My Nintendo 64 days were comprised of an incalculable number of trips to and from the local Blockbuster for the sole purpose of renting newly released video games. Every two weeks or so, I was able to furiously play through a ton of N64 titles I never would have been able to buy otherwise. Although I was always excited to play the new releases, there wasn’t a strong connection with many of them because I had to rush through whatever game I had rented before the late fees crept up, making the renting experience somewhat hollow. As such, whenever an opportunity to actually purchase a game did arise, I had to make it count. In those pre-home internet days, I researched as best as I could, browsing through gaming magazines at Ralphs and keeping an eye out for announcements about upcoming games back at Blockbuster. Only after investigating would I finally make a purchase. One day, however, even after all the researched I dredged up, the new game I set out to buy was overshadowed by something as simple as a game about a small town, a farm, and a farmer: Harvest Moon 64. I didn’t know it then, but the Harvest Moon series would become a major part of my gaming experience for a long time, the very thing I had been missing out on in my days of video game rental.
It’s strange to think how the cover art of a boy in blue overalls running with his dog captivated a younger version of myself. I hadn’t heard or seen anything about the Harvest Moon franchise, so my research-based mindset was instantly uprooted and replaced with a gut feeling-purchase.
After buying the game, I raced to my room and popped in the N64 cartridge. The developer logos flashed by, a cutscene formed and a tune began to play. A simple, rustic twang emanated from the TV. It was sad and melancholic. The boy with blue overalls on the cover art walked through a crowd of people, listening to their conversations about a recent death. Some characters were gloomy, but others refused to be sad, saying the passing was meant to be joyful rather than depressing. The somber song continued as the boy walked past, but it slowly changed to a mirthful arrangement of bright sounds, as if spring itself could play a tune. By the end of the cutscene, I learned the man who passed away was the boy’s grandfather and that the boy decided to take over his forgotten farm. The short cutscene, like looking at the cover art for the first time, drew me in. I still didn’t know what Harvest Moon entailed at that point, but there was definitely something I hadn’t felt with other games I had binged through. I felt an obligation to help restore the farm. The duty of the boy became mine—I was in it for the long haul.
For a kid who spent a lot of time playing action and adventure games, Harvest Moon 64 was a tough experience to ease into. There were always mistakes to be made. I’d never forget to feed the animals I raised, but I’d definitely forget to stock up on medicines. When the inevitable day arrived where one of my animals became sick, the only shop that sold medicine was, of course, closed. I also pushed my character to his limits many times over, thinking I could do a bit more farm work before inevitably collapsing from exhaustion. But learning along the way, every step always meant progress. I was able to streamline farming through eventual tool upgrades and the routine of Harvest Moon 64 became second nature. I absolutely loved this idea of a casual and gradual progression in the game. The flow of Harvest Moon was an extremely refreshing experience. I didn’t need to rush through it because this quirky title unraveled at my pace. I wasn’t in a race against time to stop a bomb or fight hordes of enemies. I’d take one in-game day at a time.
Harvest Moon 64, as difficult as it initially was, became very rewarding. Simple tasks, even, such as clearing the field, planting crops and visiting the town were treasures in their own right. But all this progress swelled up into one thing, a rich experience. I felt I was always working towards a bigger goal of crafting my personal narrative within the game. I even got to know the citizens of Harvest Moon 64 pretty well because the townspeople were like friends I’d see every day. Each character had their own personalities, their favorite foods, their daily routines and even birthdays. I was immersed in the Harvest Moon world, but only realized it after a major in-game event occurred: a death. After players had spent some seasons farming and exploring, Ellen, one of the older residents of Flowerbud Village, silently passes away while simply rocking on her chair. I was not ready. The somber moments of the very first cutscene were unearthed and it hit me all over again. However instead of small sympathy, I felt a lingering sadness. I had invested so much time with Harvest Moon 64 I actually came to care about the fictional characters in it. It was unreal, bittersweet and all other conflicting emotions a kid could conjure up. What a moment it was. Of all the video games I’ve played since then, it’s hard to think of more times I’ve been affected similarly. Sadness aside, I had to keep playing – The farm was still growing.
Pretty soon I became a veteran at the farming game. The fields were as lively as all the animals I took care of and the farm was flourishing. Crops, along with milk, eggs and wool from the sheep, would get shipped every morning. The lot was clean as could be and the farm even had a greenhouse. By then, the boy with blue overalls already had a wife and child. It was perfect. There was nothing more to prove. I fulfilled the duty to the boy’s grandfather and restored the farm to a new glory. I was more than satisfied with the outcome. But I knew like every game, my Harvest Moon adventure needed to end. It was done – At least until I would find a new Harvest Moon title some time later.
On a random visit to a game store. I again chanced upon a title that caught my eye: Harvest Moon: Back to Nature. The same wonder that held me before returned except I knew what I was in for this time. It was an instant purchase. I played and played. And before I knew it, newer consoles were released alongside even newer Harvest Moon games. If I could, I always picked up the latest iteration of the farming franchise whether it was Save the Homeland for the Playstation 2 or The Grand Bazaar on the Nintendo DS. Currently, the company Natsume has legal rights to the name Harvest Moon. The old games I loved are now considered to be a part of the Story of Seasons series as Natsume is taking the Harvest Moon title in a different direction. The Harvest Moon franchise I know and love, regardless of the name change, will always be the same for me. Even now, I still eagerly look forward to every single new game with anticipation and a readiness to head back onto the field.