Harvest Moon DS: Grand Bazaar is the fifth Nintendo DS entry in Natsume’s charming, adorable farming franchise. Despite the lack of fundamental gameplay changes, Harvest Moon’s titular feature – the Zephyr Town bazaar – is clearly the highlight of the game. Transforming your quaint little farm into a money-making business operation is as exciting as it is addictive. Unfortunately, Grand Bazaar’s casual-friendly demeanor hides the underlying depth and necessary dedication to performing mundane, repetitive tasks for slow-but-steady rewards.
Just to clarify, Grand Bazaar is actually my first experience with any Harvest Moon title, but the core farming gameplay is simple and accessible for all players. Zephyr Town’s mayor, Felix, introduces you to the farming process, step-by-step, from tilling the fields and sowing seeds to fertilizing your crops and accelerating your big harvest. Due to the game’s gentle learning curve, newcomers should have no trouble with the insane amount of depth featured in Grand Bazaar. On the other hand, experienced players will find the game’s day-to-day tasks to be monotonous until several seasons have passed in the game.
Grand Bazaar’s storyline ties directly to the whole new bazaar mechanic – as the newest resident of Zephyr Town, it is your duty to help the villagers return their town to its former glory by contributing the fruits of your labor to the weekly bazaar. You are given your own vendor booth for the event, and you have the freedom to sell almost everything you have grown or gathered – sometimes for a much higher price than usual. You also have time to browse the other booths, where you find the best and most valuable items throughout most of the game.
Harvest Moon is deep, engaging, and provides countless hours of gameplay. This is nice for fans or casual players with an attention span, but playing through the first few weeks of time in Grand Bazaar will prove to be less exciting for gamers looking for a lot of action. Moving and jumping around the environment can be cumbersome, and the sprint button is a hazard around fragile growing crops. With so many things to consider each day, keeping track of all your duties can be challenging. Later, when you expand your fields and populate the farm with livestock, there are more crops to water, more seeds to plant, and more young animals to look after. If you are really absorbed into your daily chores, it is helpful to physically write out a Harvest Moon to-do list. As ridiculous as that looks in writing, staying on task is usually harder than actually accomplishing your goals. Being organized about your daily routine is important, and serves as the perfect way to use the “Notes” section of the instruction manual.
Organization and efficiency are important factors involved in determining the quality of your goods, and sequentially your success at the weekly bazaar. The only sure way to consistently provide the best products is to devote more time and effort into working efficiently throughout the week. Luck has little to do with progress in Harvest Moon; eventually it all breaks down to harvesting better crops, raising livestock like they are your own children, and refining random materials into valuable trinkets that your customers will blow their money on.
Playing through the game is not completely tedious, of course. There are methods of simplifying many tasks later in the game – for example, you can raise cats or dogs to escort your livestock around the farm. You can craft useful items from scrap materials by using one of the three windmills in Zephyr Town. (Naturally, the process is sped up by blowing into the DS microphone like a psycho.) Regardless of these perks, playing the game can be a real pain in the ass if you forget to fertilize the fields before the end of the day, particularly if the oversight results in a pithy harvest for the bazaar.
Due to the lacking presentation of the game’s storyline and the general dullness of Grand Bazaar’s cast of characters, the obligation of helping Zephyr Town often feels less like a friendly gesture and more like a debt to society forced upon you just for moving there. Raising your crops is less exciting when you know that Mayor Felix demands success at the vending booth. It almost feels like giving Tom Nook all of your hard-earned money throughout Animal Crossing. The other characters are wooden and lack anything meaningful to say until you butter them up with gifts or birthday presents. None of the interactions are particularly interesting, and important information comes once in a blue moon. You can potentially raise a family in this game, but the entire socializing mechanic is the least enjoyable factor in Grand Bazaar. I hate to sound like the cold-hearted man in charge of a corporate farming empire, but developing personal relationships in Grand Bazaar yields the least-important rewards. To be honest, finding your soul mate in real life is probably much easier and requires less gift-giving – stick to the fields, and make all the money you can.
Although it is not the best-looking Nintendo DS game, Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar does well with the franchise’s classic style. Zephyr Town is colorful, and all of the characters and various animal models are large and well-animated. The music is charming, albeit repetitive. The sound effects are simple, but the occasional voices used throughout conversations are terrible. The “jump” sound effect is awful; worse yet, the sound happens every single time you press the jump button. If this were a Mario game, even if it meant walking into each Goomba that waddled on-screen, you would avoid jumping to spare your ears the misery.
Wireless multiplayer is possible with multi-card download play through each player’s Nintendo DS, so any of your friends with a copy of the game can visit your farm and check out your local bazaar. I did not get a chance to experience the multiplayer component for myself, but having the option to show off your crops and chickens seems to be all the rage on Facebook these days, so FarmVille fans will discover another area of the game to enjoy.
Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar is a fantastic farming RPG that will please fans of the series. Spending countless hours performing mundane, repetitious, farming chores may not sound like much of a gaming experience, but if you have the time and patience this is one hell of an addicting, engrossing title. Quite like the Pokemon series, it is obvious that there is more depth involved than what you see on the surface. Feelings of reward and satisfaction absolutely come to those who put time and energy into the process. Harvest Moon may not be for everyone, but it amazes me that the series continues to appeal to gamers of all ages, even if farming is not the kind of premise I would think to employ for virtual entertainment.