Petit Novel Series – Harvest December
Publisher: CIRCLE Entertainment
Release Date: December 10th 2015
Links: Nintendo UK Site
Reviewed by Oliver Jameson (@MinusWorld)
When you consider the critical acclaim of the likes of the Zero Escape and Ace Attorney series on Nintendo’s handheld systems, it’s a surprise that there aren’t more visual novel offerings available on the 3DS. A genre that focuses on storytelling, often blended in with puzzle or decision-making elements, is right at home on a portable system, but as of yet the 3DS’ library of VNs has paled in comparison to that of its ‘competitor’ the Vita, or even its predecessor the DS.
However, Japanese dōjin game development circle Talestune seek to fill this gap with the release of their portable visual novel series Harvest December, finally making its way to the west. Originally released as thirteen standalone chapters at a price of 100 yen each, but now available in the form of a complete downloadable package, the series tells the story of Masaki Konno, a boy who has relocated to the rural town of Tagami from Tokyo. As the plot develops, you’ll discover more about the peculiar supernatural elements that surround this town, as well as get to meet many of its residents that fit into the bizarre love triangle that takes centre stage throughout the story.
The way the story is told is rather interesting. Firstly, it’s important to make it clear that this is a ‘kinetic’ visual novel, the type of VN where the player doesn’t interact with the story; in Harvest December, you’re reading a story accompanied with art – no influences on the way the plot goes, nor gameplay sections of any kind – this isn’t a bad thing as such, but it’s definitely worth knowing when going in. The primary overarching plot focuses on Konno and his two love interests, the daughter of a wealthy family who control the town and, in a rather bizarre turn of events, the local goddess who watches over the land. As you’d imagine, this leads to some rather unique romantic situations, both confrontational and comedic, with the story doing a good job at throwing the unexpected at you and taking turns that you simply wouldn’t be able to foresee. However, the occasional chapter instead puts you in the perspective of one of Konno’s friends, allowing you to view what’s going on from a different perspective in a refreshing and natural manner that helps to give the whole cast a well-rounded development. However, on separate occasions when a scene cuts between two different locations, the transition feels a little forced; the game makes use of various styles of execution, some of which work more than others, which does create a bit of inconsistency in the presentation.
In fact, there are some instances where the presentation as a whole feels quite strange; the manner in which some characters are introduced creates the sense that you should know them already which, whilst working to truly put you in the shoes of the character you play, can throw you a little and make you feel like there’s something you’re missing out on plot-wise. One thing that is clear is the heavily anime-inspired themes that run throughout the game; being set in a rural Japanese town, traditional elements of Japanese culture are frequent, but luckily CIRCLE Entertainment have included a new feature in their localisation that allows you to select certain highlighted words in the text for an expanded explanation, a feature that’s highly praiseworthy for a game in an otherwise exclusionary genre. However, it has to be said that those with a basic working knowledge of Japanese traditions and anime cliches may find greater enjoyment in this title than someone who isn’t a fan of said mediums.
With this in mind, even with anime’s known ‘eccentricities’, some of the plot points in Harvest December are incredibly bizarre, almost humorously so; if you’re going into this title expecting a standard high school romance tale, then think again – whilst that element does run throughout the whole story, you’ll likely find your attention captured by some what can only be described as the ‘weird’ moments. Without giving too much away, the game’s mythological and deity-related themes are hardly the limit to what you should expect, and even stranger is that many of these elements are dismissed by the cast members as completely normal. Harvest December is certainly unique in that aspect, but it has to be said that many of the game’s seemingly random turns of events can be a little jarring, not only because they’ll likely completely defy your expectations, but somehow they take away from the immersion and even believability of the plot.
Now considering the genre of this title, the audio-visual aspects are almost as important as the game’s writing. Harvest December‘s art-style is basic and unsurprisingly as anime-esque as the story; backgrounds are well-drawn and do a good job at setting the scene, although few in numbers, which can give the game a feeling of repetition after countless viewings across the game’s thirteen episodes. The same goes for character artwork, which appears as the game’s only real sign that a certain character is talking (the dialogue, which plays out on the touch-screen, reads more like a book as opposed to your more stereotypical visual novel with character-specific text-boxes); designs are nice, although surprisingly tame considering some of the game’s plot elements, but a lack of variation hinders their effectiveness later on in the game. The main visual attraction comes in the form of occasional static images used to illustrate specific events, usually detailed and full of character. These are all fantastically illustrated and make up some of the game’s best bits when it comes to visuals.
On the audio side of things, the game has a soundtrack that’s thoroughly pleasing on the ear, generally relaxing and ideal for long reading sessions, but changing in tone to fit both scenes and the changing of the seasons in-game appropriately. In terms of the game’s other physical aspects, some parts of the writing, which is fairly important considering it makes up the entire basis of the game, contain a fair few grammatical and spelling errors; this problem isn’t quite bad enough to take away from the experience as a whole, but none-the-less it’s disappointing.
Harvest December succeeds when it comes to meeting the desires of its target audience; it offers an anime-style romance plot that succeeds in achieving a good balance of serious moments and lighthearted fun, filled with cultural references that’ll certainly please any fans of those aspects of Japanese life. However, it’s hardly the greatest love story ever written, at times confusing, other times simply very strange and very likely to appeal to few people outside of its rather niche chosen audience. The game suffers in some presentational elements and its possible that you may find the backgrounds and characters somewhat stale after many hours of play. However, it’s important to note that Harvest December truly does give you your moneys worth; it’s an affordable title and thirteen chapters of around two hours in length each, it’s guaranteed to keep you occupied for a fair amount of time. If you like the idea of some inexpensive reading and a bizarre plot, all on your 3DS, then perhaps this is exactly the title for you.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.