Thursday, June 14, 2012

Harvest Moon and Project Happiness

I've been a big fan of the Harvest Moon series (牧場物語 in Japanese) since before it came to the States. I remember reading a preview in Nintendo Power magazine as a kid and being really psyched. I don't know why the idea of a "farming" video game appealed so strongly to me, but I couldn't wait for it to be released. Anxious and impatient, I got my mom to drive me to the game store probably a half dozen times around its release date, disappointed to discover each time that it hadn't yet arrived at the store. Finally, one day, it was there. And it didn't disappoint.

There's something about Harvest Moon that always really got me. Part of it was probably the quirky farming and livestock systems, as I have always been a fan of games involving money management, but I think a larger piece was the "life simulation" aspect. Making friends with the villagers, exploring the countryside, building and upgrading your farm, and (ideally) getting married and having kids. It was very different from all the other games out there when it came out.

As the series went on and gained popularity, it kind of lost me little by little. I mean, I played Harvest Moon 64 and one of the games for PlayStation and enjoyed them. But the games just seemed to me to be getting more and more stale. The characters were changed from time to time (though some games in the series recycled them), the layout of the town was changed, and new crops and such were added...but it was the same old thing and didn't really feel "magic" anymore. A big part of that is probably just me; I tend to have high expectations.

Then several years ago, we got a spin-off called Harvest Moon: Rune Factory. Honestly, the idea of it really did more for me than actually playing the game. It was essentially Harvest Moon meets and something like Zelda. Farming, town interaction, and adventuring. Livestock were replaced with tamable monsters, and a weapon/armor crafting system was added.

The first couple games in the series, for the DS, I bought and played in Japanese. That might be one reason was my progress was so slow and I never beat either of them. Still, the second seemed a lot better than the first. When the third installment came out, I decided to get it in English so I could fully enjoy it. It wasn't without its flaws, but it upheld my earlier impression that this series was improving with each sequel. Although the farming/selling system seemed to be watered down (although there are a lot more things you can sell, as you progress money gets easier and easier to earn and has less uses), the developers seem to be focusing more and more on the characters and story. Unfortunately neither are very deep, being a somewhat cutesy series in general, but I was glad to see the games take this direction.

Annnyway, a little ways back, Wada Yasuhiro, the creator of the original Harvest Moon series, let leak that he was working on a new project. Something unrelated to Harvest Moon, but perhaps similarly quirky and off the beaten path. As Joystiq reports, he and Natsume revealed this game recently at E3.

Dubbed "Project Happiness", it seems to be a game about taking on the role of a shop keeper. This one seems to be pretty character-oriented, with something like 100 different characters that you can meet and interact with. Although my hopes are not high (especially given the graphics), I hope he decides to give them more depth than the characters from the Harvest Moon games. Still, it looks like it could be a fun and interesting game. I'll probably wind up buying it, as I am a sucker for these weird, off-beat titles...

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