Harvest Moon (1997, SNES)

When I was young, about eleven years old, it was a lot easier to get excited about the pending release of a new game. This was 1997 – I had internet access, though of a quite unsatisfactory sort. But I still very much absorbed most of my information, and thus ginned up most of my anticipation, through reading gaming magazines.

Such was the case when I first heard of Harvest Moon. I read about it in the above issue of Nintendo Power, and became enamored with the idea of diving into, by all accounts, a  low-key farming simulation. To this day I’m not entirely sure why (the idea of farm life in reality is less than appealing to me), but suffice to say I don’t think I’d been more excited to play a game at any time before that, or at any time since.

Released by Natsume, who you may know from their subsequent slew of Harvest Moon games (the quality of which I cannot speak to) throughout the intervening years, the premise of their initial offering was simple. A young man (this is non-negotiable, as we’re firmly in the digital patriarchy here) is tasked with restoring a crumbling, disused lot of farmland and making it his own. Along the way, positive relationships with the adjacent townsfolk can be forged, culminating in marriage if you so desire.

Moment to moment gameplay is, simply put, repetition in the extreme. When the game starts your entire farm lot is covered thick with tress stumps, rocks and weeds, and it takes a modest while to strip the land bare. But it doesn’t take long to clear enough space to start planting a little grass, or some onions. Later in the game, more intensive, high value crops like potatoes become an option. Be sure to cut your crops when they’re ready, and stick the product into your shipping box – eleven-year-old me lost quite a chunk of change letting the first round of crops wither and die.

The plot, if Harvest Moon can truly be said to have one, revolves around the nearby town. Populated with friendly neighbors, who may or may not seem overbearing based on your sense of community spirit, everybody will expect you to participate in festivals, one each for Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. As you tend your fields and (hopefully) manage a lucrative rotation of seasonal crops, you’ll be able to buy tool upgrades, new seeds, and finally livestock.

As for the social life, five lovely ladies of the town are available to you for courtship, by the names of Ann, Eve, Maria, Nina and Ellen. Each of them has unique interests, which you’ll have to share in order to win their heart. Or, you can imagine you’re just paying lip service. That part is up to you. But once you have a blue proposal feather, an above-average sized bed, and maybe a few chickens in the coop, what woman could resist? From there, it’s but a matter of time until you’ve got a baby running around, growing, ready to take over the farm after you die. All that circle of life business.

In all seriousness, it’s difficult to make a predictive statement about how a mainstream gamer, perhaps one not specifically inclined towards farming simulators, will receive this game. I was frantically excited by it lo those fifteen years ago, for reasons that now somewhat elude me. But if you’re the sort of person looking for an escapist pastime that isn’t quite as intensive or skill-focused as most of today’s standard fare, Harvest Moon is worth a look. It’s a smooth bundle of small-town nostalgia, but it isn’t a kinetic experience  in the slightest.