For those who haven't played Harvest Moon, it sounds (and looks) pretty boring. But there's a charm to the slow pace. You tend your crops and livestock every day, say hi to your neighbors, and occasionally get called upon to help solve the town's problems. Every Harvest Moon game has a story, but the story is just there to give the player direction. Often badly translated and very forgettable, the Harvest Moon games' stories leave much to be desired. World's Dawn, a free game crafted by one-person development studio Wayward Prophet, captures all the best things about Harvest Moon but also weaves a much more interesting story around characters that have a lot of depth to them.

World's Dawn has all the staples of the Harvest Moon style farming/town simulation games. You come into ownership of a farm that has fallen into disrepair and must collect things growing in the wild, plant and tend crops, buy and tend livestock, and stay on friendly terms with your neighbors to succeed. Not too far into the game, one of the town's residents tells you that the person who owned the farm before you (now deceased) was responsible for bringing about a golden age for the town and that he hopes you can inherit that legacy and restore some of the town's former prosperity.

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There are a few things about the game which are different from what old-timers to the genre might expect, but what truly sets World's Dawn apart is its character interactions. There's a lot to learn about everyone in town, things they'll reveal to you gradually as your relationships with them strengthen. You can and should try to talk to everyone every day, but if you run your stamina down dashing around town to try and talk to everyone, they'll start telling you to take care of yourself instead of talking about their interests. You can bring your dog with you to sniff out places where things are buried, but then people will comment on your pet instead of talking about what's going on in their lives. These things make learning as much as possible about your neighbors more than just another chore to be mindlessly done every day.

As with all games of its kind, World's Dawn allows you to woo and win a romantic partner. Unlike most games of its kind, however, you can not only be either gender but you can choose to woo members of the opposite gender, the same gender, or both. There are only a few characters of either gender to be wooed, but that's because the developer wanted to focus more on fleshing out their personalities than offering more options.

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Development on World's Dawn begain in 2010 and was done entirely in RPG Maker. It doesn't use any of the base resources of RPG Maker and although setting up farming simulation gameplay took up a good chunk of that time, Wayward Prophet's David Grund says that the main reason for the long development time is that it's been worked on inconsistently, one of many projects on his plate. Now, however, it's his main focus. The spring season of the game has been released and is available as a free download for Windows, with the summer season to follow in July or August. Grund expects to have all four parts of the game completed by the end of the year, with save files able to be copied from one season's game directory to another's and the ability to transfer save files from the end of winter back into spring for endless play.

If you've played any Harvest Moon style games in the past and actively disliked the gameplay, then World's Dawn is not for you. It offers the same kind of overall experience as Harvest Moon and its spinoffs. For people who enjoy those kinds of games, though, World's Dawn's focus on fleshed-out characters and deeper relationships make it stand out. And it's free, a hard price to beat, though the developer accepts donations.

[World's Dawn]