. It's still addictive but not a worthy successor to the franchise.
- + Basic addictive Harvest Moon gameplay
- + Adorable animals are fun to look after
- + Cooperative component allows you to play with a buddy on the couch
- - Subpar graphics and annoying sound
- - Short and unchallenging story
- - Some counterintuitive mechanics / lack of depth in gameplay and item variety