Hello everyone, I am Sam Chun. I am a fellow listener to the podcast, and for now, article writer. Hopefully I will be able to make this a usual thing at regular intervals and bring good content for you all. Now that I have the formalities taken care of, onto the topics at hand.
I am sure many of you have had a couple of thoughts along the lines of “Is this real life?” or “What is life?” Both of these, and many similar questions are very difficult to answer. Lucky for us, identifying as a gamer provides us with options to explore a variety of different lives through life simulation games like this week’s title Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town for the Gameboy Advance; and for those who are interested, Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town (also for the Gameboy Advance), which primarily features a female protagonist.
Harvest Moon – A Video Game about Farming… Really?
For those who are not in the know about the Harvest Moon series during t, they are a series of games that were released by a company called Natsume, and were a translation of the Japanese game series known as Bokujo Monogatari, roughly translated to Farm Story. Things are a little complicated for the Harvest Moon series right now due to a company split, which caused issues with the video games titled “Harvest Moon” and “Story of Seasons.”
Company issues aside, the Harvest Moon games are life and farm simulation games with various aspects to them including the following: crop and animal raising, friends and relationship building (upwards to marriage and children with various bachelors or bachelorettes depending on the title), town events and mini-games, and crafting in the form of cooking (also other forms of crafting with some of the spin-offs, which I will get to later).
Is this a good game series even though some may consider it a fairly dry genre? In my opinion, yes. Despite being a slow burn, Harvest Moon does a great job of providing visible progress. As the years wear on you gain access to better tools, the farm around you begins to visibly change as you expand various facilities, your relationships with the townsfolk expand, and your love interests finally pass a glance your way. Albeit slow, that visible sign of improvement is a good thing.
Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Harvest Moon. Those who tend to prefer a more fast paced title will likely find Harvest Moon too slow to find its feet. Additionally, repetition and the lack of any concrete story line outside the opening bit may turn a lot of people off as well. All of these are definitely detracting points of the game and should be taken into consideration before deciding to jump into a game about rural life in a pretty out of the way town. However, the later games do add different things in the mix that make this series a bit more varied in the form of game play, and are worth the look.
Whereas life simulation games can be found in video games like Harvest Moon, it does not stop there. There are other avenues of gaming that involve playing an identity that is not your own, the most obvious of these is the idea of tabletop gaming with some good reference books, rule guides, some friends, and plain old pen and paper – Dungeons and Dragons.
From Behind the Screen to Beyond the Screen – Dungeons and Dragons
What is Dungeons and Dragons (DnD)? DnD boils down to a group of people coming together and creating characters in a world crafted by someone else, the Dungeon Master (DM), who then guides them through the world. Of course, there are mechanics and rules and various things that make this game quite complex and deep, maybe overly so, but much of the excitement also comes from rolling the dice and hoping something beneficial happens. Even if it is not beneficial, it will usually be interesting.
Some of my most memorable gaming experiences stem from sitting around a table with a group of friends, books, paper, and pens out and taking in an entirely new environment; both as a player, which I started during my freshman year in high school in 1996, and as a DM, which I started the following year. The keen interest that my friends had with a deep plot with twists that I had imagined into the hooting and hollering when they planned so well to defeat a dreaded monster came together and made each step of the journey for the campaign (which is a series of weeks and episodes played consecutively to complete a story arc) that much better.
If you can find a group of people playing in a DnD campaign that is run by an experienced DM, you’d be very surprised at how engaging and entertaining it can be with just imagination, pen and paper, and dice. It could be difficult for the players, it could be difficult for the DM, but it will most likely be very memorable. Besides, having an excuse to meet up friends fairly regularly is always something that is worthwhile.
Overall, a video game series like the Harvest Moon really is a niche market. Many tend to overlook something as innocuous as a farming game. In a the modern world of graphics, reflexes, and speed, some may like a breather and dive into a series of games that is under appreciated and very tame. There is something surprisingly zen about having a daily routine in a game and letting time slow down while enjoying a relaxing life of farming. No matter how much I recommend it, it is not for everyone, but venturing into it once and seeing how it works is definitely something that should be tried. For all you know, you may appreciate it for what it is.
Since there are so many good video games around, retro or otherwise, there are also times where we get stuck behind technology and media. While I am not against it, changes of pace are nice. I love meeting up with friends, whether it is to video game, board game, or tabletop games like DnD. Once we step outside of the world that is fast technology and constant media, having an experience that is as unique as playing DnD and other similar tabletop role-playing games can really stick with you longer than the fast-paced, instant gratification of most electronic entertainment.
Don’t just forget about the past, enjoy what it gave you… retro games!
• Any of the Harvest Moon games for the DS/3DS after Harvest Moon DS: Cute – If you like the feeling of the Game Boy Advance Harvest Moon games, the ones on the DS are a step up in complexity, often with more potential bachelors and bachelorettes, and the later ones have the option to play either as a boy or a girl. My favorite of this series is probably Harvest Moon: A Tale of Two Towns.
• Story of Seasons – This game came after the company split. Since the name “Harvest Moon” is copyrighted, the latest Harvest Moon games on the 3DS and the phone are their own games, and not translations of the Bokujo Monogatari series in Japan. This set of games is now the translation of the Japanese games. Different name, same style of game.
• Animal Crossing series – This is a great set of life simulation games. Even though it removes the farming and ranching aspect of the Harvest Moon series, it keeps the various side activities found in those games such as fishing and bug catching. This also focuses more on neighborly relationships, without the marriage aspect of Harvest Moon. It also allows for customization of your character’s house and clothes.
• Rune Factory series – Ever wonder how you hybridize an action RPG and farming simulation game? Well here is the answer, all four of these series have some sort of plot that is moved forward by venturing into dungeons. Each of the four games have their nice spin on this hybrid, and many potential spouses to choose from. Unfortunately, only the 4th installment of this series actually allows for choice between boy or girl. Also, this has a stronger emphasis on crafting because you need to create tools, weapons, consumable items, armor, and accessories to make the later dungeons and your main source of income (farming and ranching) easier to complete. My favorite of the 4 is actually the second one due mainly to a superior plot.
• Fantasy Life – More emphasis on action RPG elements, jobs, and crafting within those jobs. The later areas and bosses can actually be quite difficult and grinding up the necessary skills in the jobs can be a chore. However, the ability to freely switch between the different jobs really makes for interesting gameplay. This game also has a recognizable plot due to its RPG-ish nature and also allows for having a party of adventurers to help with the quests. As an added bonus, this 3DS game has a decent enough multiplayer aspect.
• Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale – Also an intriguing mix of genres. It combines dungeon crawling action RPG facets with a very important shop owning, buying, and selling facet that actually works out. You’ll probably have to look past the very cutesy graphics and limited plot to enjoy the game for what it is. Unfortunately, the fusing/crafting element is not very easy because the ingredients can be a chore to grind for. Unless you are very skilled at buying/selling and adventuring, don’t be discouraged if you fail the initial playthrough of raising a certain amount of money within a time limit. This game features a kind of New Game+ element which lets you retain some items and especially the merchant level which determines the success of buying and selling items for good profit. There is also other modes of gameplay beyond campaign/story mode that are worth taking a look.