Harvestella dev interview: What they decided to change after getting feedback on the demo

Harvestella, a life simulation RPG from Square Enix, is set to release on November 4. Seeing Square Enix’s take on life simulation with RPG elements mixed in likely already has fans of the genre eagerly awaiting its arrival.

For the occasion, we sat down with the game’s producer Daisuke Taka, director and scenario writer Hiroto Furuya, and Live Wire’s Naoyuki Ukeda, development director of the game, to learn more about the improvements and additions that have been made since the release of the demo.

*This article is based on an interview posted to the Japanese edition of AUTOMATON on October 4. Please note that this interview was conducted before Square Enix shared the following list of changes coming to the retail release of the game:

・Reduced time lapse speed on the world map and the field
・Reduced hit time for fishing
・Reduced cooldown time for job changes
・Increased the Mage’s normal attack speed
・Partially reduced loading time
・Addition of a warning effect when a character’s HP is low
・Modified UI during save and auto-save
・Various assorted bug fixes
*These updates will not be implemented for the demo version

[UPDATE 2022/10/20 20:58 JST] Added the above list provided by Square Enix

Standing out from other life simulators

――Nowadays, life simulators are an extremely popular genre. How does Harvestella differentiate itself from other life simulation games?

We started production on Harvestella wondering what it would be like playing a farming and life simulation game in a beautiful and cool world with a serious setting.

There are a lot of games in the genre that go for a cute look, so we wanted to use beautiful visuals and backgrounds with a serious story and moving music to create a solid new world and setting. The game’s concept is about life and adventure in this new kind of setting.

――What points did you place the most importance on during development?

As far as game mechanics go, it’s natural to use what’s proven to work. Moreover, providing a new experience was also crucial. The most important point was that players felt a sense of freshness while playing in the world.

For that reason, I feel like we built, removed, built, and mixed things together without being held captive by preconceived ideas.

We started by questioning what is considered normal for the genre. I think the life simulation RPG still has a lot of potential with things that can be done and things that aren’t being done. We were strongly thinking about if we could take genre conventions and interpret them in a different way.

Fine-tuning for the release

――You’ve stated that you received user feedback regarding how fast time passes and that it was being adjusted for the game’s release. Can you tell us how fast time will pass in the full version of the game?

We received quite a few opinions regarding the passage of time from those who played the demo. The reason time felt fast was because when moving from your house to a separate area through the world map, unlike regular areas, time passed with each step taken.

During development, we already knew where everything was as we went through our checks. But when you’re playing for the first time, you do more wandering around not knowing where things are. If you stray off course even just a bit, the sun might be setting by the time you make it to your destination. This happened to a considerable number of players, so we’re making adjustments mostly revolving around the world map.

Additionally, we’re making changes to the early scenario section. An event would occur each morning during the first 5 to 6 in-game days, and when taking that time into consideration, it reduced the time players were free to move about. Players are normally able to start their days at 6:00 a.m., but some events make it so days start at 11:00 a.m or 1:00 p.m. With these events reducing the available play time in a day and the fast passage of time on the world map, I think it slowed down progression.

By making time start at 10:00 a.m. on days when there are morning events, players will be able to go about their day without rushing so much.

――With some life simulation RPGs, long days make the game feel sluggish and some don’t even progress to the next season after the main scenario has been completed. To me, the pace of Harvestella felt like it was trying to tackle that issue.

That’s correct. Dungeons have been designed in such a way that it’s impossible to tackle them in a single day of in-game time. We want players to take their time and carefully go through them over multiple days. We had to cut the demo off at 15 days, but the full version of Harvestella won’t have any sort of time limits. There are other aspects as well such as farming, so we thought it might not be good to increase how much players can do in a day too much.

If it’s possible to do everything in a day, I think players tend to think they have to do everything in a day and pursue efficiency. For that reason, we’re making the game speed somewhat fast.

As Taka said, we didn’t want a game where players are pressed for time. Rather than trying to force your way through a dungeon in one go, it’s more efficient to return to your house each day. Considering the story and how you don’t level up if you don’t go home, the game was designed with the intention that players would return to their house each day.

No time limits

――You said, “Harvestella won’t have any sort of time limits,” but does that mean there won’t be any timed events in the game?

It’s okay to think of it as events not having anything like set time frames. In an extreme case, you may decide to continue playing the game without taking care of the Quietus (the season of death) issue. You can push through the main story or take your time while partaking in farming and such.

We also constantly talked about not having elements that couldn’t be undone and aren’t making events that pop up on specific days. If I had to say, it’s a game about going to other towns, listening to the requests of others, and setting off to adventure. Think adventuring to various towns and running across people there.

――Do crops wither if they’re neglected?

They wither when Quietus passes over, but crops that are harvestable will not wither if left alone. It’s just that if you don’t water the plants, they won’t grow.

――I see. So “leisurely” was an important theme during development.

I think life simulation RPGs are different from regular RPGs in that players want to keep playing after clearing the game. They want to maintain the world that they’ve built, so it was important for us to design the game in a way that would allow players to experience content at any time they like so that they continue to enjoy their worlds.

RPG-like battles

――There wasn’t any dodging or blocking skills in the demo. Does combat in Harvestella focus more on being action oriented or is there a bigger emphasis on stat management?

When you incorporate dodging and blocking mechanics, it creates a gap between those who are skilled at action games and those who aren’t. We wanted to bring out more of the RPG side with Harvestella and made combat simple. Rather than being able to cut your way through the game without taking damage, your character will steadily get stronger for more RPG-like combat.

――So it’s more like a turn-based RPG with action elements?

That’s right. Actually, we were making it with a turn-based feel during the initial planning phase, but the scenery of the game was extremely beautiful, so we went with seamless combat to better leverage that.

Being mindful of those who aren’t used to life simulation RPGs

――Some feedback from those who played the demo included that the price for selling produce isn’t set in a way that would make profits for players when considering the purchase price of seeds. What do you think of this point?

I think they might be referring to carrops which can be planted and harvested in a day. Carrop seeds cost 105 Grilla and the crop sells for 115 Grilla leaving the player with a profit of 10 Grilla.

In Harvestella, the number of days it takes to raise a crop is pretty short. Quite a few can be harvested in a day or two, so if they sold for twice as much as the seeds could be bought for or something, the profits would be huge as players expanded production. We balanced prices with this in mind.

If you’re hurting for money in the early parts of the game, you might want to try raising Dress Lettuce because the seeds are cheap, and the profit ratio is high.

――In my experience with the demo, quest rewards and treasure chests seemed to provide a lot of seeds.

They also drop from enemies and are pretty easy to get ahold of. The game is also targeted at those not used to this genre, so if you have seeds even if you don’t specifically go out and buy them, you might think to yourself, “I might as well plant these and see what happens.”

――Does the farm eventually expand?

The farm can get quite big when expanded through the Renovator. There are also additional biomes besides the farm such as the Waterside biome. If you leave your house and head up the tall plateau to the left, there’s a mysterious waterside area that opens up where crops can be planted. There’s also a cave biome where special plants can be grown that don’t require water.

――I gathered that there are a lot of recipes in the game, but around how many are there?

There are over 80 recipes just for cooking.

Plans to adjust fishing

――When fishing in the demo, there were times when an hour would pass in-game with no bites. Personally, I’d be happy if fish came just a bit more frequently. Are there any adjustments being made related to fishing or will the full game have items that help with this?

Fishing is fairly detached from the overall game design but is pretty difficult to do in its current state, so we intend to adjust the time for it as well. More specifically, cutting the current wait time in half.

――Thank you. I saw fishing spots I wanted to try in dungeons and stuff but was conflicted because of how much time it took (laughs).

From a game design standpoint, we hope players can take their time to fish in dungeons after completing them.

Players are given much more freedom after the demo in chapter 3

――That sounds good to me. Are there any other elements being improved for the game’s release?

Like how time passes, we also received a lot of feedback about loading times and want to improve them. Of course, we can’t suddenly reduce loading times down to nothing, but we’re working hard to reduce the overall time little by little.

Even when the demo was released, there were places we were working to improve. There is some room for improvement, and we are reexamining places that haven’t been optimized yet. I think you’ll see improvements with the house and towns and stuff.

We’re also carrying out detailed bug fixes. We received feedback that some players didn’t know whether the game was actually auto saving when it was, so we plan to have a “Saving…” message appear as well.

We’re working hard to get these updates into the game in time for launch, but what doesn’t make it will be added in a post-launch update.

――Did you receive any feedback that were only misunderstandings because of what was limited to the demo?

The demo allows players to play through chapter 2, but the degree of freedom in Harvestella increases greatly in chapter 3. We reluctantly had to cut down the volume of the demo, but chapter 3 is where Harvestella really begins.

Through chapter 2 is mostly a straight line in terms of the story. With chapter 3, players are able to choose between different towns they want to go to. The towns have quests, the characters have stories, and there’s a lot of horizontal development. I think it’s an experience with a lot of freedom, so I hope you look forward to it.

One thing we couldn’t put in the demo was Charge Actions for farming. Starting with chapter 3, there are characters called fairies who will lend you their powers to, for example, plow three spaces at once. I want players to know that farm work gets more pleasant as you progress.

No gender restriction on romance with characters

――Will there be any romance elements with characters in the game?

Each character has story content and as you progress that story your level of closeness with that character grows. Once that level reaches the max, you activate an event called a “partnership.” This takes place after finishing the story and bringing peace to the world, but you will be able to live together after the event.

――Are there restrictions on which characters you can partner with based on your character’s gender?

There are no restrictions.

What makes RPGs wonderful are the variety of characters with their own charms and appealing aspects for players to fall in love with themselves. We’re aiming to make a game where characters aren’t thoughtlessly made to flirt, but where players choose for themselves which characters they like.

In this day and age there isn’t really a sense of that’s a woman so it has to be this way or that’s a man so it has to be that way. We want to preserve that for players as they play.

We were also conscious of the fact that love can take shapes beyond just flirting. There are also relationships of trust, right? Going through a story with a character and overcoming their worries together builds a special relationship based on trust. We see this process as very important to make it more lifelike.

Wrapping up

――Taka, you’re already a creator with plenty of fans from your past works like Puyo Puyo Quest and Another Eden. What did you feel you were able to express through this title specifically?

With Another Eden, I felt that we had made a mobile game with an RPG experience that you normally see on consoles, but mobile developers tend to be seen like “can they not make regular games?” Mobile game development has been leveling up lately and they also have to be successful from a business standpoint, so it’s tough on both fronts.

I think Harvestella is quite advanced from a game design perspective, so I personally want to show that even those with a mobile game background can make an entertaining console game.

――Harvestella is your first home console game, right?

That’s correct. It’s my first one, so I think there’s room for improvement in some areas, but the game itself is extremely fun, so I want to keep expanding and growing Harvestella for the next 10, 20 years.

――To wrap up, could you each give a message to players about how you want them to enjoy the game?

With Harvestella, we challenged ourselves to make a new way to play and a fresh style of presentation that doesn’t adhere to the established life simulation RPG format. We want it to be something new that isn’t trapped by conventions, so we hope players approach it as a completely new type of game. It’s really fun, so please give it a try.

Harvestella is of course fun as a life simulation game, but we also put a lot of care into the RPG aspects. We worked really hard on the story, setting, and more, so I’ll be happy if those who don’t normally play life simulation games also pick it up.

I think the game is a fresh experience where players will look forward to the story, living life, and what waits around the corner. I hope players dive in and enjoy it at their own pace.

――Thank you for your time.

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Translated by. Nick Mosier based on the original Japanese article (original article’s publication date: 2022-10-04 12:08 JST)