Take a seat FarmVille; it’s time for a real farming game to show you how it’s done. Zynga, the company behind the social networking themed simulation is responsible for a multitude of free games on Facebook. The company has nearly become a household name due to its simple aesthetics and accessible gameplay. While Zynga may have mastered casual gaming among a broad demographic, they have not lived up to the high caliber that we have grown to expect from traditional console games.

With FarmVille being one the most popular entries in Zynga’s repertoire I decided to check it out for myself. Flash and webrowser games are typically not my preferred gaming medium. While at rare occasions I find myself searching for random mini-games through internet sources, these inclinations are usually catalyzed by boredom. To be as impartial as possible, I quelled my apathetic sentiments and punched the letters F-A-C-E-B-O-O-K into my laptop.

I set up the game, created a Midwestern rendition of myself, and was graced with the presence of an empty square plot of land…yay. At this point I assumed it was time to tend the pasture so I retrieved my trusty hoe (no pun intended) and got to work feverishly clicking all the empty squares with my mouse. After plowing, it was time to plant. There’s a huge selection of fruit, vegetable, and flower seeds to choose from, all with different values and growth time. Being at level 1 I was stuck with only a few choices so I picked one on a whim and filled my new homestead with nature’s bounty.

After the strenuous labor was complete I found myself at a loss of direction. What was I suppose to do now? The plants I had chosen would take 24 hours to grow. That means an entire day must pass before I could play again. During the 1440 minutes that my crops were maturing, I went to the movies, did some laundry, went grocery shopping, and retired that evening watching Netflix. When I woke up the next morning, Farmville was the last thing on my mind. In fact the thought of checking on my freshly grown virtual produce had completely escaped my brain. I had gone on with my day, unaware that my intense mouse clicks from the day before had generated harvestable produce.

Long story short, I ended up remembering to log back onto Facebook and check my farm after 3 days…and my crops were nothing more than brown patches of dirt. That moment marked the end of my FarmVille experience. While it claimed only a small fraction of my time, FarmVille couldn’t hold my attention for even a day which is evidence enough that Zynga’s formula of casual gaming is not the right fit for me. My interest in the farm building scenario was stunted as soon as there was a lack of things to do, which unfortunately was in about 10 minutes.

While FarmVille is not to my liking it has elevated Zynga to the top of internet gaming for good reason. I can perceive the addictive qualities of the game; starting from nothing and gradually building a huge farm, leveling up and unlocking new crops, even playing with friends and family online. For someone that has the time, FarmVille could be an entertaining experience. As a hardcore console gamer I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy such an affair. Luckily, for those unimpressed by the Facebook rendition of a farming simulation, there is hope and Harvest Moon is the answer.

For those who haven’t heard of the Harvest Moon series it represents the pinnacle of this genre. Where FarmVille sticks to farming without much of an emphasis on your character, Harvest moon encompasses farming, ranching, and all aspects of life: becoming wealthy, marriage, having kids, building a house, and socializing with townsfolk. The franchise ranges from simulation to RPG, all revolving around a common theme of building your farm from ruins to prosperity.

Harvest Moon had humble beginnings. It originated on the SNES with the first title, Harvest Moon, produced in 1996 by Pack-In-Video. The company became Victor Interactive Software, and finally what we know it as today: Marvelous Entertainment Inc. The series has spread over many Nintendo platforms since then, eventually making a home on the Playstation consoles. The series has been localized by Natsume for English releases in North America while Rising Star Games handles the European release of the game. Most of Harvest Moon games have made their way outside Japan, with the exception of a few titles. The Harvest Moon series boasts over 25 games which have resided on over 12 different gaming consoles since its creation in 1996. Not to mention numerous spin off ventures including Rune Factory and Innocent Life.

With all these credentials it’s amazing that many have not been lucky enough to witness and experience what Harvest Moon has to offer. The idea of a game revolving around the daily grind of hard labor is a hard bargain in itself, one that hasn’t caught on quite as well among American gamers as it has in Japan. With the success of FarmVille in the U.S., I think it’s about time that Harvest Moon catches on in the States.

I myself have been a fan of the series ever since the Nintendo 64 edition to the genre, Harvest Moon 64. I was 9 years old at the time my brother brought home the cartridge. I can remember finding his choice to be amusing and incredibly comical. Why would he pick a game about crops and marriage over Mario or Zelda? To be fair we already owned Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time so the new game selection was most likely slim that month. I ended up giving it a chance out of childhood curiosity and let me tell you I have been a long time fan ever since.

Nearly every Harvest Moon game stems from the same likeness, a farming adventure in the scope of an entire lifetime. To build a thriving farm a player must utilize an assortment of tools including a hoe (again, no put intended), hammer, fishing rod, sickle, and watering can to clear terrain and prepare land for crops. After buying seeds which are dictated by season, you must water them daily until produce is ripe and ready for harvest.

While growing and selling crops is the series’ main focal point, you could completely refrain from agricultural duties as well. Harvest Moon capitalizes on freedom. Players can literally do whatever they want day in and day out, all with an ultimate goal of restoring a farm to its previous glory. Other activities include: fishing, mining, chopping lumber, raising animals, cooking recipes, and befriending villagers. The wide array of tasks prevents the daily chores from becoming mundane.

Animals play a huge role in the Harvest Moon gameplay as well. The traditional animals featured in the early titles included what you’d expect on a farm: horses, cows, sheep and chickens. In more recent games, players can now choose from animals including goats, pigs, silkworms, and exotic additions such as an ostrich. I’ve never been to a farm with a 7-foot bird but that is definitely some place I would visit. Brushing and talking to animals is a daily necessity. Many livestock also produce byproducts that you can harvest and sell like milk, eggs, cheese, butter, and wool.

There are many special events that take place throughout the seasons. Many of these festivals reward you for participating or providing special items for them to function. The local horse race is one of my favorite events. This celebration is pretty self explanatory, similar to the Kentucky Derby, complete with betting and special prizes.

Adding to the distinctiveness of Harvest Moon is the ability to choose, woo, and marry an eligible bachelor or bachelorette in town. Winning over your preferred guy or girl is as easy as talking to them frequently and presenting them with regular gifts. Of course maintaining the bachelor life is an option as well, leaving all the single villagers to find love on their own. Those sensitive to PDA should not be concerned. The cute, chibi character design and innocent approach to male and female interaction is embraced throughout each game. If you’re looking for anything over PG-13 you will not find it here.

For those curious about Harvest Moon as a whole I want to recommend a few entries into the saga as personal favorites worthy of exploring. Many of the older titles have a special place in my heart out of nostalgia as well as superior quality. By far Harvest Moon 64 (N64) and Harvest Moon: Back to Nature (PS) are two of the best additions to the series. Those who no longer own a PS1 will be happy to know that Back to Nature is available at the PS3 store for only $5.99. For a more contemporary glimpse into the franchise I’d recommend Harvest Moon: Magical Melody (GC). It highlights the same cute, lighthearted tone that the series is known for while adding new elements such as land ownership.

Although Harvest Moon may not be for everyone (first person shooter fanatics might want to pass this one up), it honorably represents an underutilized genre that truly deserves respect for its unusual theme and successful execution.


Originally published on 4/30/2012 on GamerGirlTay.com

      

Taylor Stein

Gamer. Sushi-fanatic. Cartoon enthusiast. Overall big kid. Welcome to my journey throughout the world of video games and all around geekery.

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