Editor’s note: Join us over the next two weeks as we look back at the most outstanding and influential games of 1996.
Harvest Moon has always been a stress-free game. Some games can just be very aggravating, like Mario Kart when you’re trying not to come last with Donkey Kong, or Breath of the Wild when you’re trying to throw a rock into a circle of other rocks to reveal one measly Korok. The Harvest Moon series has brought a welcome relief to blood pressure levels and we’re all healthier for it. The remedy began in 1996 in Japan and was soon brought to North America in 1997 and Europe in 1998, merging role-play with farm simulation to bring a romanticized version of the country life to the SNES.
The primary objective of the game was to restore and maintain the farm your father left you. Seems a pretty mundane task but the simplicity was part of its strength. Your humble beginnings lead you to focus on the farm, but as the workload grows, for some odd reason the focus becomes more community orientated. The stumble into Flower Bud village brings fresh faces, all of whom can become life-long friends with a few gifts of milk and carrots; friends aren’t that easy to make in real life.
Obviously, there are various other gifts you can give potential friends, often unique items found across the map can be even more alluring. Flowers are quite the delicate touch to any potential gift, but often fishing provides the greatest rewards. That is until you fancy the married life, and fish doesn’t go very far with potential bachelorettes. Whilst making friends remains easier in a game than in real life, finding a potential wife can be a daunting task in both realities. A courtship dance might be appropriate to various species of birds and humans alike, but in Flower Bud village much more effort is required.
Such anxieties lead you to one place, and that’s the bar in town. In the Japanese version, they didn’t hide the fact that you were drinking alcohol and getting rather indulged in an inebriated lifestyle choice. The North American version tried to hide this, referring to the drink as ‘juice’ to ward off any potential immoral allusions. Unfortunately, the drunk animation remained, and the substance of the juice was exposed. No other Harvest Moon game has featured intoxication, remaining a unique possibility in its origins. Naturally, such a lifestyle leads you to meet one of the potential bachelorettes called Eve. In the case of curiosity, Eve likes pink perfume and wild grapes, and spends her Sundays at the spa.
There are five eligible girls in Harvest Moon for marriage, and much of the early game will be spent trying to swoon them. You must have your house upgraded to a super log cabin, the girl must be at five hearts, and you must have bought a blue feather before you can propose them. It’s a lot to achieve, which is one of the reasons why the early game is focused so much on the farm. In many ways, Harvest Moon becomes a money simulation, trying to earn more, to upgrade the farm, to then earn even more. As the farm expands, the more work is needed to keep it maintained.
Luckily the seasons offer some kind of break. Each season is 30 days, with Winter being a bad time for farming. Fall can only provide a little mushroom farming, with some mushrooms being poisonous. This leaves Spring and Summer as your most profitable months, so working hard during this time will have the most reward. The balance between work life and social life will always be a struggle, but if you’re adept with the fishing rod then your social life can easily be sacrificed for a few extra pennies made from fish.
Admittedly, Harvest Moon might now come across as stressful. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and none of its successors have either. The whole point is there is no real reason to do anything. You just lead your own country life. Various events can happen depending on which direction you walk in. If you’re currently trying to swoon Eve, then if it is all going as planned, you’ll encounter a certain cave incident that will resort in an extra heart going your way. This is the beauty of not just the original, but the series itself. Whilst the later series lend themselves to different situations in different directions, they all follow the same blueprint as Harvest Moon on the SNES.
Harvest Moon has since expanded quite rapidly. The original’s animal produce might have only been eggs from chickens and milk from cows, but in recent additions, there have been sheep and goats with new resources to harvest. Fortunately, no animals are ever harmed in a Harvest Moon game, which opens it up to various cultures across the globe. The inclusiveness and the legacy it gave birth to has made it one of the defining games of 1996, even though it wasn’t particularly popular back then. The fact that it’s grown rather than faded into obscurity shows how the successors can define the predecessor, an odd concept, but one that sure explains Harvest Moon as it developed with each new console.