Why Harvest Moon On PC Is A Great Thing

In a world where it sometimes seems that guns, girls and grit are the special of the day every day, a game which eschews all that for turnips, livestock and progress seems like an outlier. Who would buy a game where the tutorial is an entire in-game year?

PC gamers, that’s who. There’s plenty of room here for epic space battles with intricate economies and bucolic life simulators. Harvest Moon, a game created by Yasuhiro Wada as an antidote to the bustle of Japanese city life, has spent its entire life on Nintendo consoles (with the occasional foray onto Playstation), leaving a small but dedicated fandom in its wake. Now, the quiet, unassuming game is taking its first step – after nearly 20 years – onto PC.

The critical and commercial success of tranquil sim games such as Euro Truck and Farming Simulator, along with modern life management in the form of Cities: Skylines and The Sims series, is evidence of a continuing hunger for what might be considered the mechanics of the mundane. The PC is a natural home for a series of games about farming and domestic life, and we shouldn’t be wondering why Harvest Moon is coming to PC after all this time, we should be asking why it has taken so long.

The series is part of a strange, yet compellingly charming mini-genre of role-playing games, alongside Animal Crossing and Rune Factory. There’s little tangible benefit to a two-hour gaming session, but in the same way that scientists monitor the pitch drop experiment in the hopes of seeing a once-in-a-decade occurrence, it’s all about the wait. Two hours of patient crop-tending feeds into the larger time flow, the fruitful summers giving way to harsher, stonier winters as your farm blossoms and dies and blossoms anew.

Generally, games that deal in the mundanity of farm life tend to stick to the realities of having to wake up at 4am, heave silage and hay and crops into various farm vehicles, and drive around at road rage-inducingly slow speeds before falling back into bed at 10pm in your wellies. Harvest Moon keeps a lot of the chore, but with infinitely more charm, adding in romance, foraging, collecting and a touch of fantasy.

You begin nearly every game in the series with a run-down farm belonging to some dead relative or another. Your dungaree pockets are stuffed with turnip seeds and dreams. The daily slog is slow, but progress is steady: plant crops, sell for a profit, repeat until you can afford animals, tend to the animals until you can afford more, repeat. Such is farm life in the Harvest Moon world: the slow turning of the seasons begrudgingly giving way to life as you coax it out of the soil.

In my eyes, Harvest Moon is the smaller, quieter cousin of games such as Monster Hunter and Destiny: games where the grind is the main mechanic, where progress is so incremental that even the smallest grain of success feels special purely because of the amount of effort spent on earning it. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle, and a satisfying one at that. In Monster Hunter, you slay hundreds of beasts to craft a weapon which you will use to slay more; in Harvest Moon, you toil for in-game months to unlock a new rank of farm tool that can help you grow even more crops.

Here’s where the fantasy comes in: your equipment is magical. Your helpers are sprites. Your boss is a goddess. You can marry witches, mermaids and ancient princesses that live at the bottom of a mine. The Harvest Moon games all center around the same basic concept: revitalising the farm through slow, but rewarding work, but each game has its own gimmick that brings it to life.

Sunshine Islands, one of the many DS games, begins with a horrible natural disaster which sinks a load of islands, and you have to bring them back through the power of farming. Harvest Moon DS asks you to save the Harvest Goddess, turned to stone by her rival, the Witch Princess, through the power of farming. Another, Tale of Two Towns, tasks you with uniting two warring villages – through the power of farming. Does it sound ridiculous? Yes, of course it does. Farming, in isolation, has never directly solved anything so exciting but Harvest Moon offers an entirely different take on agricultural revolutions.

These fantasy elements are what keeps the games rolling through the years – the weird stuff, the magic and the myth, is the gamey bit – your reward for toiling so patiently over crop rotations and livestock management. It never goes as far as Rune Factory’s monster-hunting element, because that would detract from Harvest Moon’s focus on small, quiet, personal stories, but being able to befriend a yeti or visit a casino run by pixies seems like a fitting distraction from rainy days on the farm.

The fantasy element allows for Harvest Moon’s greatest achievement: the telling of stories. They’re small stories, the kind you’d find in a chest or on a dead body in a huge RPG like The Witcher or Dragon Age, but in a game where everything is scaled down, they shine like diamonds.

One man rescues a mermaid and keeps her in the basement of his caravan laboratory to help her back to health. Another incredibly beautiful story has an old couple living on top of a hill, but once you marry the sweetheart of your choice, the years advance and the old man’s wife dies. Suddenly, the landscape of the game is changed irrevocably, and now instead of visiting the pair, you visit the lonely old man who sits at his wife’s grave through all weathers. Some have children, some get married, and alongside them you craft your own story of work, love and family, as much as you choose to do.

Alongside the farming and the fantasy is this romance aspect, where all of the eligible young men and women in your town are up for grabs, on the condition that you give them gifts every day until they love you. Was there ever such a cynical view of love? Each game has new bachelors and bachelorettes to court, with every stereotype you could ever wish for: from the taciturn cowboy to the sweet, shy rich young man that lives on a boat, and all the grumpy, flirty, creepy ones in-between.

The game knows its audience. Your first romantic options – the ones who live in the town at the start – are often the most boring ones, the ones who end up fancying you purely because you’re the first piece of meat to walk into town in 20 years. You don’t want these ones, the game implies. Too easy. As you progress in the game – more turnips, more cows, more money – you’ll unlock new villagers, each one more difficult and therefore intriguing than the last. Imagine, if you will, a version of Tinder that required 3,000 swipes before it started to show you all the architects, lawyers and rock stars. That’s Harvest Moon’s approach to dating. You have to earn it.

My favourite bachelor was a man named Sanjay. He was the butler to a prince, living in a huge exotic mansion filled with fountains and blue roses. He was polite and shy, with a long, white plait over one shoulder. The longer you spent with Sanjay, the more you learned: despite living the palatial lifestyle, his favourite food was herb pasta; he grew up in an orphanage; he loved ancient ruins. Each person you meet has these snippets of information, coaxed out gently over a course of months in the same way your tend to your crops and livestock.

The essence of Harvest Moon is this. It may be quiet, unassuming, and yes, possibly even boring at times, but it endeavours to teach its players a lesson about patience and rewards for those who wait. Farming and friendship are treated the same – giving a treat every day to make your cows and sheep like you more is no different to giving gifts to your friends in town. It’s the video game equivalent of sitting in the garden on a warm day: it may feel like nothing is being achieved, but quietly, invisibly, your body and mind are being recharged by the peace, by the permission to enjoy nothingness.

Harvest Moon cultivates and shapes this nothingness into playable relaxation, letting your brain concentrate on menial tasks in this pastoral world defined by the ebb and flow of the seasons. Yasuhiro Wada has since divested himself of the Harvest Moon series, chasing his concept further with the much poorer Hometown Story, a too-empty shop sim lacking in the inherent charm of the original series – but his legacy still lives on.

On PC, there’s space to nurture that legacy and to discover something new, if the right tools are in place. The structure of Harvest Moon makes it an ideal fit for modding – in a perfect rural world, everything from crops to livestock and villagers could be tweaked and multiplied. As Skylines and other games have demonstrated, the Steam Workshop can function as a constantly expanding warehouse of additional content, cosmetic and otherwise. A well-worked mouse and keyboard interface could also make laying out crops, and forming queues of commands to sit back and observe, easier than ever.

For Wada, and for the series’ greatest fans, Harvest Moon is escapism, but not in the fast-paced, fantasy-driven world which other video games create. Instead, this world is almost achingly slow, forcing you to slow down yourself, adjust to the pace, and take that deep breath you haven’t had in weeks. It’s gamified stress relief for the technology generation, and we need it more than ever.

36 Comments

  1. geldonyetich says:

    There’s been some Harvest Moon clones on the PC, perhaps most notably one in development by Chucklefish called Stardew Valley. (Granted, a lot of us were probably able to play Harvest Moon on emulators long before that.)

    Personally, I am sort of bored of vanilla Harvest Moon. I tried playing A New Beginning (the 3DS offering) and bounced off it rather hard because content was spread thinner than a politician’s promise. I prefer Rune Factory if only because it gives me more choice of what I can be up to.

    • tehfish says:

      I’m aware of a fair few similar games in development on the PC (is that the ones you are referring to?), but i haven’t seen any actual finished ones ever.

      If there are any examples of the latter, please let us know! :D

    • alms says:

      I was going to ask if anyone remembered about that game and how it was called, thanks for saving me the hassle.

    • Barnox says:

      I grabbed A New Beginning and yeah, there is a lot of just tiding your farm over to the next content drop. Rune Factory 4 on the other hand has loads of crafting, skilling, farming and dungeoning to get on with. I know there are some waiting games (I think I’m in the middle of the biggest one yet), but the core gameplay is fun enough.

    • Sc0r says:

      I’m so incredibly sad Rune Factory got canceled

      • vorador says:

        Well, there’s a whole lot of stuff going on, but RF5 is not canceled, or at least there’s no report of it.

        Once RF4 was done Marvelous contracted the RF team again (Neverland) to do some unrelated game called Lords of Magna or something. RF4 sold very well so Marvelous announced RF5 was on the pipeline while Neverland was hard at work on the other game.

        Once Neverland crumbled, Marvelous contacted the RF team and offered them a job. They continued development of the game Lords of Magna and finished it a while ago.

        So now, it is very likely they’re currently busy on Rune Factory 5.

  2. Greg Noe says:

    Should be noted that the Harvest Moon games are now being developed by Natsume, where they used to be developed by Marvelous AQL and published outside of Japan by Natsume. Harvest Moon 3D: The Lost Valley for the 3DS was the first (non-puzzle game) Harvest Moon developed by Natsume and reception was pretty poor. On the other hand, the original series is still going strong but is now known as Story of Seasons, which is the English title for the most recent Bukojo Monogatari release. Bukojo Monogatarai in Japan has always been what was known as Harvest Moon in the west, until The Lost Valley.

    In essence, I’ve been a fan of the series since the first game but I have zero expectations for the future of “Harvest Moon”, and have pointed my attention towards Story of Seasons. Natsume basically developed The Lost Valley with many of the features listed in the article, but ultimately it feels like a poor imitator of what Marvelous AQL has been doing for years.

    • Fiatil says:

      These facts make this article sort of odd. As a lifetime fan of the series I love all of the words in the article, but it’s seriously lacking in context. The studio that has been the developing the series forever has no involvement, and by all accounts Natsume’s (the publisher turned developer responsible for half of the games having horrible translations) first attempt at it was a poor Minecraft clone in Harvest Moon clothing. This seems set up to disappoint a lot of PC exclusive gamers who may be interested in the series. Story of Seasons is the Harvest Moon we’re looking for, unfortunately Marvelous doesn’t appear to have interest in porting the series to PC.

  3. wilynumber13 says:

    Now is this REAL Harvest Moon, that is, the next game in the Bokujou Monogatari series (historically localized as “Harvest Moon” but now known as “Story of Seasons” for legal reasons), or is it Natsume’s new series that uses the name but is not made by any of the same people? There were some legal issues surrounding the ownership of the English name within the past few years that you may not have been aware of. And given that there is no link to a source for this news in the feature, I can’t tell you myself. I suspect it’s the latter, though!

    • Parallax says:

      Its Natsume. Given what they did with Lost Valley, I’m expecting another bomb.

    • vorador says:

      Nah, is the “fake” one. AFAIK the one coming is not The Lost Valley, but a newer one they’ve announced.

  4. v21v21v21 says:

    “a once-in-a-decade”

    I think it is much much longer than that. Twice a cent, perhaps? So rare it has been filmed only once, because the technology hadn’t been invented. Previous time the guy (a different one) missed it for very very little.

    My contribution to this article about Harvest Moon.

  5. GameCat says:

    I love Harvest Moon, but I would love it even more if later game wouldn’t be a capitalist simulator where you’re just doing everything to maximize your income.

    • Fiatil says:

      I’m genuinely curious — what kept the old games from being any different to you in this regard? I’ve recently gotten back into Animal Parade on the Wii, and I definitely don’t disagree with it being largely a capitalist simulator. But I would classify the SNES original I played long long ago in the same bucket, as well as the N64 and playstation 1 editions. There are definitely forays into a different type of game with versions like Save The Homeland, but they’ve seemed to be a latter day spinoff affair rather than “the way it was”

      • GameCat says:

        Uhm, later game as second or more year within one title. Should probably said “late game”.

  6. Steven Colling says:

    For people interested in such games: I’m currently developing a game called Orcish Inn, an orc tavern simulation game (currently in a free pre-alpha). It’s about raising crops, brewing beer, building a tavern tile by tile and other stuff like fishing or animal husbandry (you can breed lovely pigeons for example):

    http://orcish-inn.stevencolling.com (Website)
    link to twitter.com (Updates)

    It takes the Harvest Moon thing in another direction. If you want to get an idea of the game fast, here is a Let’s Play from Yogscast too: link to youtube.com

    I hope it’s okay to post it here :)

    (if not, big sorry!)

    Cheers,
    Steven Colling

    • Moogie says:

      Are you the B12 one, or a different tavern sim? If the latter, I now know of 3 tavern simulators to appear on the radar in the last year… a very bizarre trend, but not unwelcome!

      • Steven Colling says:

        Not sure what you mean, so I guess no? ;D And yes, there are some “tavern simulations” but I guess we all have another focus in terms of gameplay. Orcish Inn, for example, has a big farming part.

  7. vorador says:

    To be honest, i’ve enjoyed more the spinoffs like Innocent Life (set on the future) or Rune Factory than the core games.

    Still, i’m hopeful Story of Seasons gets finally released on Europe. I’ve heard is the best game of the series in quite a while.

    The clone Natsume is making? Pfff, Lost Valley was a disaster. I’m not hopeful for Seeds of Memories.

  8. Eddy9000 says:

    Has anyone released some kind of skyrim mod that makes the game more like harvest moon? One of my favourite things to do was farming, cooking, brewing and growing ingredients in my greenhouse; would love a mod that made these more involved and effective as a gameplay strategy.

  9. Wedge says:

    Sorry, but what you’re getting on PC is a port of a mobile game from a knockoff developer. So I wouldn’t be excited for anything good to come from it.

  10. Tacroy says:

    There’s pretty much zero chance this Harvest Moon has built-in mod support, the culture of Japanese video game development makes that almost impossible – particularly since this isn’t coming from some upstart company, but rather an established veteran of the industry.

  11. MMajor says:

    Honestly it makes me sad they only put Story of Seasons and most new harvest moon games at this point on 3ds, until Story of Seasons comes out on either the WIIU or the PC I wont be able to play it. I cant stand to play on handhelds anymore sadly, its painful and most feel like watered down versions of what an actual game should be content wise.

    • tellemurius says:

      There hasn’t been a release for Harvest Moon or Rune Factory on the consoles for a while now. The Harvest Moon releases on the Wii were kinda lame but Rune Factory was pretty fun and I enjoyed it. Honestly the best game out of the series for me was A Wonderful Life, that was so much fun on the GC and PS2. I hope Rune Factory can do a comeback as the developer studio is still around just a new publisher.

      • tellemurius says:

        Actually I was wrong, so the developer studio did went out but the team on Rune Factory was grabbed by Marvelous AQL, same guys that make the original Harvest Moon games so theres a huge chance in the future for a release.

    • davethejuggler says:

      Story of Seasons still hasn’t been released in europe. Which is a real shame as that’s the people who made the good harvest moon games, not Natsume who now own the name (used to just publish it i think) and are releasing this new one. From what i’ve heard their last game under the harvest moon name was rubbish.

  12. SaintAn says:

    What we’re getting isn’t a Harvest Moon game, it’s a knockoff. It’s just a crappy soulless game made by a company that is mad they can’t publish Harvest Moon games anymore so they’re trying to get as much money as they can from the brand name. Now if they started porting old Harvest Moon games or if Story of Seasons came to PC it would be a different story. 64 and Back to Nature are what I want. Sucks that Natsume’s fake Harvest Moon is always getting attention while Story of Seasons, the real Harvest Moon, is getting ignored by most sites even though it’s really really good.

  13. brulleks says:

    I’d rather have ‘A Harvesting Moon’ please.

  14. alms says:

    I’m sure you didn’t meant it that way, but I got away with the distinct feeling this is a cross between incremental games and visual novels/dating sims. I’ve played games in all of those genres of course, and liked some, yet putting everything together the resulting mental image isn’t quite as compelling as it seems to be for you.

  15. Ejia says:

    The closest thing to a non-emulated Harvest Moon on the PC I ever played was The Sims 2 with both the Open For Business and Seasons expansions, allowing me to grow and sell crops.

  16. ninnyjams says:

    This is such a weird article..

  17. P.Funk says:

    I’ve played Harvest Moon on the PC before.

    Nintendo emulators are magic.

    • Ryuuga says:

      Is it all stable, and good? It does sound quite tempting, but in my experience, emulation tends to be a bit glitchy and even with parts missing.. Now of course, that would be NES emulation.