the plight of virtual farming

http://www.newtechnix.com/Harvest Moon. Does that ring any bells? It’s one of the most popular farming simulation video game series ever created, and that’s a very cluttered playing field. All right, so there aren’t many games that encroach on the “raise a farm from scratch while maintaining relationships with villagers” formula, but maybe there should be. Harvest Moon has gotten lazy, and, as a result, it’s begun to lose my interest. Nevermind that I’m probably seven years older than I was when I first became interested in the game; for a series that has run this long, they need to step it up a notch.

The original Harvest Moon games were true classics. Starting out on the Super NES, the first Harvest Moon was down-to-earth, concentrating on planting a variety of seeds each of the four seasons in addition to managing traditional barnyard animals. You had to try to make money by raising chickens and cows, and you could fish and upgrade your house a couple of times. There was a town where you could buy supplies, and women to woo, as well as festivals to attend. It was a simple life that was strangely addictive and unusual when compared to the war and fighting games that were so widespread.

Now, that simple formula is gone. Many games later (too many to count, but let’s try…it’s over 15 for sure), Harvest Moon has had two spin-off series, one of which is successful (Rune Factory). But the games have strayed from just having a simple farm and town to making the player search for musical notes, befriend mermaids, fight deranged chickens, give gifts to talking plants, and gamble with elves, among other things. What’s going on?

A little bit of fantasy is fine in a game; it differentiates it from boring, repetitive reality. But perhaps Harvest Moon should try to find its roots again. At the same time, it would do well to take a hint from the Animal Crossing playbook and design a portable game that mimics real-time. In such a manner, a farmer wouldn’t be running frantically around trying to water all of the crops before they wither away at the end of the virtual season. With modern game systems, many more varietals of crops can, and should be, included, as well as the usual assortment of animals.

Undoubtedly it’s a difficult task to balance a certain degree of playability and fun while respecting realism, but it’s something Harvest Moon did well in the past. Now it seems to be stretching, unwilling to just let the series naturally progress with updated graphics and depth without sacrificing the feeling of true farming. Are all farms on islands?

http://blog.wired.com/games/2008/02/virtual-conso-1.htmlThe next Harvest Moon game scheduled for release in the U.S. is Island of Happiness, and while it appears to be getting some things back on track, problems remain: mainly, the control scheme, and the odd decision to make the player farm after a shipwreck. But the sequel, Shining Sun and Friends, is superior in many ways; look for it to be released in English in no sooner than a year, no later than never. In the meantime, let’s hope that Marvelous Interactive gets bored and replays the Super Nintendo version. The world would do well with one more genuine farming game to calm us all down.

(I know little of the new Wii game, Tree of Tranquility, but it could be good. Time will tell.)

15 thoughts on “the plight of virtual farming

  1. Brilliant read, I agree with everything stated. HM has lost its focus and become a spread-too-thinly collectathon.

    Of course it could just be us growing out of the series.

  2. “Of course it could just be us growing out of the series.”

    That certainly has something to do with it. But I still enjoy Rune Factory 2; if they could just re-focus on Harvest Moon, they could still make some good games.

  3. Yeah I’ve seen some crummy reviews for it, but if I had a Wii I’d still buy it. I think they’ll make a great new game one of these days.

  4. HM games are starting to get a little too dispersed. I agree the the loss of focus on the developers’ parts, because in the newer games you have different plot lines, which seem like they are completely different games.

    It’s also rare that any of the newer installments can get the time-to-work-to-endurance ratio correct. Simple (and often control-related) mistakes are far too costly and there is no way to mitigate them other than take ample time lining up ever action.

    Also, in most all HM games, you never really run a farm.. it’s always much closer to a garden-sized operation, with animals. In the end, farms will always convert to ranches, because the work is easier and the money is better.

    The bag system has always been lack luster. Whether they give you too little bag space in most version, or they give you too much bag space in some of the versions. I can’t recall ever not getting frustrated with the shipping system. Countless items thrown on the ground instead of in the shipping bin, many animals sickled instead of brushed.

    In summary:
    Just once I would like to have the farming game where you can incorporate your farm and become more a CEO than a farmer. Maybe as a latter stage in the game once you build up some size and girth of operation. I want to hire illegal immigrants to do all my work, I want to pump my animals full of hormones to get better investment out of them, and most importantly I want to cut out the therapeutic aspect of the game and make each and every decision stressful and difficult from both a personal and ethical standpoint.

  5. They’ve tried some different things with the shipping systems. I think the best was in Rune Factory 2 (and perhaps some other newer games) where it functions like the old shipping bin but there’s a clear indicator that appears when you’re properly lined up to throw items in. And it’s got a nice indicator of the currently selected grid which makes watering and pretty much any other farm chore easier. As for the other things, yeah, they haven’t been able to nail down the issues. But in the latest DS version, items actually don’t disappear when you drop them on the ground. Amazing!

    They’ve tried letting you buy more land and letting you hire Harvest Sprites (or monsters) to do chores for you, but they’ve never really mastered the feel of growing your farm like you describe. I think they’re struggling to balance “classical” farming with more modern farming. I think they should stick to the old stuff, personally.

  6. “I think they should stick to the old stuff, personally.”

    what, like slavery?

    enslave the forest sprites and whip them constantly. i can see it now..

    Your sprite-slave, Bones, is bloody and weakened from your merciless beatings, what do you do?
    A) Tell Bones to kiss your feet
    B) Whip Bones more
    C) Let Bones free – only to shoot him in the back with salt rocks as soon as he cracks the tiniest smile
    D) Exchange the whip for a mace and hit Bones with it

  7. Ok- I’ve been around the bush quite a few times when it comes to harvest moon.

    This is how I see it. Harvest Moon is not
    just a game, it is a relaxing, fun and interesting relief from the real world.

    *Yes, I agree, simple farming is great.
    When it’s you the plants and the animals… ahh what bliss, nothing spectacular and nothing out of the real- (personally… It makes me feel like a simple and peaceful life is stil obtainable.-it ain’t for me.. but hay, a dream is a dream.)
    *BUUT- I love many of the advancement the game has had over the years. So I love, some are likeable… some tolerable… some INTOLERABLE.(Other I simply hate.)

    *The missions throuhgout the game make the game more favorable. Even the original Harvest Moon would eventually end if you didn’t take care of your farm. AND if you think about it… A game without a plot has no end… without an end there is no achievement, without achievement… no saticfaction. (This is why many versions of the game have incorretied endings, or records to break. Such as the farming Degree in Harvest Moon Ds and DS cute.)

    *The peaceful way of life in the game… with the occasional uproar, makes Harvest Moon what it is. A constant uproar… would make the game just like any other game. (Yes I love fastpass run a mock, impact game. Resident evil 4 rocks! As do other games where decisions chage everything- Fable- which also rocks.) But as I said earlier… It is a peaceful escape. *Thus the more recent versions* have made the goal or mission more important then the relazing life style. Some games have even made it stressful*. *Island of Happiness to be exsact. and possible Rune Factory (Haven’t played any Runes)

    *Island of Happiness note- The new character’s and a few old ones make the game exciting. (New people to learn and know yeah!) But the exciding amount of… NO FACE charaters makes the game loose its feel of personal connection. Also… Overal… it sucks… I love Harvest Moon but… I would not have spent $30 on IoH if I had known the whole game was one big fat challenge to fixs bridges… kind pissed me off. I love the idea of more people coming to an island and more people places to unlock… but not the idea of NEEDing to work… it should be an option. To work or not to work… that is the question. No work and you can’t even ge married.

    -In The ToT for the Wii… the option to work was amazingly and perfectly placed. (I recomend the game.) You can get married with two things: BLue Feather, Lvl 3 house. That’s it. Yup. You can marry anyone on the island… before you lift a finger. (besides earning enough for two upgrages on your house… easy as pie-you can get married as early as Summer in the first year. (I did that personally. =))
    And you can have a kid. cute.

    I’m sorry… I ramble alot… even when I type I ramble… my point is.

    *Some new harvest moon games are great.
    *The older ones are always great.
    * Some new HM is crap. Other better the the old.
    * Don’t give up on HM yet. They are still coming up with new ideas… and always using a few old.
    * And even if you find new games suck… and just aren’t for you… you’ll always have the old ones to play. (New Game… your may favorite button.)

  8. You make some good points. I am very interested in what you have to say.

    Oh, sorry…I almost thought I was one of those bots that goes around putting links on people’s articles. I do agree with much of what you said. The different story elements and achievements are certainly vital in making the game worthwhile. I just want balance with the real world. The game can actually be less effective at separating you from the real world when the two places are too disparate.

    I, too, hated Island of Happiness. The upcoming “Sunshine Islands” is a better version of that game, but still not what I’m looking for. You should really give Rune Factory a try. The second game was even better than the first, and RF3 is looking to be pretty amazing. Granted, that’s kind of a different story…it’s significantly less “realistic” than Harvest Moon.

  9. Although one year after Island of Happiness has been released (and I think of nearly all the Harvest Moon games it was one of the worst due to graphics and faceless people), I think that the HM series is still great.
    Actually, I have to admit, that Tree of Tranquility as well as Back to Nature are and were the best HM games released so far, as mostly ToT really gives you a bigger challenge wih the money. All the other HM games were way too easy. Because if I want to play an endless game, I should not be able to finish it in season three (without the GC version, but I really don’t want to admit, that it is a HM game).
    Still, I cannot agree with the statement given up there. A HM game in Animal Crossing style? Like, should I be able to play HM only for ten minutes a day? And afterwards wait for the next day to come, so I can water the crops again? I would neither appreciate such a “feature” nor would I buy the game. I normally play HM to relax. But not to be bored, that’s why I wanna have a challenge as well as a plot. Even if it is only “grandfather is dead, take care of farm, be friendly to the villagers”. With some games sometimes Marvelous really goes into the wrong direction, but lately (again, without most of the features of IoH) there games are quite well done. Still think, they could give the working Harvest Sprites back. :)
    So, If someone grows out of this games (meaning, becomes an adult thus boring) than please don’t try to fix the game with half-thought ideas. Marvelous could make a capitalistic game out of it, or another Nintendogs + Animal Crossing + any other random game (Pokemon? Resident Evil?), but who would really play it?

  10. Ugh, I agree so much. It’s come to a point where I practically reject the new games, mostly just how they feel the need to push out a new freakin’ title each season. I mean, seriously, what?! Harvest Moon is about the simplicity. When you try and cram a million weird and outlandish features in an attempt to “make it feel different from the last”, you seriously take out the soul of Harvest Moon.

    The earlier ones are easily the best. The “mid” ones like A Wonderful Life and Friends of Mineral Town were incredibly fun as well. Island of Happiness and Magical Melody ended up being pretty good. But now, the series has traded it’s soul for graphics that look no different than the last game’s, too many handheld games, too many new characters with boring character designs and bland, generic artwork.

    Meh.

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