1) What is the core reason that the player plays this game and how does the designer encourage this?
As soon as the intro scene is over, you completely decide what is going to happen with the character. The game gives you very little resources to start but plenty of opportunities to collect more from the game. Do you want to dedicate to fight monsters? You can do it. Wanna be a fisher? Grab that pole and do it. Standard farming? Get some seeds an in a couple of minutes you can have it running. Just want to wander around and make money off what you find? Completely possible too.
2) How does the game harness the power of modelling, focus, imagination, and empathy?
Modelling: in real life, farming is very complex and you need to know several techniques to do it properly, you must keep on mind weather, seasons, soil, water, seeds, bugs, pests, fertilizer, etc. Here there are seeds specific for every season, you plant and make sure the plants are watered. Wait for the specific time and then you will have crops. This applies to many other activities.
Focus: from day zero you can see there are buildings to make, expand your house, get animals, etc. All of this requires in-game gold, some of them a lot of gold, some of them no so much gold. You can start by doing activities with low reward but no requirements, make some gold, invest in tools and buildings that allow you to do activities that are rewarded with even more gold. This is a cycle that repeats over and over.
Empathy: your character is new to a town and nobody knows you. You can relate to your neighbours or even your character. You get to know them, they help you, you help them. You grow the sense of community and try to fit in the town.
Imagination: the town is full of mysteries to unveil. Not only the neighbours' stories, like the frustrating life of Penny with her mother or the love story between the major and the rancher. As you complete targets, you open new places and new clues on the magic behind the town.
3) Does the game have a definite flow zone, and if so how does the game designer move the player within it? What mechanics in the game increase the difficulty as the player gets better?
The flow zone is clear: get some gold, get tools and buildings that unlock new challenges, get more gold in these challenges, repeat. The player feels accomplished by making his farm better and opening new challenges. The amount of gold needed is the difficulty mechanic.
4) How does the designer integrate the 8 game pleasures into the game, are all pleasures present?
The main pleasures in the game are:
Sensation: it is triggered by its pixel art and mechanics - it is a call back to the original Harvest Moon for Super Nintendo. It has a retro/nostalgic feeling calling to a generation that grew up with that.
Fantasy: we live in a time where there is some nostalgia for the simple life in the countryside, this allows you to live this dream comfortably from home.
Challenge: you start with 500 gold and a farm that has only trees, grass and an old house on it. Make money with any of the many opportunities around and you can start changing this into a successful farm.
Discovery: the characters background stories, the hidden opportunities to make gold, the unlockable places in the town, the yearly events, the bundles to complete.
Expression: you decide how your farm will look like, you can customize your character and even you can decide the future of the town.