Stardew Valley’s roots planted by Harvest Moon and Runefactory
Animal Crossing likely had more exposure, but Harvest Moon and Runefactory have long histories that can readily be seen in today’s big-hit Stardew Valley. What’s interesting is the disparity that exists in who knows and who doesn’t know what the heck Harvest Moon and Runefactory even are. On one hand, they are huge additions to video game history and many know about them, but they were primarily niche games even though there are many in each franchise today.
Havest Moon 1996 – Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Harvest Moon might be the first iteration of a game where a player took part in non-combat daily chores to progress through the game – featuring farming. These games were not strictly circuitous, open-world games that are commonly found today, but had linear stories and progression toward the end-game of reviving a farm.
Natsume is one of my favorite publisher’s of unique, quirky and eccentric titles that first brought Harvest Moon to America in 1996 on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Part of me feels a warm-fuzzy from the exposure Stardew Valley and it’s older inspirations are getting, because I always felt like a gaming outcast. I adored weird, eccentric, unique games the like that Natsume, NIS and Atlus would bring to America. I fondly recall games like Robot Alchemic Drive, Mr. Mosquito and Disaster Report among many others.
Harvest Moon has seen a long career that is still going today. Although today the franchise is a bit fractured with the developer choosing to publish recent additions of the franchise through XSEED. Natsume holds the rights to the English name. This has caused a divide with the latest iteration being titled Story of Seasons. Natsume continues the name Harvest Moon with their own game Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley. For those wanting die-hard facts then, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley is not an official HM game. Rather the original developer Marvelous Entertainment’s new Story of Seasons game is also a retro-active renaming of the entire franchise.
To date, there’s been many Havest Moon/Story of Seasons games spanning many consoles.
Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvet Moon 2006 – Nintendo DS
In hindsight, it’s quite logical to see Rune Factory crop up with its combination of Harvest Moon and RPG gameplay. Runefactory is a spin-off of HM with monsters and fighting added in developed by Neverland Co. Ltd.. RF allows the taming of monsters as well. This in turn was a way to progress as the monsters helped the player tend crops and perform other tasks.
There’s been six Rune Factory games to date, including 4 in the main series. Neverland filed bankruptcy putting an RF5 in limbo, but the team was picked up by Marvelous keeping hope alive for fans.
The Other Games
Atelier series share a history of games that are laden with activities. The Atelier franchise still sees promise in recent titles, with its mix of RPG gameplay and magic-shop operations. The player manages a magic-shop and completes tasks against a yearly in-game calendar. Gust has been developing Atelier games since 1997 that focus on magic-making, but players partake in similar tasks to cooking, creating items and crafting weapons.
Animal Crossing is more mainstream and less niche of a franchise that Nintendo has released. It features living in a village with various activities to take part in, but is also open-ended and has some community and online connectivity.
An Interesting Historical Aspect of Niche Games
Niche games were a huge source of experimentation in the past – and even some today. Many niche games usually featured one, bold and totally new aspect never really seen before and then made as a lower-budget game. There was Disaster Report that toyed with changing the environment around the player, Harvest Moon that featured non-combat and daily tasks and even some boating games that focused on brilliantly complex water graphics. These games afforded focused marketing, and experimentation with new and revolutionary ideas while leaving mainstream, big-budget gameplay to continue to rake-in the big bucks without fear of lowering reception with ideas that are too different or new. Only later, successes with niche games or parts of niche games slowly made their way into mainstream games of today without many players ever having any idea.
In light of that, games like Harvest Moon that you may never have heard of until today may be highly influential for the very gameplay you love and enjoy in today’s MMOs and single-player games that feature circular, living activities and time sinks.
When Yasuhiro Wada first created Harvest Moon he considered the problem of how players might react to performing repeated tasks in the game that were chores in real life. This idea was included in a presentation Wada gave at the 2012 Game Developer Conference where he talks about carefully crafting a balance between demanding high attention from players versus being too calm and boring. Finding a middle-ground with nice rewards would please the player. We see this in many genres of online and offline games today