Grand Bazaar generally doesn't explain itself very well, leaving you to turn to internet message boards for advice on the arcane mathematics behind windmilling, dating, tree growth and other such everyday farm concerns. The process of improving tools is baffling; after months of play I still don't understand how it works, and there's no in-game help to advise me. I miss being able to exchange money and some gold ore for a better hoe in the local smithy. Life was simpler then.
The windmills are indicative of a wider trend in Grand Bazaar: it takes progress out of your hands. Things happen at a predetermined pace, with scripted events at certain times that give you new items or open up a new windmill for you to use; no matter how hard you work or how well you do, you can't hurry them up. Your farmer will be going to bed at 10AM all the way through the first Spring; it's months before there's enough going on to keep you busy.
Because of the way the game's clock works and the limited field size, all your normal farm business – taking care of cows, sheep and chickens and watering plants – is almost always over by 11AM. Theoretically this should leave the rest of the day for enjoying yourself, but there's nothing to do. After the middle of the first summer you can at least go fishing, but after one afternoon you'll have caught enough fish to fill your entire inventory, and they don't sell for much at market.
A large part of this problem is that the town is too small, with too few inhabitants. The bazaar and the windmills eliminate the need for shops, and without shops, there's not much for Zephyr Town's denizens to do with themselves. Magical Melody – which remains, in my opinion, the peak of the Harvest Moon series – had a bustling, busy town, full of potential friends with busy lives. In Grand Bazaar, meanwhile, there's nobody to hang out with.
Townspeople spout the same two lines of dialogue every damned day of the year, and the bachelors and bachelorettes are universally insipid. It's not like they were ever exactly brimming with personality, admittedly, but they did at least have something to say for themselves beyond "Today is a nice day! Let's work hard!"
The boredom can be temporarily alleviated by Grand Bazaar's Animal Crossing-style multiplayer. Friends can visit your farm, and you can frolic off to the river to go fishing or water plants in communion. Immediately you wonder why Harvest Moon has never done co-op farming before. It's an excellent way to take the edge off the grind.
But unlike Animal Crossing, every person's farm is the same, and so the motivation to visit others' dwindles fast. You end up acting as hired help, teaming up to pull off a big harvest. The only thing you can customise is a sign above your field – although I suppose you could plant your crops in the shape of a swastika if you really wanted.
In both single- and multiplayer, the problem is the same: there's just not enough to do. Even when there's a whole field bursting with ripe crops and a barn full of animals to tend to, you'll still be running in circles for hours to pass the time. After your first game-year, there's even less novelty to look forward to between bazaars. You're living for the weekend, not because it promises respite but because you'll finally have something to keep you occupied.
Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar is a game that I've played daily for more than two months, but I can't honestly recommend that you do the same. Not unless you're a Harvest Moon fanatic, in which case Grand Bazaar offers just enough of a twist on the well-worn, comforting old formula to ingratiate itself into your daily routine. It's the best portable Harvest Moon in quite some time, and the multiplayer is a promising development, but we're still waiting for another Friends of Mineral Town.
6 / 10
Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar is available now in North America. It's not released in Europe.