By Alice Moran
Nintendo’s strength has never lain in conventional videogames. Golden Eye 64 aside, they’ve rarely pulled off an amazing first-person shooter, and their racing games usually peak at the industry’s standard of “average.” The only reason Nintendo’s made it this far is because of their ability to pull off the odd, strange, and downright absurd. Think about it: the system’s name is built on a plumber fighting a dinosaur. One of my favourite game series follows this plot: You’re grandfather dies, and leaves you his run down farm. You’re job is to restore the farm, get married, and have children; essentially, the goal is to have a pleasant life. Seriously.
If you’ve never played Harvest Moon before, right now you’re probably thinking that’s the most boring idea for a videogame ever. Its huge worldwide fan base would beg to differ. Believe or not, the Harvest Moon series, so far, has 14 installations for Nintendo and two for Playstation. The 17th game in the series, Tree of Tranquility, will be released next month for the Wii. Two more incarnations, Rune Factory: Frontier and Exciting Animal March*, are expected to be released in 2009. The games sell so consistently well that they’ll likely keep making them for years to come.
The original Harvest Moon was released for the SNES in Japan and North America in 1996 and 1997, respectively. Unlike other RPGs at the time, it had zero combat involved and focused more on character interaction and other choice aspects of RPG. When the game was re-released as downloadable content, it was met with much praise by old and new fans alike.
Harvest Moon 64 followed up the original game’s story line in 1999. The game was highly successful, with popular video game website IGN.com rating it an 8.2/10 and calling it “addictive.” Harvest Moon 64 existed in the same world as the original but about 50 or so years later, and the technology of the world had barely advanced at all. Some of the original characters even made appearances. One of the bachelorettes, Ellen from the SNES game, appears as an elderly woman living at the town bakery. The SNES bachelorette Maria seems to have passed away; however, her granddaughter is not only her spitting image, but she has the exact same personality and name. The raw charm and appeal of this series is so great that the plot is barely altered from game to game. The legions of die-hard Harvest Moon fans never seem to complain and in fact seem to delight in old plot points and characters returning. The entire franchise of this game thrives on its tradition, rather than continuing the story arc or adding features to lengthen the game. Not that they’d need to. The average day in the game takes around five minutes to play through. And the only way to beat the game is to play for an allotted amount of time, usually two-and-a-half four month years, or 270 days. Multiply by those five minutes and you have 1350 minutes of gameplay. When you reach the end, forgetting to take care of any one minor detail leads to a less than perfect ending, and in the case of Harvest Moon 64, it causes your father to publicly shame you.
You have to love Nintendo.
HARVEST MOON: TREE OF TRANQUILITY will be released August 28th.
*Exciting Animal March is a loose translation of the Japanese title, WAKU WAKU ANIMARU MAACHI. Obviously something is lost in translation and the title will no doubt be changed to something else for its North American release.