I’ve always been interested in the idea of Harvest Moon, but as the original game was never available in my hometown and my allowance made ordering games online critical strike my wallet, I passed it up in favor of the Animal Crossing series. Sadly, now as an adult with a slightly heavier wallet, I have the money but not quite the time to invest in the series, but I’m still interested in it enough to have gotten some hands-on time with the demos of both the different Harvest Moon games: Harvest Moon: Skytree Village and Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns.
The Harvest Moon games are life simulators, focused on farm life: growing crops, raising livestock, getting married… things I apparently can’t do in reality (yet). The games generally have you suddenly taking possession of a farm willed to you, often in a dying community that needs your help to prosper.
For those who don’t know, Harvest Moon is the western name of a series called Bokujo Monogatari in Japan. Marvelous teamed up with Natsume to localize the series, but when Marvelous began working with XSEED, their need for Natsume ran out. Unfortunately, Natsume owned the rights to the English name, allowing them to produce their own games under the original title while forcing Marvelous and XSEED to actually change the original series’ name in the west to Story of Seasons. It’s a complicated situation, but for genre fans, it creates not only a new series but a potential rivalry, one that the newcomer may be able to pull off, assuming demos of the games are any indication of their content and the effort of their teams.
Life in a Demo
The big issue is that life simulators, like MMOs, are really hard to demo. The very nature of the games require you to take time, invest in game effort and receive a reward for that effort. Unlike a combat game with immediate feedback (you punch, they die), life simulators require many more steps to access their content (you often need an in-game job to access money to access new options to make the basic gameplay produce something, whether it’s creating something or finding new dialogue options.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. For me, the best MMO demos have been ones set up with accessible characters to perform a task, often when other players are around and can be interacted with. It’s why, in some ways, Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer, which cut out currency from the design process and gave more direct access to content, felt more accessible but also slightly more demo-like.
Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns feels like it might have missed the memo. The demo had no defined objective, made worse by having nearly nothing translated. My Japanese isn’t great, maybe enough to guess better than average about how to get through menus without using a dictionary. I’m guessing it’s why the demo didn’t seem popular at all, even with fans of the series, though a few mentioned loving the new fishing.
Farming has always been something that interests me, and the demo assistant did suggest I have a look at it, but I wasn’t impressed. Even though I could rearrange my farmable land, with such limited time, it felt like something that was hard to appreciate, especially without having my own game and working the system for awhile. Having an animal companion with me as I tried to figure this out was cute, but as an MMO player, I’ve had this sort of thing going on for awhile, so it feels forgettable.
As the name suggests, the game has 3 towns but, perhaps due to my Animal Crossing bias, I don’t know why I’d want more than one. The towns, however, are fairly close to each other, which seems like a smart move, and there’s even a mount to make traveling faster. The new towns (Western, Asian, and Tropical themed) affect different aspects of the game, including weddings types, but I didn’t immediately feel a difference, though there was clearly a visual different.
That being said, Harvest Moon’s last game was criticized for its lack of scope, while Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns seems to have juggled its new feature well enough for it to have taken the number two best seller spot in Japan shortly after its release.
New Kid on the Farm
I got a bit more time with Skytree Village’s demo, and had a more knowledgeable person guiding me through the experience. While not perfect, the demo focused on introducing the town, the people, and animal interaction, notably putting emphasis on a new animal, the poitou donkey, which has long shearable hair. While my Natsume handler says that Skytree Village apparently not impacted by Stardew Valley, the game has brought additional attention to the series. However, the Natsume’s first solo role at the new Harvest Moon didn’t wow fans or critics, so the team’s got a lot they need to do to prove that the title is still relevant.
Centralization of the town and not wasting seeds was the team’s big takeaway from the last games, and fans have been reacting to the centralization idea really well apparently. The new game is seeking to centralized the town like the past games to win old players back, though is sticking to a single town. Terraforming from last game, Lost Valley, will remain, as will its associated features, like its effects on water distribution, with different kinds bodies of water resulting in different available fish. While terraforming is Natsume’s current addition to the series, it’s not supposed to be used to differentiate from the old series or Story or Seasons, just to give a new option for farm maintenance. Players can upgrade tools so you can affect larger areas at a time, and you can’t lose seeds if you throw them in the wrong space, something that plagued players in Lost Valley.
Dating and marriages are still in, with the game having 3 boys, 3 girls, all new, but no same gender relationships. However, the plot’s still a bit more interesting than the old series, with the game again focusing on something a bit more “magical”: there’s a drought, and the player needs to restore the town’s water to renew the harvest goddess’ power. There’s a fountain to show this power and fills as she becomes more powerful.
The Take Away
At least among those on the floor, there’s no ill will towards either title despite the companies’ divorce. Clearly, experimentation is being done, so much like having Christmas two times with each parent, gamers can have a variety of farm sims if they want it. Based on demos, Natsume’s Harvest Moon: Skytree Village felt easier to “get,” but Marvelous knows what fans want and may just need XSEED to step things up when localizing and publishing abroad, to ensure that Story of Seasons: Trio Town can continue picking up steam gained in its home country of Japan.Related: Demo, Hands On, Harvest Moon