Harvest Moon: Boy & Girl is a bundle of two games--Harvest Moon: Back to Nature and the previously unreleased-in-the-US Harvest Moon for Girls, both badly ported from the PS1. Except for minor differences, most notably the protagonist's gender, they're actually the same game. Though this is a direct port of a pair of games that are roughly seven years old, the series has gone out of its way to evolve as little as possible over time, and as a result the simple yet surprisingly deep gameplay is functionally the same as in nearlyevery other entry in the series. This, of course, will be comforting to the stalwart fan community hooked on its quirky combination of farm RPG and dating sim, but it'll appeal little to virtually everyone else.
Harvest Moon puts you completely in charge of planning and maintaining all aspects of a farm, from the fields to the livestock, while trying to remain fiscally sound. The four seasons, each of which is composed of 30 in-game days, are punctuated with various local events for you to participate in so as to take your mind off your daily chores, but neglecting them for too long can prove detrimental. Your field needs to be weeded and plowed so you can plant crops, which must be watered and harvested, and your animals need to be fed and shown that you love them through regular care; but be sure not to go overboard and forget about your own health, as you can only work so long before collapsing from exhaustion. Once your tasks are done, the day is yours to spend as you please, though most likely your pursuit of a suitable partner and, ultimately, your marriage, will generally take up your free time.
Upon loading the game, you are presented with a cheerful prompt that asks you to make a simple selection between boy and girl, after which the appropriate game's title screen is loaded and you're ready to begin. But make no mistake, this decision is entirely superficial, as no matter which you pick, the village, farm, and people you encounter are identical save for the backstory and goals. The boy, who is the grandson of a deceased local farmer, has come to claim the land he once cherished as a child, and hopefully find the girl he befriended during that summer so long ago. However, things aren't quite so simple, as the mayor of nearby Mineral Town hangs a metaphorical Sword of Damocles above your head, explaining that the now-dilapidated farm is yours so long as you can return it to working order and gain the acceptance of your fellow villagers within three years.
The girl, on the other hand, has a much more melancholy story, contrary to the rose-colored life the boy seemed to lead: She was a runaway aboard a passenger ship that wrecked during a storm, and at the beginning of the game she washes up on the beach of Mineral Town, where she is discovered by one of its inhabitants. When she awakens, the mayor hears her tale and, moved by her misfortune, offers to give her an uninhabited farm so she can start over and hopefully find love and happiness.
Despite your selection, the game that begins is essentially about effective management of the limited amount of time in each day. Whenever you're not indoors, the clock ticks by in increments of 10 minutes that roughly translate to five seconds of real-world time, forcing you to keep on your toes to figure out how best to cram in everything you need to do and still have time to explore the forest and forage, woo potential mates, and participate in local events as they occur. Though this sounds like a daunting task, once a routine is settled on, it becomes surprisingly easy to do as long as your schedule is followed consistently. Unfortunately, though, once you get to this stage, the mindless, almost mechanical repetition of the same actions again and again without fail becomes incredibly tedious.
This is not to say that there isn't anything for you to do besides manage your farm, as there are a surprising number of other ways to spend your precious time and temporarily break up the monotony of your otherwise mundane life. The aforementioned town events include everything from swimming competitions and dances to chicken sumo wrestling and horse races. The library is stocked with books to read, mines can be explored for precious ores, your television picks up a different serial show each day, and you can even fish. But these are brief moments of solace, as your chores will always be waiting for you when you return.
By and large, the dating sim aspects of the two games are identical. In both, you have five potential mates among the villagers and, throughout the course of the game, must discover their various likes and dislikes so you can woo them by giving them appropriate gifts and inviting them to accompany you to various town events. The only real deviation is in how marriage is handled; in both cases the boy proposes to the girl by bringing her a blue feather as tradition dictates. Marriage effectively wins the game in both scenarios, and though it signifies the end of the girl's game, the boy's story will only end once three years have passed.
Technically speaking, Harvest Moon: Boy & Girl suffers from several severe issues that put a damper on what fun is present in the game: terrible load times, an intermittently choppy frame rate, and a skewed aspect ratio. A number of actions routinely performed, such as opening menus and even picking up your dog for a hug, are delayed for up to several seconds by the horrendous loading issue that has somehow crept into this title, which when coupled with the already slow-paced gameplay and even slower dialogue is frustrating at best. To make matters worse, certain areas, most noticeably in the town itself, suffer from a very distinctly slideshow-esque frame rate, and the graphics, originally presented in 4:3, are stretched to widescreen. There is an option to change the aspect ratio, but the alternative to a stretched game is to crop the edges (all of them) and frame the window with grass. Needless to say, this solution is not a very good one.
Overall, Harvest Moon: Boy & Girl is more of the same that fans have come to expect from the series. The shoddy porting job and completely unaltered nature of the titles screams of cash-in attempt, but this won't matter in the least to those dedicated to playing every last game associated with the franchise. For the rest of the world, however, this is a chore better left postponed indefinitely.