Harvest Moon: Light of Hope Feels Right at Home on Switch [E3 2017 Preview]

When the Switch was first announced, there were several titles that I immediately wanted to own on the hybrid console. As a long-time fan, one of those was a Harvest Moon game. Needless to say, the announcement that Harvest Moon: Light of Hope is coming to the Nintendo Switch (in addition to a simultaneous release on Steam and PS4) had me giddy.

I'm happy to report that my 30 minute gameplay demo of the game at E3 has me excited for a full release, but also a little skeptical about certain elements. I haven't played a Harvest Moon game since Friends of Mineral Town on GameBoy Advance, so I've been out of the loop on recent titles. Instead, I've been spoiled by other delightful farming sims like Story of Seasons and Stardew Valley. This is my first time experiencing what Harvest Moon has become now after branching off from the series it once was, so my expectations are somewhat dampened by what I saw.

Light of Hope begins with you selecting between a male or female main character to play as. The developer assisting with the hands-on told me that the team is currently exploring what other customization options it will feature besides gender. The story premise is one that anyone who has played a Harvest Moon game will feel right at home with. Your character is tired of the mediocrity of life and embarks on a ship to find something new and exciting. While aboard, a massive monsoon comes, destroys your ship, and leaves you stranded on an island that is decimated by the storm, too.

The island is nearly deserted with only three people still remaining in the its sole town. Your job is to not only rebuild your life on this remote island, but to help re-inspire the town and return it to the grandness it once was. It is a compelling take on the overused plot setup, but I saw little of it outside hints that the local Harvest Goddess may have had some involvement in the monsoon that led you there.

Instead, my demo was set later on in the game's story when the town is starting to thrive and the population has grown from three to more than a dozen. I had free reign to do whatever I wanted in three days. Farming, fishing, gathering, animal husbandry, and all of the core Harvest Moon features you know and love were available for me to enjoy. The quality of life improvements Natsume has made to those features will certainly be appreciated by long-time fans.

For instance, you no longer have to trudge through your inventory to find the specific tool you need at that moment, select it, and then get to work. Instead, pressing the action button (was mapped to B in this build but the team intends to change it to A) in front of a tree causes you to start chopping it down automatically. This is the exact same for fishing by water, plowing empty fields, and so on. It is helpful and limits wasting precious time. My only gripe with it is there's currently no onscreen notification to let you know what action it will be beforehand.

The tools you use are, of course, still fully upgradeable. For example: upgrading your watering can allows it to go from only being able to water one crop at a time to watering a total of five all at once.

The upgrades will become more valuable as the game goes on for efficiently gathering materials. Your main objective of rebuilding the town starts out rather easy, but becomes progressively harder the more buildings you complete.

There is a mine on a mountainside that is great for gathering those materials, but is initially collapsed and becomes unlocked as you progress through the story. I wasn't able to see the mine itself, which leads into my main concern with Light of Hope. The town and surrounding areas that I saw are surprisingly tiny, even though it includes your farm, a lighthouse, and the beach. This might be because of the remote island setting, but I'm hoping there's a lot more to explore in the full release.

The buildings were also limited. I was restricted from entering any shops or homes outside of my own farmhouse. You accept requests from the town's citizens and because I couldn't enter any home, I was unable to complete one such request. These issues are a shame because I really enjoyed looking at the colorful 2D environments that contrast nicely with the charming 3D character models.

Anyone with a love for farming simulators or the Harvest Moon series should keep an eye out for Light of Hope. The peaceful farming gameplay is more streamlined than ever, meant to appeal to a broader audience. The cheery island setting is still adorable, despite the limited nature of my exploration. Sadly, the promises of no time restriction for the story, dog races, new exotic animals like cotton candy-producing sheep, the mountainside mine, and intriguing characters like one based off of Back To The Future's Christopher Lloyd were all tell and no show.

Despite that, localization editor Adam Fitch told me that the team is hard at work implementing all of these in due time for its expected release either later this year or in early 2018. Here's hoping that Harvest Moon: Light of Hope is able to deliver on those promises.