Farming, raising cattle, mining, fishing, and marrying the girl of your dreams… what a sweet life. A slice of life farming simulator where the worst that happens is the death of a grandmother or perhaps the animals and the departure your friends. These elements are in essence what make Harvest Moon 64 such a special game. But just what exactly makes it such a unique experience? How does it fit in with the more recent iteration, and is it even relevant at this point? The answer to that question is a resounding yes.
Harvest Moon 64 was released in December 1995 to nearly a implausible silence. Few gamers had any idea of the game’s release, and fewer still knew of its original iteration on the Super Nintendo, aptly titled Harvest Moon. But years passed and word of mouth spread around; the PlayStation had its own continuity using the same sprites, which helped Marvelous gain a cult following that has grown exponentially to this day. Eventually, almost everyone who has played any Harvest Moon game knows of the Nintendo 64 version, which currently holds a near unanimous perfect rating on eBay. From a compelling stories straight out of soap operas to the random events which breathe life into the game, Harvest Moon 64 has it all. A shame it can cost upwards to 2000 USD to get a copy these days seeing as the game saw a very limited release.
The setup is simple: you’ve decided to pick up from where your grandfather left off and inherit his farm. Yet it’s not as simple as it sounds for Pete, as his father has only given him two years and a half to make something of himself. Armed with only a set of magical tools and a dog, Pete sets off to become an accomplished farmer in the eyes of the village and his father. From this point on, Harvest Moon opens up fantastically; almost everything is available (limited primarily by your money and resources), and it’s up to the players themselves to figure out how to obtain them. Personally, with a world wide open and the eyes of a ten-year old, this moment marked the opening of a whole new realm for me.
You see, it isn’t about rescuing the princess or beating up the enemies, reaching the end of the goal in Harvest Moon 64 simply entails doing the best you can. My goal was to marry the resident broken bird Karen as her sad story was relatable. There was no personal pressure for myself, aside from making money to get my first chicken and buying enough food for it. I was simply taking the game for what it was, and eventually discovering new things that would teach me about the village or the citizens. I learned about Rick’s inventions typically being failures, Cliff’s relation to Karen, the old folk who knew Pete’s grandfather and how, despite the quaintness of the village, there were still problems that didn’t have simple solutions. Even regularly scripted events during the week were interesting, as people had their own schedules, and on Sunday you could find a few of them at church. It was a small, but open world in my eyes, and I wanted to discover its secrets.
Some of these secrets are obtuse, such as the Kappa and cucumbers which only made sense if you knew about Japanese Folklore, while others were simple, such as the time I found a power berry in my field. But each unique moment in the game is filled with joy and wonder, as I waited to see what surprises the following day would have. Eventually, two years passed and I had gotten married and had a child. The time for the father’s judgment had come, and I didn’t do as well as I could have… but I kept my file without restarting. To my surprise, in those years I tried many different things and after 13 in-game years, Harvest Moon was still yielding secrets. There is an earthquake event that happens during the later months of the game and I’m still unsure of how it triggered. However, I believe this is the essence of the game.
You see, Harvest Moon–or Story of Seasons, as they’re known these days–have a very distinct appeal to gamers. While, certainly, they’re farming simulators, most of the time they’re about discovering what happens as you build relationships with the people around you. We’re all part of something bigger, and Harvest Moon 64 knows this because one of the objectives you’re judged on is how close Pete becomes to all of the villagers, and to do this quickly, you have to know their likes and dislikes. Every bond created can have unforeseen consequences, whether those be humorous or devastating, such as the death of a relative. This is how the games have grown over the years, and one of the reasons why the fanbase is one of the most friendly I’ve encountered in my lifetime as a gamer.
I love Harvest Moon 64 and I still own my personal copy from all those years ago… a personal treasure of mine, if you will. I still recommend this game to any retro gamers out there with a functioning N64, and trust me when I say it can be found online, but it won’t be cheap. A cult classic and probably one of the most iconic games in the series, Harvest Moon 64 beats the odds and is forever cemented in the memories and hearts of gamers of all ages.