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E3 2017 Hands-On: ‘Harvest Moon: Light of Hope’ Sows Wholesome Happiness

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Covering E3 is no picnic in the park, far from the gaming paradise equivalent of a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory. It’s hot, crowded, and the three-hour waits to play a ten-minute demo don’t exactly produce warm and fuzzy feelings that all is right in the world. Even the media room is filled with mobs of fellow small-timers who consume the complimentary sandwiches like locusts, plant themselves in every empty space available (get used to sitting on the floor, if you sit at all), and size you up like an Omega dog looking to elbow its way up in the pack ranking. It can sometimes feel like a harried competition for precious playtime and crucial contacts, a rat race to get as much covered as possible, which is why it’s important to occasionally stop and smell the pixelated roses, to take a break from the clogged walkways and packed booths. For those at E3 who needed reminding that a more laid-back, pleasant lifestyle still exists somewhere in a world outside the concrete walls of the massive convention center, a visit to the Natsume booth to slow things down a bit with a relaxing demo of Harvest Moon: Light of Hope is exactly what the doctor ordered.

After running, jumping, slashing, and shooting my way through most of the show, it was a bit jarring at first to simply have to feed chickens, milk cows, and groom horses with nothing to kill in sight, but as I was soothed by the Harvest Moon pitch from the friendly Natsume rep, I could feel the tension begin to drain away. It was good to see trees again (in any form), even if I would eventually chop many of them into firewood. After all, Light of Hope is a farming simulator of sorts, and farms need open land. Smashing rocks is as violent as it gets though, and so I sowed cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and a variety of other crops that would hopefully produce a plentiful bounty some day (as long as the next player remembers to water them).

A chorus of clucks and moos awaited me inside the barn, as my animal friends gathered around their modest caretaker in welcome, and though I wasn’t able to unload my old t-shirts, swap wallpaper, or make bizarre conversation with them, there was still a sense of serene community. Or maybe I was just drinking the philosophical kool-aid about happiness and comfort that the game was selling. Regardless, as I collected eggs in a woven basket, dumped chicken feed into a trough, and shoveled piles of shit that my stupid awesome horse had left as a house-warming gift, the clearly passionate rep explained to me how Light of Hope intends to go back to the series’ roots, really focusing on offering an enjoyable safe space for gamers to unwind in. Somewhere that doesn’t test the limits of reflexes or brainpower, a gaming countryside vacation home.

Yes, there will be a loose story, something about washing up on an island and being taken care of by the generous inhabitants, and there’s definitely a lighthouse plot point in there somewhere, but by this time my brain was starting to enter a hazy state that slowly tuned out the buzzing of the show around me. I was almost hypnotized by the bright, colorful retro 2.5 D visuals, which definitely called back to a simpler era, and the cheerful tunes gradually blocked out the sounds of explosions and death throes. I heard something about the return of a feature that would allow for marriages, the possibility of touchscreen use on the Nintendo Switch, as well as an rundown of how the controls have been made more streamlined and accessible by having actions be context-sensitive, but that was business talk, the stuff of city folk – certainly none of my concern. I had butter to churn.

Of course, harsh reality soon returned as the demo came to an end and we were ushered off to flashier, louder things. It’s the franchise’s 20th anniversary this year, and after playing Harvest Moon: Light of Hope, I can see why these games have stuck around so long. The Natsume booth ended up being an oasis in the desert, a place to rejuvenate the body and the mind, and feel good about humanity again. Seriously, E3 was really crowded. Those looking to enjoy life again can keep an eye out for Light of Hope when it comes to PC, PS4, and Nintendo Switch in 2018.

*We also got our hands on a mobile title called Harvest Moon Lil’ Farmers that looks to be great for young children, tasking them with various touchscreen chores (and lots of love). It’s cute and cheap, and I can definitely see my nieces having a great time it.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

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