Staying true to the series’ roots, Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar tasks you with looking after a farm where you’ll care for crops and animals, whilst alongside this seeking to build a relationship with one of a series of bachelors or bachelorettes to whom you will later marry and raise a family with.
Your farm in itself is well-equipped, encompassing your farmhouse, barn, field, chicken yard and pasture. You are also provided with three windmills, that may each be used to produce different products: fermenting and pickling items, grinding and shaping fine metals, or to grind fine flour or extract seeds from ripe fruit. It’ll be the field where you spend most of your time growing crops and then selling them for a profit, as you begin to find your feet amidst the folk of Zephyr Town.
New to this latest entry is its namesake, the Bazaar, which usually opens on a Sunday. Here, the player is able to sell their goods, ringing a bell to gain the attention of nearby shoppers before they dash over to see what you have for sale. The Town Mayor, Felix, will announce a target for you to raise during the day, although you won’t be able to meet this until you build up enough money to produce a sizeable crop each week, and the following day you’ll be able to hop over to the Bazaar to hear the results. The top three earning stalls each receive rewards, which are usually a bottle of milk or an egg for instance, as well as the stall with the happiest customers.
If you begin to feel lonely on your farm, then you’ll be pleased to hear that a number of multiplayer options are available to you. Players are able to invite friends to visit their farm either through local Wireless or Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, once the obligatory Friend Codes have been registered. Once a friend has joined you, you will be able to enjoy a range of multiplayer activities together including the normal farming (which can now be done at a quicker pace!), socialising with the townspeople, comparing records for events, fishing, snowball fights and selling items at the Bazaar, where you can charge them either full or half price for your items.
Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar‘s biggest failings lie within its pacing. Your first few hours with the game will see you meander around, looking after a few crops before retiring to bed after you’ve done what you need to do for the day. You’re free to explore the, admittedly colourful, landscapes of Zephyr Town, but the NPC’s that wander its roads lack the charm of your surroundings and rarely have anything of interest to say. Key characters sporadically visit you at home to provide tutorials regarding the basic concepts of the game, yet the lack of any structure will frustrate relatively quickly.
Even the gameplay mechanics leave much to be desired. The necessity of having to dig, plant seeds or water crops individually soon becomes irritable when you begin to have to look after an increasing amount as you progress through the game. The Nintendo DS’ touch screen is vastly underused, and Marvelous Interactive, who did show promise with Rune Factory 3, should look to speeding up such processes within future instalments. Even being able to automate your character to water an area of crops, for example, would make the gameplay experience more pleasurable.
Persevere past these initial couple of hours, or enlist the aid of a friend to help you progress through the portion quicker, and you’ll find that once you’ve built up a sizeable pool of money that you can be more adventurous with your purchases and item selection. Eventually, you will be able to keep livestock – including chickens, sheep and cows – which, by the time you get them, provide a much-needed variance in gameplay. Eggs laid by chickens may be either sold or used for cooking, and players will have to ensure that they brush and talk to (!) their cows each day to ensure that they are content enough to provide you with the best milk.
In a similar vein, once you expand your farm with livestock you will soon be granted the option to gain either a cat or dog as a pet. These are then able to be trained to help you on your farm; the dog able to her cows and sheep to and from your barn, whereas cats can ensure that chickens are escorted safely home from their pen.
Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar offers an enjoyable farming simulation that, whilst introduces new concepts, ultimately doesn’t grant enough fresh appeal to push the series forward enough.