Story of Seasons, formerly known as Harvest Moon, is a game about farming and marriage. Many gamers will remember their first spouse as probably their favorite one, and have fond memories of the courtship process. Although not every game in the series features marriage… I’m looking at you Harvest Moon GB 1 and 2, nearly the entire franchise has marriage as one of its primary goals. But as of five generations of games ago, I’ve stopped getting married in them; am I cursed to be forever alone, or has time jaded me after my first two loves Karen and Elli? The answer just might be that Marvelous should perhaps focus more time on developing them as characters instead of simply eye candy.
Harvest Moon 64 was my first introduction to the series and probably had the most interesting cast of bachelorettes in the franchise. While I was young, and the prospect of marriage was still far off, it was interesting to see how the relationships developed, and that perhaps had to do with my young immature mind. I’m fairly certain it has to do with story balance as almost all of the females feature one flaw or two which rounds out their character. Karen as mentioned in a previous article, comes from a broken home and numbs herself by indulging in alcohol. Elli has to cope with the death of her relatives, eventually becoming the sole survivor of her family, and this deeply affects her throughout the game. Ann is a domestic abuser and will often physically abuse her husband (which is only discovered if you don’t pursue her). Popuri is immature and childish. Finally, Maria is meek and shy to the point of insecurity.
All of them are interesting to get to know and provide a lot to the experience of playing the games. Add to that effect that they each have a history with Pete and it creates a sense of empathy within the players who witness these stories. Following Harvest Moon 64 was Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life which featured a small pool of unique bachelorettes, but developed them even further. In fact the main draw of A Wonderful Life, is how a fully realized life revolves around the impact your family has on you as a character and vice versa. While it wasn’t my favorite iteration of the series it certainly was an interesting experiment and features one of my biggest draws to the games in general: compelling characters. But after this, it seemed to become a bit of a roller coaster.
Harvest Moon: Magical Melody features one-dimensional characters combined with an extremely child-like appearance. Gone were the characters whose problems were real issues that had some profound impact on their personalities, and replaced with a near endless barrage of sappy characterization. Personally, I believe this was the moment when the developers forgot that getting to know the characters gave depth to the series and just focused on the variety of gameplay, which Magical Melody excelled in greatly. The trend continued as the bachelorettes each became more one dimensional as each iteration came out, to the point where in the latest game, most of them can be basically described by their jobs.
As their personalities became flimsier than wet paper, my enjoyment on getting to know these little bits of data also dwindled. Nowadays, I play Story of Seasons and don’t even get married. I still make the characters fall in love with the player character, but it’s not even worth pursuing the relationship. What used to be a major draw of the game has become a point of contention, as the writing appears to have become lazier with each game. The last time I married in a game from the series was probably Magical Melody and I owned every single Nintendo handheld game since Island of Happiness. But now, a new version is coming out called Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns which is touting itself as calling back to its roots of community.
I’m hoping that it truly goes back to the great writing which made the first few games fantastic simulation experiences. Characters that can be described with more than a job description and provide motivation to continue discovering about them… this isn’t too much to ask is it, or am I destined to have my characters stay forever alone?
Disclaimer: In real life, I am married and have a little one running around the house. Is it too much to ask for some depth on my virtual waifus?