Thursday, 11 April 2013

Harvest Moon Memories

A couple of weeks ago, the Gameboy Color port of Harvest Moon was released for the 3DS Virtual Console. This was actually the very first game in the Harvest Moon franchise that I ever played. Since I've recently got back into the series, I figured it would be a good time  to talk about some Harvest Moon games and share some memories of the franchise with my readers (though not as good a time as two weeks ago when it was actually released!).

Years ago, when Harvest Moon GBC was first released in England, I remember reading about it in a magazine. I can't remember if it was Computer & Video Games or Official Nintendo Magazine, but I do remember that the game received a very good score. So I bought it and it turned out to be really addictive.

The problem is, my brother wanted a turn. You could only have one save slot so he erased my save file and hogged the game for himself. My dad said that we should share it. I don't really see why, considering that I'm the one who bought the game with my own money, but whatever. So you know what I did? I saved up and bought another copy.

Yeah, that's one way to make more money; have only one save file, so if the gamer has a sibling with entitlement issues, they have to buy another copy!

But anyway, the gameplay is actually quite therapeutic. Even today, playing it for a while is an effective cure for a bad mood. It was so satisfying to see your crops ready for harvesting and making money. Saving up to buy animals or improve your house always gave you something to look forward to.

Years later, I found out about some other games in the series. I was able to play the original Harvest Moon for the Super Nintendo and, unsurprisingly, it was even better. The game world was bigger, the festivals were better and more engaging and you could marry a local girl.

It is, just as long as it's not snowing...

 A while after that, I was browsing Youtube and I saw a video in which a gamer listed his top 5 Harvest Moon games. I found it very interesting, so I decided to go and try some of them. I went on Ebay and bought a copy of Harvest Moon: Friends Of Mineral Town for the Gameboy Advance. When it arrived, I spent the following week with the GBA practically glued to my hands.

It combined the simple pick-up-and-play feel of the Gameboy Harvest Moon with the elaborate game world and dating system of the console titles. It had memorable characters, entertaining cutscenes and the system for upgrading your tools was much better this time. This is the kind of game you pick up to play for a few minutes while waiting for a youtube video to load and the next thing you know, it's four o' clock in the morning by the time you bring yourself to turn it off!

But the good times couldn't last forever. I turned the game on one evening to discover the message "There is no saved data." I pressed B to get back to the title screen. I selected "Continue" again and this time the file came up. It happened again a few days later and this time it took more times entering and exiting the file menu for my file to finally appear. As the days went on, it became worse and worse. Obviously, something was wrong with the cartridge. Perhaps my save file had become corrupted or the battery that powers the memory was dying.

So, yeah. Great game, but my save file seems lost forever.

Then, on 3DS, I turned to The Tale Of Two Towns, the latest Harvest Moon title to be released in Europe (I know there's also Harvest Moon: A New Beginning, but that game isn't available in Europe, at least not yet). Looking at the name, I couldn't help but think of Charles Dickens' A Tale Of Two Cities. I also like the artwork on the cover. That's a good selling point, if you can grab a gamer's attention just from the box art! I'd been thinking about getting it for a while but couldn't decide on whether to but the standard DS version or pay a bit more for the 3DS version. One day, I noticed that GAME had the 3DS version marked down to £19.99. Then I decided "Yeah! Why not?"

When I started playing, it was a bit slow paced at the beginning. The mayor keeps visiting you every morning to explain a new gameplay mechanic. It was annoying at first, but when you get to farming, it's just as fun and addictive as ever. One thing I like is that you can dig trenches to plant your seeds in. These allow you to water a bunch of crops with a single pour of the watering can. Another great thing about this game, is that your farm pets (dogs, cats etc) actually serve a function this time. When they have a high enough relationship level, they can herd your livestock outside for you on sunny days. It's great that the game has all these features to make things less tedious. 

The characters are great too, like Howard, the hilariously flamboyant owner of the cafe, Sheng the panda loving blacksmith and the two mayors, Ina and Rutger who bicker as sitcom arch enemies do best. Then there's The Harvest Goddess. Her appearance and mannerisms remind me of Lady Palutena from Kid Icarus Uprising. The dialogue in the game with definitely make you smile if not outright laugh.

You also have the option of going on dates with potential spouses. This is a good opportunity to increase your relationship level with them. The only bad thing about this is that going on dates is the only way to trigger their "Heart Events" and you need to see all of them if you want to marry them. The heart events are triggered by going on a date to a specific place on a specific day. Some of these events you can find easily, but with others, you may have to look at a guide on the Internet.
Another interesting thing about the dating system is that going on dates with a potential spouse builds "Jealousy points" in other bachelor(ette)s. When they reach 10 points they get mad at you and won't accept any gifts or request deliveries until you apologise. While this may seem like an inconvenience, they usually give you the chance to apologise right away and I think it adds a bit more personality to the characters.

On the day I bought Tale Of Two Towns, I was looking through the Wii titles as well. I was flipping through the "H" section when I stumbled upon this-

I remember in the Top 5 Harvest Moon games video, Magical Melodyy was Number 2, just below Friends of Mineral Town. It came as a surprise to see that there was a version on the Wii, as I heard that it was a Gamecube title. Then again, Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess was released on both consoles, so again, why not? The price was £7.99. Pretty good and I had heard that it was a great game, so I bought it.

The graphics reminded me of Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker with it's "chibi" characters and anime cell shading (Wow, two Zelda references in the same blog entry for the same game). The music was great too. My favourite track in the game is the "Spring" theme.

The game also seems to bank on nostalgia; it takes place in Flower Bud village, like the original SNES version and the N64 sequel. The five original bachelorettes from the first game also return. Characters from other games are thrown into the mix too, like the cast of Save The Homeland for the PS2. Nami from A Wonderful Life also makes an appearance during the Summer. This game is basically a love letter to the franchise, bringing characters from all these other instalments together.

Since then, I've been playing other Harvest Moon titles as well, but if I talk about every game that I've played, I'll be sitting here typing till next week. I just wanted to talk about how I got into the series and bring some attention to the Gameboy Color game's Virtual Console release.

You heard Ann. Go buy it.

 It may be a watered down port of the original Super Nintendo version, but it's every bit as fun and addictive. There were two sequels, also on Gameboy Color, but the third one was never released in Europe. Harvest Moon 2 had a bigger game world and Harvest Moon 3 brought back the dating and marriage system. They are also notable for being the only Harvest Moon sequels that were actually numbered, besides the Rune Factory titles on the DS.

Hopefully, if the first Gameboy Color game sells well enough, Nintendo will release the sequels on Virtual Console too.

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