Do you know what I love about the Harvest Moon games? It’s that there can be so much packed into a single game that you never feel like you’re doing anything more than scratching the surface of it. As you play the months and even years of your character’s life, you’re still making new discoveries and finding things to keep yourself occupied. These games truly are something that you can invest a lot of time sinking your teeth into, and they never seem to fail me on the addiction meter. I’m glad to say Grand Bazaar is no different. It’s the basic Harvest Moon game we’ve all grown to love, but with a bigger focus on the business of your farming empire. It works well and this is easily the most polished game to erupt from the series.
In fact, Grand Bazaar improves on just about everything, and thankfully, adds some new features in an attempt to keep the series from becoming stale. Unfortunately, even with all its improvements and upgrades the game still falls flat in some areas. I was so excited to see many things I had been hoping to see in the game. For instance, more interactive festivals and scenes with villagers, a greater use of the DS’ features, and an approach to make farming more fun than humdrum. And yet, I still feel like something was missing while I played. My main gripe with the series is its continual “more of the same” approach. Needless to say, the series needs a face lift – a complete revamp and Grand Bazaar doesn’t quite do that. Is Grand Bazaar a fun game? Does it do what it does well? Yes and yes, but until the series can be more innovative we’re always left with a similar game with minor tweaks rather than an entry that pushes the envelope any further.
As Per Usual, the Town is in Trouble!
Zephyr Town used to be where it’s at, with a booming bazaar that people from all over came to experience, but with time it lost its lure. Now the bazaar is struggling and attendance is at an all time low. When you move into town, the mayor makes one thing clear: he needs your help to make the weekly bazaar prosperous again. Immediately, you’ll have to get your farm up and running and brainstorm how to make the bazaar a success. Although there’s nothing noteworthy here, at least Grand Bazaar is a break from a story that revolves around the Harvest Goddess. The story is thin, dry, and just all around dull. Plot never has been the lure of the Harvest Moon games, but it would be nice if for all the time you spend trying to save the town with your farm that you’d be given something a little less superficial. Not all is lost, however; you will experience some much needed breaks from the gameplay by triggering random encounters with villagers.
Grand Bazaar features a brand new cast of characters. It’s always exciting when the developers change the cast up, and I was thoroughly looking forward to this addition. However, I was a little let down by the new cast. Harvest Moon games usually have a few quirky characters that liven up the game, but these are missing from Grand Bazaar. The ego tripping Mayor Felix – who makes you well aware that he is the boss of the town – is probably the character with the most quirks, but that isn’t really saying much. There are a total of ten marriage candidates (five boys and five girls) for you to romance. To be honest, I had a hard time trying to figure out which bachelor I wanted to try and woo. Every character seems lacking in the personality department, and while in some of the past games marrying certain characters helped you in other areas of your farm and life, there aren’t really any bonuses to marrying a particular bachelor or bachelorette.
And it’s unfortunate that Grand Bazaar has a lack of interesting love interests because not only is there little motivation to marry them, but you also need to do plenty before you can walk down the aisle with them. For some partners for example, you have to befriend certain characters close to them before they’ll even look at you as a marriage prospect. Once you catch the eye of whomever you choose to romance, you unlock Heart events. These events develop your relationship further and they do it in an interactive way. During the event, you have a choice in dialogue. Pick the right one (and it’s pretty obvious which is the right response) and your relationship grows. Choose the wrong response and you lose points with the one you love. These events really flesh out your relationship and the journey of your romance. My only complaint? I wish there was more of them and more to them – it’s just you work so hard to build up your relationship that it’d be nice if you were rewarded with more numerous and fleshed out scenes. There are also rival events that play out throughout the game to make you more and more aware that you’re not the only one lusting after a certain somebody. A little competition never hurt anybody, right?
There are also random events that occur throughout the game with villagers that serve as nice breaks from the repetition of farming and preparation for the bazaar. To be honest, I was very pleased with how many different events I was able to unlock throughout the game. The wait between scenes didn’t seem as lengthy as in other Harvest Moon games I’ve played. Some of the events are better than others, but they do add some insight into certain characters and if nothing else provide entertainment for your viewing pleasure. I’m not sure why, but I always get a little giddy when one comes up, because you never know when you’ll unlock one. All the same, I’d say the characters and story are probably the weakest parts of the game. I just couldn’t care about either as much as I hoped I would. The gameplay was definitely the draw for me here and I’m glad to report that it’s the most solid part of Grand Bazaar.
Fun Times at the Bazaar
This game is called Grand Bazaar for a reason – the bazaar is clearly the focal point of the game and the most fun part at that. Each week the bazaar occurs and it’s up to you to have a wide variety of quality items to sell. Every week Mayor Felix announces a goal he wants you to reach at the bazaar. Once the bazaar is over, he announces the top three earners along with the merchant who had the best customer service. The goals give you something to work toward and I found it to be a great motivational tool – even if at first they can seem quite difficult to achieve. When you open your stand at the bazaar, you can place three different items for sale at once. You ring your bell to draw a crowd and people come up to you requesting the amount of each item they want. It can get frantic: at times multiple customers come up to you requesting items and you need to give them service as quickly as possible or risk losing them as a customer. A really cool feature of the bazaar is that during this time people will also come up to your stand and talk to you. There are interactions in the dialogue and depending on how you answer them, your stand rep will either go down or up. This little detail really makes all the difference in the game.
Remember back when you just put your crops in a bin and just got a set price for them? Yawn. With the bazaar those days are thankfully gone and it gives you something to look forward to in the game. The drawback? At each bazaar not only do you sell items, but there are also key items you’ll want to buy. For instance, certain seeds for crops are only sold at the bazaar – the same goes for animals, tools, and upgrades for your farm. This can get difficult when you are desperately trying to sell all you can to meet your goal and then have to leave your stand to go purchase what you want as quickly as possible. I honestly wish the bazaar hit twice a week – one day you can use for purely purchasing and the other for selling. As it stands one day just doesn’t seem like enough – time just passes too quickly.
There is no doubt that to be successful at the bazaar, your best bet is to have quality items. That means putting a lot of work into all aspects of your farm. For example, crops should have fertilizer put on them every day to increase their quality. You should befriend your animals and talk to them every day, so they provide you with higher quality eggs, milk, wool, etc. There are also windmills in this game, where you can combine items and make new, higher quality ones. You can think of windmills as the alchemy pot of Harvest Moon. At these, you can create fertilizer, yogurt, wine, tea, jewelry, improved tools, and flour, just to name a few. One nifty thing about windmills is if you want to make your item faster, you can place your character by blades of the mill, and blow into your DS mic. In addition to all this, some other features include: fishing, catching bugs, training pets to help you out on your farm, foraging, and of course cooking. Also, festivals are alive as ever and there are many to attend. The best part? They’ve made them a bit more interactive! For instance, at the Flower Festival whoever gives the most flowers away gets the glory. And if you lose, the townspeople make you feel like you’ve failed them. It’s all the fun little aspects like this that really make the game tick.
Finally, the game also features a multiplayer option. Fans have been asking for this for quite some time, so I’m happy to see it in this game. In multiplayer mode, similar to Animal Crossing, you can invite friends to your farm or go over to theirs. The game promises extra bonuses if you visit a friend’s farm, including the ability to harvest new types of crops, obtain hard to find seeds and fish, and gain access to new conversations in town. Unfortunately, I was unable to test it out, but I’m glad the series has finally hopped on the multiplayer bandwagon and given extra bonuses as motivation to try it.
And on a final note, I’d just like to say how newbie friendly this entry in the Harvest Moon series is. I know if you haven’t played any of the entries, it can take time to learn the tricks of the Harvest Moon trade. The tutorials function well and the game makes sure not to throw everything at you at once. This is one thing that may turn experienced players off, because the game does take some time to unlock certain features. Once you get through the first month of gameplay though, you have access to plenty. At first, however, you’ll be desperately trying to find ways to fill your days, which can make the first month a drag. Overall, everything is easy to grasp in Grand Bazaar, so I urge players who are looking for their first Harvest Moon experience to pick up Grand Bazaar.
The developers have even made the controls a tad bit better, although getting used to using B for an action button took me some time to get used to; I kept wanting to use the A button. This time around you can’t accidentally use an item on something it wouldn’t work on, so if you’re in town trying to talk to Lloyd and you accidentally miss the talk action and it tries to dispense your fertilizer, the game tells you your fertilizer can’t be used there instead of making you waste it. Even with crops, if you accidentally drop or throw them, they won’t end up ruined, and this became my favorite controls enhancement. The movement of your character is made much better with the addition of being able to jump in this game. You can reach high places to get better items and you’re just able to get around the town faster by jumping. The character movement is very fluid and smooth. A minor gripe is that you can only save at the end of your day. For a portable game it sure doesn’t make saving as accessible as it should be. As it stands, Grand Bazaar does a whole lot right, just not enough new to keep the game as fresh as those of us who have been playing for years would like it to be.
The Bazaar Sure is Lively and Colorful
Grand Bazaar is a colorful game with a happy soundtrack to go with it. It looks the best the series ever has on the DS, but it’s still more than a little generic looking. These graphics won’t stand the test of time, but the bright colors and character models fully encompass the Harvest Moon spirit. The soundtrack also has a simple happy upbeat flavor to it, although it does come with a price: annoyance. You get a lot of the same tunes played over and over again, so it’s bound to test your nerves. And let’s face it, the whole happy feeling isn’t for everybody all the time. The soundtrack still fits well into the nature groove, often using a lot of flute-inspired tracks. It fits the mood and spirit of the game, so I really can’t ask for anything more except some variety. Grand Bazaar also features more sound effects than previous DS Harvest Moon games. Every character has their own little sound effect rather it be a laugh, groan, or sigh. It adds to the atmosphere, but the same sound effects do get old after a while.
It’s Grand, Just Not Grand Enough
Grand Bazaar is by far the best game in the series to hit the DS. The problem? It just doesn’t do enough new. Those who have been wanting to get into the Harvest Moon series should not hesitate to pick this up, as this is the most new-player-friendly game I’ve seen. Worry not, however, because diehard fans will also find enjoyment in Grand Bazaar. As they should; it’s a fun game and if I hadn’t experienced what the series has had to offer many times before, I’d be jumping for joy, totally addicted to this title. As a long time fan who has seen every entry of this series, it’s all starting to feel a bit stale. And while the bazaar is a lot of fun, it’s not enough to make me feel like this isn’t something I’ve already played. I can only hope that the series continues to try to find ways to make it feel fresh. Perhaps focusing more on the story and making the game more interactive can combat what has become stale. I’d love to see this series press on and be more innovative. These days, I just need something different than a small step forward.