Few games have ever captured the serenity of country life quite like Harvest Moon. In a world full of video games that focus on how great it is to blow someone up, Harvest Moon is a game all about keeping things alive. You water plants, tend to livestock, and, if you're lucky, settle down and start a family. If you've never had the chance to play a Harvest Moon game before, you absolutely should. They are calm, evocative, and incredibly rewarding. Taking a run down farm and restoring it to a multi-faceted enterprise is an experience that has stuck with me through all my many years of gaming. Even now, I always take the opportunity to play a new Harvest Moon game when it launches (now known as Story of Seasons) even if it doesn't recapture the magic of my first experience with the series.
But what about MMORPGs? They, by their nature, tend to exist within only one spectrum of human interaction: killing things. And while some games will always offer you the option of spending an afternoon picking flowers, it won't be long until the game pushes you to jab those flower stems into a boar's eye because you need 20 livers. That said, this week I'm taking on the incredibly tough challenge of finding MMORPGs that can, even in some small way, capture a bit of that Harvest Moon magic. I'm not saying these are perfect substitutes, but if you love Harvest Moon and wanted an MMO with just a little of that, some of these might help.
ArcheAge certainly isn't the MMORPG to play if you're hoping for the total Harvest Moon experience, but, that said, it does manage to do more than a few things right. Chief among those is farming and animal husbandry. While you won't own a sprawling field or a barn where you tend to your livestock, ArcheAge does offer some pretty compelling reasons to invest time in planting seeds and raising chickens.
If you're lucky enough to grab yourself a plot of land in-game, which isn't instanced by the way, you can put it to good use by growing all manner of vegetables, trees, fruits, or using it to raise a variety of animals. Each item you can invest in feeds back into the economy in some form, either through being used in a crafting recipe or being used to manufacture trade packs that you can haul from one market to another for a tidy profit.
While the greater emphasis of ArcheAge is undoubtedly on the open world PVP and sailing, the farming aspect was always a great reason to bring your ship to port and spend some time on land.
Okay, I cheated. Fantasy Life isn't really an MMORPG. But spend a few hours with it and you'll be hard-pressed to say why. Truth is, Fantasy Life borrows so many elements from MMOs and applies them to a single player game, it might as well be.
The biggest hook in Fantasy Life is the ability to play the game in a plethora of different ways. Sure, you can be a sword wielding Mercenary, but you can also focus entirely on one of the artisan or harvesting classes. Whereas crafting is usually regulated to some sort of side activity you participate in, Fantasy Life makes these pursuits just as viable as swinging a sword, which is really refreshing.
What's more, Fantasy Life captures the visual aesthetic of Harvest Moon perfectly. The game is vibrant and charming, providing just enough of the foundation that Harvest Moon is built upon but in a more focused way. Sure, it's lacking the social sim elements, but you won't miss them when you're so focused on your blacksmithing career.
Harvest Moon has always been about romanticizing the life of a country farmer. Wurm Online, by comparison, is all about painstakingly recreating the experience of being a fantasy world settler. It is an overwhelming game that can take hundreds of hours to accomplish anything of note, but it is also wholly original and unlike anything you could ever play.
Wurm Online started as a progenitor to Minecraft, but it is also much more beholden to its role-playing roots. Skills will dictate what you can and cannot accomplish in the world, and playing with friends is almost entirely necessary to accomplish anything worthwhile. Wurm Online is certainly not anything like the theme parks of World of Warcraft, and even compared to Harvest Moon there is only the distant ancestor of sandbox gameplay that keeps them in relation.
But, that said, if you ever wanted to experience a game that truly let you carve out your own life in a fantasy setting, Wurm Online comes very close. It is like a far more realistic and grueling Harvest Moon, meant to make you appreciate each hard-earned victory rather than spend your evenings calmly strolling through the woods collecting berries.
Haven & Hearth
Haven & Hearth is in the same vein as Wurm Online: Another harsh survival sandbox that rewards those who are persistent and somewhat masochistic. While Wurm Online offers a 3D world to explore, Haven & Hearth offers a desolate hinterland to wander in 2D. You're free to set out and build villages with other players, or create your own settlement all by your lonesome. There are no rules for who can attack who, so meeting new players can be a tense encounter.
While Haven & Hearth is a lot more serious in tone and gameplay than Harvest Moon, it also captures a bit of its nostalgic 16bit aesthetic. The game looks positively ancient by today's standards, but if you aren't averse to playing a game that hasn't aged well visually, Haven & Hearth offers a world to truly carve out your own existence. Just be prepared for the significant investment that is required.
Similar to other games on this list, Haven & Hearth times its crafting by the passing of real time. Want to make some leather? You'll have to leave it out on the rack for a full 8 hours before moving it to soak for another 8 hours. That's a serious investment just for some leather.
But then, Haven & Hearth isn't necessarily meant to be a game played for hours on end, and progression is meant to be very slow and rewarding. You won't go from starving and wandering to king of a village in a week, but it is possible to do it with months of hard work. But, like Wurm Online, you're going to want to either bring friends or make some in the game. Playing by yourself is a sure-fire way to burn out due to the overwhelming time it takes to accomplish anything.
Runescape was the first MMORPG I've ever played, and I'm ashamed to admit that I spent a lot of time leveling up my woodcutting skill (possibly the silliest skill to exist in a game). Where Runescape isn't as linear as most modern MMORPGs, it also doesn't really offer the freedom to just live life on your own terms like you can in Harvest Moon. In reality, you'll still spend a decent amount of time killing monsters or completing quests, but Runescape also offers a robust crafting and farming system that you could theoretically spend most of your time with.
With so many different crafting skills to pursue like blacksmithing, mining, woodcutting, fishing, cooking, there is plenty of ways to waste your evenings as you work to level them up and unlock access to new recipes and new resources.
Visually, Runescape is fairly distant from Harvest Moon in just about every aspect. The graphics are simple but not as vibrant and cartoony as they often appear in Harvest Moon, and there isn't much of the same quirky personality found within the Harvest Moon titles either. That said, Runescape is also very accessible, doesn't require a beast of a machine to play, and does offer an variety of crafting professions to pursue in lieu of combat.
Well, we did it, we rounded up a bunch of games that kinda had some Harvest Moon to them. Sure, you could go play a Facebook game like Farmville or one of the million mobile apps that styles itself along the same vein, but those don't come very close to capturing the magic of Harvest Moon either. If you don't mind waiting, you could definitely hold off and wait for Stardew Valley, which offers a true Harvest Moon experience on the PC and the option of playing with up to three of your friends. Animal Crossing is also quasi-multiplayer, allowing you to join up with other characters from around the world to pick peaches.
But sadly, Harvest Moon is the type of game that remains largely untapped my MMORPGs. Some might have in-depth crafting or housing systems, but all of them fail to evoke that same charming attachment with the social sim element that remains baked into the core of Harvest Moon. Maybe that's a good thing? Who knows!
What did you think of this list? Do you have some better ideas for MMORPGs that give you a sweet taste of Harvest Moon? Let us know in the comments!