With the 3DS seeing a few visual novel/adventure game hybrids released in the North American such as Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward and the ever popular Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, it is somewhat weird and slightly exciting to see something like Petit Novel Series – Harvest December makes its way to English-speaking shores. It’s a pure visual novel! Developed by Talestune and originally released as a 13 episodic story over the course of 4 games for mobile devices, the localization by CIRCLE Entertainment packages them all together into one game simply called Harvest December. What is it about? Is it worth picking up? Here is my humble evaluation…
Title: Petit Novel Series: Harvest December
Genre: Visual Novel (Romantic-Comedy, Supernatural)
Developer: Talestune (Localized by CIRCLE Entertainment)
System: Nintendo 3DS (Via eshop)
Length: 20-25 hrs
In short, Harvest December is something of a coming-of-age story that tells the tale of Konno Masaki, a young man who moves to a rural village due to family circumstances and happens to be caught up in a predicament most anime protagonist of his mold seem to thrive on: two girls confess their love for him out of the blue. Of course, these are no ordinary girls: one being Shiro, the God of Tagami (aka loli goddess) and the other Towada Yuki, the daughter of a powerful family that holds a great deal of influence in the region who will stop at nothing to question Masaki at every turn about bearing his child. Unfortunately, Masaki has no interest in either girl. What is an indecisive protagonist to do in this situation?
If the description wasn’t enough to tip you off, Harvest December, for the most part is a romantic-comedy/slice-of-life tale in nature. While most of the narrative focuses on the daily coming and goings of Masaki and his friends, it also pieces together an underlying subplot dealing with the legends that surround the Tagami region and various supernatural happenings. Sadly, with the beginning moving at a very slow pace, getting to the more enticing side is an uphill struggle, since most of the 13 chapters hardly elevate the mood beyond the anime-esque romcom approach. Thankfully, the cast of characters introduced do well enough to keep the comedic antics entertaining as well as provide some much needed flavor to the main leads that don’t seem to bring that much to the table when they are interacting with each other or alone. If anything, the wide range of character interactions are one of the better points and keeps the chapters from getting stale despite most clocking in around 2-5 hours a piece to complete – depending on your reading speeding. As a product that was originally for mobile devices, the game doesn’t contain voice acting, so do keep that in mind.
Being a product of Japan and dealing with many concepts relating to Japanese culture (I.E: festivals, Shinto rituals, etc), the localization team at CIRCLE Entertainment surprisingly leaves all those details in tact with little changes made other than providing a succinct definition when the player encounters a term or word they may not know. With most of the people picking up this game probably in the camp that has a basic understanding of most Japanese concepts and/or culture in general, I do find it odd that the game does provide a definition for some items, but not all. So while you might get a definition for what Furoshiki is (a wrapping cloth used for gifts or carrying a bento) the game doesn’t provide one for what a bento (boxed lunch) is or even something more obscure like Tochigami (a god that rules over a specific region). By no means does this mean that players unfamiliar with Japanese should shy away from this one, but do be aware that you may find yourself looking up a few terms online you may not be familiar with. All that being said, just like many visual novels out there, CIRCLE Entertainment (this is a Chinese company by the way) does have a few lapses in its quality checking, so don’t be too surprised if you see a few odd lines that amount to Engrish. However, having played many titles that CIRCLE has worked on before and on the Nintendo eshop (Adventure Bar Story, Mercenary Saga 2, The Legend of Dark Witch, etc), I can vouch that the work they have done is better than this one.
As someone who enjoys marveling at artwork in games, Yumehito Ueda provides a plethora of breathtaking illustrations and CG for the occasion. While the actual onscreen character sprites are lacking by comparison, it is sort of impressive looking at the sheer number of visuals that are packed into the game. Best known for his work on the True Tears anime character designs and manga version of Summer Wars, Ueda’s art style does look reminiscent of his past work, but also a huge improvement and a nice fit for the game. On the musical side of the equation, in-house composer Byakuya also provides a wide number of tracks capturing the sometimes silly and sometimes tender moments of the series, but kind of falters when it comes to variety and length. On the other hand, many of the vocal tracks turn out unbelievably well, especially the main theme “Harvest of December” performed by Yuduki.
In the end, for those that fancy visual novels and like to have another to experience on the go out of the ones that currently exist, Harvest December isn’t a bad choice. With a little bit of comedy, romance, and supernatural elements melding together, it does have a little something for everyone even though said elements do present some trouble of striking a good balance. And while the individual chapters do range from unsatisfactory to good, the finale does manage to provide a conclusion that is enjoyable as it is agreeable. Seeing how the west is slowly warming up to the idea of visual novels and the 3DS is another viable platform that has received very little, I do sincerely hope that Harvest December is another product that paves the way for more. Knowing that the anime style presentation and actual question of “is this a game” will turn away a few potential buyers, for those that know the genre best and like the eccentric, yet charming appeal most romantic-comedy tales of this nature can bring, I think it will be pretty hard not giving this one a fair chance.
Pros: Chapters are of manageable length, large cast of enjoyable characters, plenty of beautiful illustrations and CG artwork, interesting use of supernatural elements and Shinto beliefs, definitions provided for a few select terms.
Cons: A few grammatical/syntax errors, some terms not identified, some chapters lacking in content, options for controlling text output are limited.