In a mainstream gaming landscape that embraces uber-violence, guns galore, and copious amounts of blood, video games that don’t stick to the traditional mold often slip through the cracks. Harvest Moon is one such series that has gone relatively unnoticed in North America. Where the shooter genre thrives among an enormously wide audience, simulation titles, especially farming sims, boast a much smaller following in the United States. Despite the competition, the Harvest Moon franchise has continued to survive and succeed worldwide. For the past 15+ years, the Harvest Moon series has produced over 20 video games, numerous spin offs, and has inspired a slew of social farming games including Farmville and Happy Farm. With that in mind, take a look at the top 5 Harvest Moon games since the series was created in 1996.
5. Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility
Release Date: 2007
Why it’s great: Besides being the first Harvest Moon titles on the Wii, Tree of Tranquility shines as one of the most dramatic departures from the conventional premise of the Harvest Moon series. With an entirely different graphical style; more realistic rather than cute, and a story that tasks players to not only restore their farm but also to rejuvenate the Mother Tree, ToT is truly a breath of fresh air. This variation paired with a bounty of new livestock, crops, motion controls, and new game plus capability showcases the memorable experience that is Tree of Tranquility.
4. Harvest Moon 3DS: A New Beginning
Release Date: 2012
Why it’s great: As the newest addition to the franchise, A New Beginning certainly had big shoes to fill. With an assortment of new features including the ability to tailor your character from head to toe, take vacations to faraway lands, and completely customize your farm and surrounding town, the game provides a unique experience to the tried and true Harvest Moon formula. With the addition of new crops and animals, original town festivals, and 3D graphics, A New Beginning is definitely a must-play for avid series fans.
3. Harvest Moon: Magical Melody
Release Date: 2005
Why it’s great: Magical Melody stands out as a stellar addition to the Harvest Moon series due to the fact that it exemplifies freedom. From the get go, players are allowed to choose which parcel of land that they would like to start out with and make their own. The boundaries are limitless in Magical Melody. Gone is the separation between farm land and village territory, every inch of the landscape can be utilized. Over time, the world opens up even more granting new areas to be purchased and cultivated. Not to mention, the town constantly changes with the arrival of new villagers, traveling patrons, and more. This installment stands above many in the Harvest Moon collection due to its innovated take on an open, customizable world.
2. Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
Release Date: 1999
Why it’s great: Back to Nature epitomizes what everyone loves about the Harvest Moon franchise. A simple story paired with an unexpectedly difficult goal embodies the charm of Harvest Moon. With memorable characters, a rich world, and the allure of courting and marrying the girl of your choice, Back to Nature builds a deeply emotional gaming experience. Released only months after Harvest Moon 64, Back to Nature utilizes many of the same characters as its counterpart, only in a different world. Despite the similarities, each character’s personality, family, and occupation are vastly unique which makes Back to Nature even more appealing to previous fans of the series.
1. Harvest Moon 64
Release Date: 1999
Why it’s great: Every series has its highs and lows, but Harvest Moon 64 is definitely a huge high. As the third installment to the franchise, it was instrumental in defining what the simulation role playing game could be. Harvest Moon 64 isn’t the kid-friendly game reflected in later titles of the series. The New Year’s Festival for example, encourages the player to out drink as many villagers as possible. In preparation for the special day, it’s helpful to build up your tolerance to alcohol by visiting the bar daily months in advance; binge drinking Harvest Moon style. In conjunction with the more adult theme, town residents do not reflect the sunny disposition of inhabitants in other titles. Folks in Harvest Moon 64 are entrenched in their own personal struggles. If you give the townspeople a chance, even the rudest local has the potential to become a true friend.
Adding to its prowess, Harvest Moon 64 also manages to balance an intriguing mix of freedom and time-crunching stress. In other words, there is so much to do and so little time. With only a little over two in-game years, players are challenged to woo the mate of their choice, get married, rebuild their farm, befriend all of the villagers, raise livestock, and more. While two years may seem like an ample amount of time, transforming a field of weeds into a profitable landscape of farming success is a tall order, one that when completed, is one of the most deeply rewarding experiences I’ve ever encountered in a video game.
Have you ever played a Harvest Moon game? If so, what is your favorite? If not, have you ever tried out the social farming games like Farmville?
Editor’s Note: I’ve played nearly every Harvest Moon game from the original to the latest on the 3DS. I’m a huge fan through and through and I hope to shed some light on Harvest Moon as an underrepresented franchise. While admittedly not for every gamer, I certainly was a skeptic at one point, anyone who is even remotely curious should check it out to see just how addicting it can be.