Back before I liked The Sims and actually even before that game existed there was (and still is) a game franchise that won me over by having a little preview about “an upcoming release” in one of those gaming magazines of yore. That game release was 1999′s Harvest Moon 64 and this is why I like Harvest Moon games.
Right, I suppose I should probably explain this first. Harvest Moon is a farming/dating simulation hybrid with RPG elements and lots of heart. Now I know what you must be thinking; “How could a game about farming be fun?” The funny thing is if you can look past the idea of farming in a game, you’ll see what the real magic is. It is a game that rewards working hard and micromanaging with progress and story. Did you look after that 9×9 plot of Cabbage? Good! Now you have some cabbage that you can either sell or give away as gifts to the various NPC villagers around the town. Maybe you just want to farm a bit to earn some dough so you can upgrade your house or get new tools and ignore the villagers for now. It is up to you and depending on how you play the game your experience will vary greatly. Did you work hard to save the local Vineyard or did you ignore it and the girl you were after had to leave town forever. The RPG elements really help pepper the game up and it is kind of amazing just how the story can play out depending on how you play. Not bad for a game from 1999.
You are a farmer. You gain “experience” by tilling the field or breaking rocks or by growing crops and raising animals. You earn “gold” not by beating up monsters or selling various “loot” to the NPC shops, but by your own sweat and tears and that crop of tomatoes or that stuff you harvested up on the mountain. The “story” of the game is up to you. Did you unknowingly reveal two characters feelings for each other? Did you happen across a girl who tripped and fell and twisted her ankle? Did you befriend the harvest sprites? Does anyone in the town like you? Did your animals die because you neglected them? All these things can affect how the story unfolds. If you play your cards right not a single animal was harmed during your play through.
The Choices You Make:
One of the biggest things in most Harvest Moon games is that you can decide who you marry. In most of the games it actually is a requirement to advance the story, but in Harvest Moon 64 you can decide to stay a bachelor forever. The funny thing with this scenario though is if the 5 eligible bachelorette get married you can’t decide to change your mind later and tie the knot and don’t even think about divorce, that simply doesn’t exist in these games. While it may be a big thing in most games, only a scant couple of games actually do anything with the marriage system and one of those is the N64 classic. In this game your wife actually helps out on the farm… it is more exciting than it sounds because in most games in the series your wife does nothing but walk around the house and say the same three things until her affection meter goes up and her list of three things to say changes. Your wife can also produce 1(one) child that is more often than not a boy in every single game and that child will either reach a toddler or young child stage and stay that way forever. Remember it’s not the end result that is important, but the journey to get there.
The Sounds of The Simpler Life:
Simply put the music is great. Check out more music from the Harvest Moon games over at Harvest Moon Otaku.
The Series Still Exists:
Since the first game came out way back in 1996 (Japan) the total amount of Harvest Moon games that have been released is 34. This post mostly just covers Harvest Moon 64 but that is because it is probably my favorite of all time and it was the first one I played. I am currently playing Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar for the DS (I really don’t like it) but I have high hopes for Harvest Moon: Tale of Two Towns.
Sure the characters may have changed and the game play has remained mostly stagnant, but each release seems to bring something different to the series and it is only a matter of time before the next game really returns the series to greatness. There is still some magic left in the Harvest Moon series to be discovered.