GameSpite Journal 10 | Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon | Dev.: Natsume | Pub: Natsume | Genre: RPG/Simulation | Release: June 1997

An RPG fan might almost be excused for missing Harvest Moon upon its release. That mid-1997 date meant that Sonyís PlayStation, the Nintendo 64 and other next-gen systems were already well entrenched in homes. To add to that, the much-hyped Final Fantasy VII was but a scant few months away. Serious RPG aficionados were bellying up to games like Wild Arms and being blown away by full 3D battles and animated cut scenes. Meanwhile, on the aging Super NES, a funny little game about farming crept onto store shelves.

Despite all of these very valid excuses, I can still only almost excuse the fan that missed Harvest Moon. This is because Harvest Moon is an amazing game that easily proved the well-used fields of the Super NES could still be fertile ground for innovation.

On the surface, Harvest Moon looks like it could have been developed by Squaresoft or Enix in their SNES prime. Mimicking the look and feel of a traditional 16-bit RPG, Harvest Moon boasted beautiful sprite-based graphics presented in a top-down manner. Similarly, the protagonist could explore forests, a town, mountains and a cave. Various NPCs dotted the landscape, all of whom spoke in text boxes lifted straight from the RPG style guide.

Spend any amount of time with game, though, and that RPG illusion quickly fades away. No knights, wizards or other staples of the RPG convention are to be seen. Instead, we are treated to a quaint, pastoral land free of dragons and their ilk. The world of Harvest Moon is actually quite limited; there is but a single town and the areas immediately surrounding it. As such this game is no world-spanning epic, but a small, simple tale about a boy trying his best to do a job.

That job is rebuilding the family farm, which is in terrible disarray. After saying a teary goodbye to his parents, he must set about clearing the land, building fences, and raising crops and livestock. This is no easy task, as our hero can and will get tired. He canít do everything all at once; succeeding in Harvest Moon requires careful planning and execution of tasks.

That is, in fact, the true rub of this game. While it may be a farming sim in the guise of an RPG, what Harvest Moon is really about is time management. Each game consists of two and a half years worth of game time, which is 300 days. During that time, a player may grow crops, raise chickens, milk cows, get married, have children, expand their house and more. Itís terribly difficult to do everything, and there is no preplanned path for a player to takeóyou succeed or fail completely by your own merits.

It can be truly frustrating to see so much work yet to do and have to turn in for the night. Of course, itís still there waiting on you in the morning, but so is everything else you needed to do for the day. You start to wonder whatís going to have to get pushed back even more. It can be maddening to watch your plans slipping further and further away, but thatís when you realize just how invested you are. It takes a really special game to worm inside your head like Harvest Moon.

Then again, Harvest Moon is a special game. Succeeding against all expectations during the twilight of a gaming system that had already been replaced by its own company, it spawned a series that has stretched across multiple consoles and decades. Who could have imagined a simple game about farming could grow so much?

By Aaron Littleton? | May 13, 2012 | Previous: RPGs and Europe? | Next: Kirby's Dream Land 3