I am just finishing up my first year on the farm in Harvest Moon Grand Bazaar. I’m watching my Peach trees grow and getting pretty cozy with the Mayor’s daughter. The Harvest Moon series is one I have a lot or respect for. I often opine about the preponderance of violent video games. I don’t care that there are violent video games, only that there sometimes seem to only be violent video games. Not every game has to be about murder and revenge and the Harvest Moon series is proof of that. Unfortunately, it is not a series that seems to have a lot of money behind it. A new one hits handhelds every year it seems, only slightly improved from the previous year’s version. It is a problem, but one that is usually confined to uber-series like Call of Duty and sports franchises. Harvest Moon is tiny compared to those, but it does have its loyal fans. I consider myself one, though more in theory than practice, since I haven’t played most of the games in the series.
My biggest experience with the series is with the N64 game. The original SNES game feels like something of a rough draft. It has many of the elements of later games in the series. Harvest Moon 64 seems like the ideas of that first game fully realized. I have occasionally sampled the series since then, but outside of some ambitious games in the Gamecube/PS2 era, it has mostly felt like more of the same. The bulk of them aren’t bad games by any means, but they haven’t showed much evolution from the 64 version. Still, I felt the urge to play some Harvest Moon and since it seems that Harvest Moon 64 will never be rereleased, I picked up HM Grand Bazaar, which had a largely good reputation.
After one year of game time, I am enjoying it quite a bit. I have a good handle on my farm and what I want to do. I really like that the game seems to have a completely new cast. As much as I like HM64, the games I played after it seemed to rely a little too heavily on returning characters from that game. Yes, there were always new townsfolk and the old ones were often adjusted somewhat, but it felt kind of the same. Here, the rather small village is full of new, or at least new to me, characters. I have enjoyed getting to know the inhabitants of this village. My one problem is that it does seem really small. Maybe I am misremembering what the old games were like, but it doesn’t feel like there are many characters here, as interesting as they may be.
With one big exception, things have been both expanded and streamlined from HM64. There are more crops, more recipes and simple more things to do. Before, players were fairly constrained in what they did with their farm each season. There were few crops to choose from and only a couple of kinds of animals. Now not only are there more crops to choose from, players can also plant trees to make an orchard or grow tea. I haven’t done the math to determine which option makes the most money, but at least there are options. The big problem is this games big hook. The Bazaar from the title is new way the player has to sell their goods. In previous games, there is a delivery box to dump everything the player has to sell in. Someone comes by at the end of every day to take the contents of the box to market and the player gets their money. In Grand Bazaar, the player hordes their stuff in their initially limited storage and on the weekend runs a stall at the weekly to sell the goods. It isn’t a bad idea, except that the game doesn’t do anything interesting with it. It isn’t fun to run the stall. It doesn’t change the amount of money the player would normally get. The Bazaar merely takes something that was simple, dumping grown crops in the pick-up box, and makes it complex and time consuming. One day a week the player has to spend standing in one spot occasionally tapping the “A” button to sell turnips. It would be more useful if the Bazaar was monthly instead of weekly, but that would too greatly restrict the flow of money. The whole system is the biggest flaw of the game.
I guess a changeup of some kind is coming to the Harvest Moon series this fall. I don’t know how it is going to shake out when all is said and done, but unless this split in the series turns into no Harvest Moon games, then it will likely be a good change. For a long time this series has been stuck in two ways. The first is that there hasn’t been much evolution on the gameplay side. I may not have played all the games from the start to now, but the ones I have played are largely the same. That is not necessarily a problem, but with a series that has seen an annual release for the better part of a decade it is tiring. I don’t know if it is lack of time, money or ambition, but the series hasn’t really evolved since it came to the DS and even that seemed to be sliding back from the somewhat more ambitious Gamecube games. The other problem the series faces is its localization. I don’t mean to slander the fine folks at Natsume, but their localizations have been flawed. I would guess that most of those problems come from lack of resources. They just don’t have the time or manpower to do as good a job as everyone would like. This fall, though, there will be essentially two Harvest Moon games, each attempting to fix at least one of these flaws. Natsume is publishing a game titled Harvest Moon. It looks to be a significant departure from the previous games in the series, most likely due to the fact that it has a different developer. It is a different game, but Natsume owns the name Harvest Moon. This new HM game looks to take some inspiration from Minecraft, attempting to make a much more player driven game. The original developer, a part of Marvelous Entertainment, is still making farming games, though. Story of Seasons is the “true” continuation to the classic series, and looks to play much like the previous releases, with localization now being handled XSeed. Xseed has proven themselves to quite adept, maybe not Atlus good but a close second. So this new could have a much more flavorful story. However this split in the series shakes out, it should be interesting for players. I hope it is a shot in the arm for this series, sparking new evolutions and advances without sacrificing the series considerable charms.