Is The Name “Harvest Moon” Dying?
When I say Harvest Moon, most will know what game series I’m referring to; a casual and relaxing farm life simulator. However, the name “Harvest Moon” doesn’t mean what it once did, and that transition will be the demise of the title in these coming years.
Harvest Moon was the localization title for the English release of the Japanese game “Bokujō Monogatari”. It was developed by Victor Interactive Software (who would later be absorbed into Marvelous Interactive) for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1996. The English translation and distribution in North America was handled by a company called Natsume Inc. Throughout the life of the Harvest Moon series, these two names were always seen side by side, at the beginning of each new iteration.
Over the course of 17 years, Marvelous and Natsume released 25 more Harvest Moon games. In 2013, Marvelous chose a new localization team, XSEED Games. What did this mean for Harvest Moon? That it was no longer called Harvest Moon. In this separation from Natsume, Natsume maintained hold on licensing rights to the title. This forced Marvelous and XSEED to release their next Bokujō Monogatari game in 2014 as “Story of Seasons” instead.
But wait, why are there still new Harvest Moon games coming out? Because Natsume didn’t bury the title, but instead started publishing new games using the Harvest Moon name. Released in late 2014 was Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley. With an average score of 4.7/10*, The Lost Valley was one of the most negatively received Harvest Moon games of all time, having been criticized for its lack of worthwhile content and heart. Meanwhile, Story of Seasons was one of XSEED’s fastest selling games with over 100,000 units sold in North America and an average rating of 7.8/10.
Despite the poor reception to The Lost Valley, development of the “new” Harvest Moon games prevails. In 2016, Natsume released Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories. While reception this time was better than its predecessor, it still received mixed reviews overall (6.8/10). Then, in late 2016, Natsume released Harvest Moon: Skytree Village, and much like Lost Valley, it was negatively received for its lack of worthwhile gameplay (5.7/10) . Meanwhile, Marvelous released their next in the Story of Seasons line, Trio of Towns, which was generally well received with an average rating of 7.7/10.
It’s easy to see that Natsume wasn’t able to hold onto the magic that made Harvest Moon games so memorable, but does Natsume see this? In May of 2017, they announced the development for their next Harvest Moon, Light of Hope. This installment “will set itself apart from other Harvest Moon titles with its depth, including a robust story and clear-cut goals,” said Hiro Maekawa, President & CEO of Natsume In their official press release.
It seems like they have taken their recent criticism and are looking to make amends, even hiring a new developer for the game, a long time associate to Natsume, Rising Star Games. Though I remain skeptical, as similar claims of them “going back to their roots” were made for their last 2 releases. Leaving little in the way of faith in their announcement this time around. I recommend anyone interested in buying this game when it comes out (for PC, PS4, and Switch), to wait until it’s been properly reviewed by the public first.
There are many numeric reasons to be uneasy about the “new” Harvest Moon games, but what about them yields these results? Ive taken some time to look comparatively between Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons as they developed since their separation in 2013, and it isn’t too hard to see how different of directions they’ve taken in their game design decisions.
With the first separation (Story of Seasons/Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley) it is immediately apparent how the visual style changed. While Story of Seasons matured their characters to more adult looking figures, The Lost Valley went the opposite, giving their characters small bodies and large heads with even larger eyes in a very Chibi styling. More than just the people changed, but the world too. Story of Seasons took on a more gentile pastel style to its art and the world you explore, While The Lost Valley took a cubic low poly style paired with bright colorful visuals. While the people who grew up with Harvest Moon got older, its easy to see why they would prefer the more mature and gentile style, while The Lost Valley appears much for geared towards younger audiences.
Visuals are only a slice in the raspberry pie of video games, how does the gameplay change? For Story of Seasons, not much actually changes. All of the core aspects of the previous games continued to exists, with a few new features added. Features like traveling salesmen from multiple countries, and the ability to customized designated areas of town like you would your own property.
The big change occurs with The Lost Valley. The largest aspect of note being the removal of a town. A town neighboring your farmland, housing villagers, shops, and all the culture building that added life to the Harvest Moon series was an essential part of the gameplay experience, and has existed in nearly every harvest moon game. This time it was removed in favor of having villagers occasionally visit your farm and wander. Another large change was the simplified tool system. No longer did you have to swap out tools when digging, watering, or harvesting crops. When you faced your veggie of choice and selected it, it would do whatever task was needed. While some would find this to be much more efficient, there is a feeling lost when all I need to do is press A a bunch of times.
These changes make a clear line on what was intended for each series. as the original fan base matured, so did Story of seasons with it. All the while Natsume is taking Harvest Moon in the opposite direction, and using bubbly and colorful designs and simplified mechanics to appeal to a new and younger audience. This direction was made most apparent by “Harvest Moon: Little Farmers” a mobile app advertised as “digital activity playset for young children” (app store description)
So what does this mean for Harvest Moon? That it no longer means what it used to. It no longer represents the Bokujō Monogatari series developed by Marvelous, and instead represents a separate series of games being licensed out by Natsume. What Harvest Moon used to represent, is now represented with Story of Seasons, localized by XSEED. While some may prefer the new style of Harvest Moon, a majority of long time fans and newcomers to the series prefer Story of Seasons.
*Average review scores aggregated from Metacritic, and the reviewers feedback therein