Harvest Moon. Either you’ve played it, or you should play it.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series (and seriously, please go check it out, preferably one of the games I discuss) I shall outline it briefly. You’re a farmer. You farm things. Outline complete! What…This doesn’t sound fun to you? It’s a bit of a weird premise, I’ll give you that. I mean, who wants to water crops and milk cows? Before I heard about this game, I certainly didn’t want to. Just hearing that it’s a farming game sounds dull and unpleasant. But I was bored and had a four hour car trip to my cottage, with nothing to read but an issue of Nintendo Power. An issue which happened to feature a large section about the new Harvest Moon for the Super Nintendo. So I read it, and the more I read, the more intrigued I became. It also included a little journal kept by the main character, describing some of the things that was happening to him at the farm. And to my surprise, it did not read “Watered crops, fed chickens, went to bed”. Instead, it was about meeting townspeople, attending festivals, having a picnic on the farm, and other things that I would not have thought would be in a game like this. And as I continued through the article, it became the only thing in the magazine that I read. Over and over again. For the car ride and most of the next two weeks at the cottage. Okay, slight exaggeration, I may have read other stuff, but Harvest Moon was always on my mind. I knew I had to have it. I literally had dreams about acquiring the game while on my vacation.
I’m not really going to be able to do this game series justice in this one post, so I hope that if any of this appeals to you, you’ll check the games out for yourself. At least, the earlier ones. It kind of got weird after that. I haven’t really played any of the latest installments. But I played the CRAP out of the old ones. So let’s talk about those ones! We’ll start with the very first one, Harvest Moon, released in 1997 on North America. It’s also available on Virtual Console…I’m just saying. At any rate, this game dumped you into the life of being a farmer. The game doesn’t have MUCH of a story, but as best as I can tell, your family owns a farm. Your parents are leaving for two and a half years (heck of a vacation), and have entrusted the farm to YOU. And that’s all you had for story. You’re dumped into this world, you have the tools and things explained to you, as well as giving you a few seed packets to start you out. Turnips, if I recall correctly. And it’s your job to plant them seeds and grow them crops. Are you up to the task?!
Rhetorical question, don’t actually answer that. So you start off, and you really can go a few places from here. You can get to work, or you can wander around, exploring and meeting the various townspeople. I generally spend the first few days focusing on clearing the land around my farm. It’s in pretty bad condition, with sticks and rocks and bushes EVERYWHERE. So I smash the rocks, cut the branches, and slice the bushes. Or if I don’t want to expend precious energy, I just pick them up and toss them into the lake. Except the bushes, you can literally just pick them up and drop them and they will disappear, because you are mightier than some stupid bush. Yeah, how do you like me now, bush?!
You really don’t need to clear much of the farm to start planting, just a small section, ignoring the large rocks and tree stumps that you can’t destroy without shinier tools. Each seed pack will plant in a 3X3 area around where the farmer is standing. So you just need to clear out a few sections, making sure to space them out, because you can’t walk on plants once they’ve sprouted. This also means that you won’t be able to water the plant in the middle of the grid. You can decide how to deal with this for yourself. I know people who left one of the squares blank so that they could reach all of them, but I personally just let it grow a bit slower and still harvested it in the end. Once you get the hang of farming, it’s pretty easy. You don’t even have to worry about it right away when you wake up unless it’s harvest day, in which case you’re trying to get as many crops in the box as you can before…I think it’s 6PM that the dude comes and takes them away in exchange for sweet sweet money. You need the money. First you get the money, then you get the cows, then you get the women. Or I guess you can just skip straight to the women, but they won’t marry you if you live in a shack.
Oh, didn’t I mention? You can totally get married. Which leads me into the next part of the game, the social aspect! There are five girls that you can marry in this game. Eve the hot bartender (hot for a 1997-era pixel-lady, anyway.), Maria the pious church-going girl, Nina the air-headed pink-haired daughter of the flower-shop lady, Ellen the daughter of the local livestock dealer, and Ann the daughter of the guy who runs the toolshop. You pick one of these girls and woo the crap out of them. And how do you woo a lady? Presents, of course! Each one has certain things that they like and dislike, so you find whatever it is that they like, and give it to them as often as you can. Whether this is harvesting certain crops so that you can keep her happy, or foraging in the nearby mountain for mushrooms and wildflowers, that’s what you have to do. You can check their affection towards you by reading their diaries. Creepy, I know, but what girl simply writes down the name of a boy she knows and an arbitrary number of hearts beside it? I think SHE’S the creepy one. Also, you proposed by giving her a Blue Feather. No rings necessary. Just feathers.
So now we’ve covered farming and relationships, now we reach the festivals. Harvest Moon loves its festivals, whether it’s the Easter festival where you go on an egg hunt, or the harvest festival where everybody tosses something random into a pot to make what I can only assume to be a TERRIBLE stew. And these festivals are weirdly fun. As you get through the game, you start to look forward to them more and more. And you can win prizes and things! Everybody loves prizes, right?
Oh, and you can also keep animals. In the first game, this is limited to cows and chickens. Animals are a little tougher to acquire, because you have to keep them well fed, and this means planting grass seed and harvesting it when it grows with your scythe so that you have fodder. Luckily you don’t have to replant grass, it just keeps growing, but it’s a bit of an investment at the beginning of the game, especially since it takes a while to grow. Once you start getting chickens, however, you will soon be knee-deep in them. Fail to feed them, and they won’t give you eggs, keep them happy and you’ll be rolling in them. The eggs, not the chickens. Although I guess you shouldn’t really be rolling in either of those things. The chicken pen has a little incubator, so you can keep breeding your own chickens for free! Cows take a while longer to breed, but you can do that too. You can also buy brushes to keep your animals happy and clean. Happier animals, better quality milk and larger eggs! Oh, and you get a horse. He just shows up at some point and chills with you. You can later buy him a saddle and ride him around, but other than that, you don’t have to feed him or anything. I think he eats your dreams.
Also you have a dog! I think he also just shows up. You don’t have to feed him either. But he’s adorable. Doesn’t do much though. You can pen him up in the yard if you want. I usually carried him around with me everywhere, and occasionally tried to make him eat gnomes. He did not eat them. Yeah, there are gnomes. We’re not getting into that.
Okay, so we have crops, ladies, festivals, and livestock. I guess you could use that to sum up the game, but it just…Doesn’t do it justice. There’s something that just feels good about planting seeds, watering them and watching them grow, and then selling that shit. And the social aspects, the festivals, the flirting with ladies, the variety of weird characters, it all gives the game more depth than one would expect from something like this. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, there IS an end. When your parents come back, you are judged based on your social interactions, wealth, how many crops you’d harvested and sold, and even how many babies you had.
And this was only the FIRST in a series that is still making games now. The next game in this series that I played was Harvest Moon for theGameboy. And it was -awful-. I mean, just terrible. It had the farming elements and had stripped ALL social aspects out of the game. You couldn’t go into the town and wander around, it brought up a menu, you picked what store you wanted to go to, and it took you directly to a shopping menu. No interesting characters, no ladies to woo, no festivals. Eff that.
The next game MORE than made up for that failing, though. At least, I’m pretty sure it was the next in the series. It was the next one I played, anyways. Harvest Moon 64. New characters, new ladies, a new town, and fancy graphics. You now had all sorts of new options of things you could do. It kept the basic mechanics but with a better view, and now instead of just holding one item above your head like an idiot (which is how the original played), you now have a proper backpack to store your things. It revolutionized the way I farmed. Aside from that, it introduced sheep as livestock, so you could harvest their wool. The new characters were also a lot more interesting. I found myself again going for the girl who worked at the bar, this time her name was Karen. Ann was now the girl at the livestock place. Popuri is the new flower shop girl. Elli runs the bakery. And Maria is still a church-going girl who spends most of her time at the library. And this game made it a lot more difficult to woo your prospective mate. Not only is it more difficult to increase their relationship score, but you now have competition! That’s right, if you don’t woo them yourself, other dudes will swoop in and steal the ladies. Jerks. This game also added unique events for each of the girls, a lot of which involved you helping them in some way and them being grateful and liking you more. Oh, and you can dance with them and stuff at various festivals.
Speaking of festivals, this game took a big leap in those. Now instead or just a few, there are even more, and they tend to be more interactive! Ranging from fireworks, to flowers, to Thanksgiving, you can now interact with people a lot more, and in a lot of cases bring things in to enter various competitions and win assorted prizes. And there’s horse and dog races! Yes, you of course get a horse and a dog in this game, and now you can RACE THEM against other horses. And other dogs! Although you can’t race dogs AGAINST horses. I think the horses would have a slight advantage. At any rate, I lost a lot of money gambling on the horse races. Much fun was had, though. It’s basically everything the first Harvest Moon had, but more of it, and better. Which is awesome. It even added a feature where you can upgrade your house and get a proper kitchen, and then you can cook food. And the ladies love cooked food. It was a fun little added thing.
The next game in the series that I got really into was the Gameboy Advance title, Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town. And this one was awesome. Basically the same sort of thing as Harvest Moon 64, but different graphics. It featured many of the same characters from the last game, including all of the same ladies to woo. Lots of festivals, cooking, farming, everything we’ve grown to love and expect from a Harvest Moon game. It’s kind of hard to talk about this one after discussing the last two, there weren’t a LOT of changes made to the basic ideas. You now can spend time mining in the local mine to get minerals to upgrade your tools, and you can get better relationships with more of the townspeople, instead of just the ladies. This is the game I’ll talk about the least on here, simply because there isn’t enough to talk about after discussing the mechanics of both previous titles, but I honestly think I put more time into this game than I did into both of the other ones combined. By the time I got tired of it (after MANY hours), all of the ladies were in love with me, I was loaded, and even the townspeople loved me. I had gotten close enough to all of them that I could have run the town if I wanted to, really. I mean, it wasn’t an included mechanic, but they loved me. They wouldn’t fight me. In fact…I could probably wipe out the whole town of the mood struck me. I had an awesome upgraded axe and sickle…I’m just saying. I’m just saying.
After this, I haven’t played much of the series. I tried a couple titles for the PS2 and the Gamecube, but none of them really did it for me. It wasn’t as magical as it was back in my early days of learning that farming could be fun too. That’s not to say that all the later games are bad, though. I have some friends who enjoyed some of them, I just never got the chance to try those particular games out myself. And they’re still making them. So they’re doing something right, at least. In fact, they even released a strange blend of RPG and Harvest Moon elements. Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon is the only one of THAT series that I’ve played, but it was awesome. Not only do you farm, make friends, woo ladies, and everything that made the previous games great, but you venture into caves, fight monsters, even tame monsters to work your farm. It was awesome. It was released on the DS a few years ago, spawned two DS sequels, as well as two console sequels, with another planned for the 3DS.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, they also released a version of Friends of Mineral Town for the Gameboy Advance, called…Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town. It was exactly the same as the other game in every way, except now you play as a lady farmer instead of a dude, and you can now marry the dudes instead that would otherwise end up with the girls. So hey, if you’re into that, here you go.
So that’s Harvest Moon in a nutshell. It shouldn’t be fun. But it is. It’s so much fun. So please, check it out if you haven’t before. Maybe try one of the newer titles, but be careful, some of them get a little weird. And if you’ve tried any of these later ones, let me know how they are in the comments. Let’s talk about farming. Let’s talk about virtual farming. You and me. Let’s do this.