Why Harvest Moon Still REALLY Annoys Me

There's not a lot in the world of gaming that I really let bother me. Hey, if I don't like a game, then I just stop playing it. If people obsess over something I don't care for? That's fine -- if they like it that's all that matters. Everyone has their own opinions, and I'll always respect that. Of course there are controversies that arise here and there as well, but most of the time such things blow over. Something usually happens to bring justice to those who were wronged, or it becomes a case where everyone boycotts the game or something. While some of the things that happen are truly horrible -- it's usually not long lasting, and as such, it doesn't continue to bother me as the years go on. Yeah, well, I can't say the same about the video game series "Harvest Moon." It's one of those things that just... Gets under my skin.

Why is that? If you're asking, then chances are you're about to learn something to day.

Now let me be blunt about this. I love Harvest Moon. I got into the series after learning about it in Nintendo Power, and the first entry I played was none other than Harvest Moon 64. It was a fun game, and I loved the whole daily life/farm simulator gameplay. It was cool exploring the world, getting to know people, making friends, getting married, having kids, and of course building up your farm. It was a life sim where you were pretty much free to do as you wished, and you never knew what would happen each day. Sure, there was busy work involved with taking care of things, but this actually made it fun. I flat out enjoyed every minute I played of Harvest Moon 64, and it made me want to play as many of the others as possible.

Moving forward I would go back to the original, and basically try to get at least one Harvest Moon game for each console I owned. PS1, GBA, PSP, DS, etc. I didn't buy them all, but I did enjoy each one I played. Heck even Innocent Life (which was somewhat of a let down) became one of my most played PSP games. I just really liked the series! Heck, I'll never forget the day I tracked down Rune Factory, and Rune Factory Frontier was the first game I had ever ordered off of Amazon. It too had issues with it's gameplay systems and loading screens, but I still loved it. That's when I noticed something though... When I noticed the start of what was soon to change...

Up until this point, Harvest Moon was published by a company called Natsume. Games like Rune Factory had subtitles like "A Fantasy Harvest Moon" after it, but Frontier did not. Frontier was instead published by Xseed, which is owned by the developers of the Harvest Moon series (Marvelous Interactive). In Japan the game's name roughly translates to "Farm Story" however, and because of this, Xseed did not own the right's to the name "Harvest Moon" in the west. So when releasing newer Rune Factory games, they could not include "Harvest Moon" in the game's title. And that's where the issues began.

Although Natsume would continue publishing the "Farm Story" part of the series in the west, it was only a matter of time before they were pushed out. And that's exactly what happened.

After the release of Harvest Moon 3D: A New Beginning (it was a new beginning in more ways than one), Xseed completely took over publishing the series. HM3D was the game that would set the groundwork for the series going forward, and the future was looking bright -- for Marvelous that is. Natsume on the other hand, they were understandably not happy about this. They've been publishing the games for years, and it was a huge source of income. Sure they didn't actually make the games (minus a few spin off titles), but their deal to release the series was huge. The thing is, despite all of this, they still "owned" the "Harvest Moon" series. It ultimately didn't matter WHAT was created, or by whom, Natsume could include whatever they wanted as a part of the series name they owned. So with the 3DS becoming more and more popular, what do they do? They release their own "Harvest Moon," that's what.

While the real Harvest Moon (Farm Story) series got renamed to "Story of Seasons," Natsume hired other developers to create new Harvest Moon games for them. These games were low budget titles that looked and felt like knock offs of the real thing, but most people just assumed the game's quality dropped. With each new release Natsume would try to make it seem like they were going back to their "roots," but in reality these roots don't exist. They would continue to release game after game, attempting to cash in on someone else's IP, simply because they owned the name that people associated with that IP. It became a way to keep the Harvest Moon income rolling in, while doing something all their "own" at the same time. And this still continues to this day.

Now, I get how Natsume must feel about all of this. Again, the company they worked with abandoned them so they could do things on their own. I'm sure they felt betrayed; however, the way they responded will never sit right with me. The games they make now are clear rip offs, and not just games inspired by (what is now) Story of Seasons. For example, if you look at something like Stardew Valley, you'll find a game that was carefully crafted with love, and was inspired by Harvest Moon. It's an amazing game, that also finds it's own identity, while keeping the same heart that classic entries in the Harvest Moon series had. I mean, I can go on and on about how great Stardew Valley is, and there are many fans out there who would agree with me. There's no denying how much time and effort went into it, and how much the creator cared about his project. The new "Harvest Moon" games? I can't say the same.

Instead of finding their own identity, or being inspired by the originals, the new Harvest Moon series tries to be Story of Seasons. It copies mechanics (with some exceptions, like the Minecraft rip off entry), stories, character designs, and even tries to bring the "original" Harvest Moon characters back into the game. It doesn't hide that it's trying to be the real series, but ultimately it's still just a knock off. Of course being as it's called Harvest Moon, each game is released as a part of the series, but in reality it's not. Many fans do not know this however, and the games continue to sell. Sure it's reputation has gone down hill over the years, but ultimately, anyone who has any nostalgia for the previous (real) entries in the series, will instantly know what Harvest Moon is when they see it. They won't know Harvest Moon is no longer Harvest Moon -- and there's a high chance they'll give the new games a chance for old time sake. That's how this series is surviving... And it's unfortunate. Without it's branding, it most likely wouldn't last.

On the flip side of things -- Story of Seasons is typically seen as the knock off because of this. The back of the box usually mentions it's a part of the Farm Story series, but it's spelled out as it's Japanese name "Bokujo Monogatari"), but who will even know what this means? Or who even reads the back of a box, when it's sitting behind glass in a store? The only ones who know the truth are those who follow the series, and that's just sad. Natsume continues to cash in using the name people know and love, while the developers are stuck under a new title, and seen as the knock off.

Of course, now that remakes of older titles are coming out, more and more people are learning the truth about the series, but we'll most likely never reach a point where everyone knows. Harvest Moon will continue, and Story of Seasons will follow along behind it in the eye's of the general public. Again, it's understandable how Natsume must've felt when Xseed took over -- but it just doesn't feel right. But that's also how our world works. People will do what people want to do, and money is behind it all. 

The whole thing is just a raw deal for both sides, but I'll always hate the fact that knock off Harvest Moon games continue to enter the market. Pretty much yearly at this point. I know that there are those who truly enjoy the games, and I can respect that, but it'll always leave a bad taste in my mouth. So yeah, the new "Harvest Moon" series will always be the one thing in gaming that annoys me the most...

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