Harvest Moon 64 is the sequel to the charming game Harvest Moon on the SNES. It was a fantastic game that involved time management, social aspects, Farming and ranching HM64 was the perfect mixture of how to make a simulation on the N64. HM64 took everything which made the original SNES version fun and boosted it up to 200% more awesome, and while it had some downfalls it still holds up as the legendary game that cemented the series as a profitable and successful series. Released on December 22nd of 1999, this game was the Christmas present that should have been under every N64 owner’s tree, but wasn’t. Let’s take a look at the reasons why Harvest Moon 64 is still held to such high regard 16 years after its original release.
- The Art Style:
Now at first glance the graphics in Harvest Moon 64 are very rudimentary, which while certainly not pushing the N64 to its maximum potential does a great job at setting up the environment in the game. But, where the game truly shines is its very cutesy art style in which everything is bright and colorful. The character sprites are designed in a style known in Japan as “chibi” which basically means small bodies, large heads with oversized eyes, and no mouths with character portraits that are equally adorable and make them extremely pleasant to observe. The art style chosen for the animals from the cows, sheep and chickens, to the dog and horse make the game feel so sweet it might give you diabetes. The character models are mostly unique and very few (Gourmet) are unpleasant to look at. It’s obvious the game’s art style was designed around the concept of farming and not the other way around, which in my opinion does wonders for HM64. But, simply because it has a cute graphical style does not mean HM64 is not a game for mature folk.
- The Themes:
Despite its cutesy art style, Harvest Moon 64 does not shy away from dealing with some serious topics such as: domestic abuse, loss of a family member, failing businesses, separation (in terms of marriage), leaving home, and even romance. The game actually handles these matters in a relatively believable (for the most part) manner. As a child who grew up in an abusive household, I couldn’t help but sympathize with Karen, the resident alcoholic teenager, who dreams of leaving her abusive home. HM64 also handles the topic of the loss of a relative rather maturely; one of the characters you can romance can have a relative die and the character is not quite the same for some time after the death. These themes were practically unheard of in a game with an E rating and it makes me feel like perhaps the ESRB did not dig deep enough into the content of HM64. It was pretty obvious that Gotz was abusing Karen and his wife, only to drink his sorrows away at the tavern. The player is not the only character who gets married, rivals can even fall in love and have their own children, which is incredible since it pretty much means that all of the bachelorettes will have kids at some point in the game. These things can be encountered by pure coincidence and it gives the world a sense of believability since not everything is perfect in Flowerbud Village. But, the topics that this game was willing to tackle were such serious matters made the NPCs that much more real.
- The NPC’s:
HM64 has 41 semi-unique NPCs along with 14 special guest type characters which show up at sporadic times during the story. These characters range from a timid mailman Harris to a Harvest Goddess and even a creature from Japanese folklore the ‘kappa’. Their personalities are all distinct without coming off as stereotypical. At times you’ll even be surprised by the interesting things that some of these characters have to say and a can even provide helpful tips for a future play through. You can discover a lot of the history and lore from Flowerbud Village by chatting with them daily. You can also learn about the relationship your grandfather had with the older members of the village and how they feel about his departure. View how religion affects the lives of some of the members of the community with a few of them participating actively in the Sunday Mass on the distinctly European themed church that worships a Harvest Goddess. The characters not only make the village feel alive, but they also provide incentive to befriend them in order to view all of the events in the game. Becoming friends in the game consist of giving them gifts and talking to them every day. It’s almost so important to note that a huge challenge in the game is actually learning to manage your time effectively in order to balance social life with the farming one. If you don’t you won’t get to experience some of the best parts of the game, like romancing one of the five available bachelorettes. These girls even have events that correspond to their affection meter (a small colored heart in their dialogue box). The other villagers don’t have these meters, but you can sort of tell where you stand based on their dialogue. This is just another aspect that complements the gameplay amazingly and is another point in making this game as legendary as it is.
- The Gameplay:
For a game about farming, harvesting crops is certainly not the only thing you’ll be doing in HM64. Pete (the player character) has a ton of different ways to pass the time in his quest to become a successful farmer or otherwise his father will take him back to Japan to become a salary man (and nobody wants that!). But, just farming is not the only way you can go about your virtual farming experience (unlike Farmville whose gameplay consisted of mashing the mouse button and losing friends in real life). You can fish, forage, raise cattle or chickens, impregnate cows (did I stutter?), participate in festivals around the village, cut wood, expand your house, make a creative marriage proposal (to your HM fanatic significant other by arranging your flowers in a ‘will you marry me’ pattern), become a functional member of your virtual society, plant a flower which dies if you forget to water it once, kill an old lady, and even climb a tree. The best part is that you have the complete freedom to do all these things. You can choose to be a lazy fishing hobo or a farmer with an almost obsessive compulsive habit to farm strawberries. You can marry the virtual girl of your dreams by buying her affection with sweets and gifts or you can become a hermit who is shunned by everyone in Harvest Moon 64. The only things that are stopping you are the game limitations (obviously) and your desire to be apathetic. But, it’s definitely worthwhile to do as much as you can in the game because it is riddled with secrets.
- The secrets:
Harvest Moon 64 has a ton of secrets which are only found by actively participating as a member of the society. You can summon a Harvest Goddess by throwing an offering you raised yourself in a specific pond and she will give grant you a wish. Have a big fish and don’t know what to do with it? Why not chuck it into a pond and summon a Kappa? You saw a weird tree in the mountain that can take you directly up a hill without any indication of anything different? Why not try climbing it? Did Pete find a cave with 3 magical gnomes who speak pig Latin? Why not talk to them and learn that they will help you in your time of need if you befriend them? There are a ton of secrets in this game and only through trial and error (or a guide) will you discover them all. In fact, some of the secrets are so well hidden that the last major discovery happened in 2009, a decade after release. Who knows what other events are still waiting to be discovered by news players who decide to play the game. But, the best part about this game still has to be the glitches.
- The Glitches and Errors:
Harvest Moon 64 was riddled with bugs which just made the game that much more hilarious. Do you want to get married within the first two seasons? Talk to Karen while holding your dog for about 255 times. Want your livestock to produce the second best products in the game? Hit them with your hammer while they are sick (it raises affection). Never want to see your dog again? Walk into the toilet while holding him. Love to gamble, but are afraid to lose all your money? Just act as if you were placing the bets and cancel the transaction (you’ll still get the rewards). Want to poke fun at Natsume for misspelling their name? Just turn on the game and read Natume instead. Want to get rid of your chickens, but starving them to death is just too cruel? Put them outside the day before a typhoon and the next day they will be gone. I’m sure there are more, but these are just the ones I discovered. These things all made HM64 an amazing experience for me, and it is one that all fans of the series should witness. If you love Harvest Moon then try to locate a copy and explore the magic of the game that set the bar for this series.