You wouldn’t think psychological horror would go well with a farming simulator game, but the two mesh in some unexpected ways. For instance, anyone who’s played the classic Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley already know there might be risks involved in staying out and about too late into the night, but what if you’re told about the possibility of some horrifying things that happen at night? What if some of the townspeople act suspicious and shady? What if the joyful music of the day time fades into an ominous note, then silence with the exception of crickets? How would you feel about staying up late now?
Gleaner Heights is a farming simulator made back in February 2018 by indie developer Emilios Manolidis, known nowadays for his recent psychological thriller I Dream of You and Ice Cream. The game appears to take heavy inspiration from Harvest Moon: Friend of Mineral Town in a lot of its mechanics such as increasing relationships through gifts, unlocking more crops by shipping enough of one season’s available crops, and animal festivals which your animals perform better in if they have more affection and are let outside more often. There’s also a combat mechanic in which you fight not with a sword, but with your farming tools such as your hoe, axe, or hammer. You mainly do this to increase your combat effectiveness for boss fights (yes there’s boss fights) and to collect materials the enemies may drop.
But let’s get into what makes Gleaner Heights really different from your average farming sim. There are many secrets in the land including secrets held by the townspeople, secrets about the towns history, and secrets about the previous owner of your farm. Uncovering these secrets requires three main things: exploring with improved tools, going around town at night and running into certain events, and befriending the townsfolk. Throughout the game you will get several opportunities to help or to hurt those around you giving a morality mechanic to the game. Some of the secrets you uncover may be minor, others get pretty dark, and a couple are downright unsettling. It goes without saying that this game in not for the feint of heart and should be avoided if certain adult situations may trigger a severe emotional response as some of the themes can be very real for some of us.
Other than that, there are a couple downsides to this game worth mentioning. For one thing, there are a couple of bugs that have not been worked out. The biggest of which involves some of the annual events not generating which requires you to reload the day to get the event to work. After some digging it seems the bug has existed for a long time, so it’s safe to say there are no plans to patch it. The other issue is that the final boss of the game can be found without any context or uncovering any of the secrets leaving you questioning what just happened. The story itself is already a bit convoluted even when you do uncover everything and it leaves the player open to making theories, so not having all the facts beforehand just makes it more convoluted. The last issue is that there is a time limit to beating the game. I see this as a major downside given that the game leans heavily on a narrative theme and taking your time to learn the story, that putting a time constraint on it somewhat hurts that theme. Especially given that one of the main ingredients needed to fight the final boss is grown in the Spring, and your time limit ends in Winter meaning that if you’re too late you’re forced to wait three seasons just to get the bad ending.
This game gets the spotlight as the first playthrough is interesting and fun, but the game does not set itself up for replayability unless you really want to try for the evil ending. I’d definitely recommend it for one playthrough though, especially if you enjoy a good psychological thriller. You can even check their website out below!