The Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons games were originally known as the Bokujou Monogatari series in Japan and developed by Marvelous Entertainment. Natsume held on to the name of Harvest Moon, while Marvelous continued work of Story of Seasons, making two separate series.
Both Natsume’s Harvest Moon and Marvelous’ Story of Seasons series started off simple enough: you were a city dweller in need of change, or you inherited a farm from a relative. You are then tasked to make the farm successful, make friends with the villagers, get married, and have a baby. After having a child, though, the game seems to get stale.
Marvelous and Natsume kept reusing the same formula, with only slight deviations in art styles and some mechanics between each game. The most recent installment, Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns, has brought new life to the series, but still lacks after-marriage content. Natsume has promised to bring back SNES era Harvest Moon gameplay in their upcoming title Harvest Moon: Light of Hope.
I do believe developers should have the freedom to create any game they want, and I would never make demands from them. But as a fan, I think there are a few ways both Marvelous and Natsume could refresh their respective farming simulator series.
Don’t Remove Content from the Original Version
In the previous installments of the Harvest Moon series, marriage was an end-game requirement. If you kept to your farm, didn't get to know your neighbors, or get married, you would ultimately face a game over screen. This requirement was eventually removed, allowing you time to tend to your farm and woo your romantic interest. If you didn't want to get married, that was a choice, too. Not every marriage candidate may interest you, and you may rather marry someone of the same gender.
In Harvest Moon DS Cute, you had the option of having a Best Friend instead of a husband. Your female farmer would go through love events for the Harvest Goddess, Witch, Leia the mermaid, or Kera, and your love points would only be displayed if you equipped the Love Ring accessory. After meeting the marriage requirements, you could present your choice with a Blue Feather, triggering the Friend Ceremony. This ceremony was similar to a marriage. A child would be later sent you, instead of going through pregnancy.
For unknown reasons, this feature was removed when the game was localized. Are best friends too offensive? The only way to play the game the way Marvelous originally intended is to obtain the original Japanese version.
Bring Back Mining
In the latest Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons games, mining has been reduced to striking a mining node (usually a large rock marked with an "x") for a few gems a day. Mining is now too easy and not a challenge at all. No longer are we stocking Elli Leaves for a trek down 100+ levels of the mine.
Some users may welcome the change, but during long Winters where lakes are frozen over, trips to the mine were a welcomed time waster. The mines were similar to mini-games, where you had to trace your path to the next stairwell or destroy the hazards that would sap away your stamina.
Reintroducing mining would bring more activities back to the series. It would make upgrading tools or creating accessories more challenging, too.
Increase Friend Interactions
In Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands, you had to speak to villagers daily. If not, your friend level would decrease, and you would get reprimanded. Building relationships between villagers is of high importance, but little will come from it. In Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, you may receive a few extra items, but nothing after that.
Adding more friend interactions would increase the immersion of each game. In Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns, Komari and Carrie excitedly tell you how much they adore you as a friend. But besides a few friendship events and festivals -- or perhaps sharing a meal with them -- you rarely interact with either character, which kind of makes the friendships moot at a certain point.
Except when being forced to befriend someone for a service or item, friendships currently don’t add much to the game. Adding more events and interactive sequences could make friendships more meaningful.
Make Festivals More Challenging
Harvest Moon: Back to Nature made festivals fun. The tomato throwing festival was challenging and diversified gameplay. Harvest Moon 2: Game Boy Color allowed you to have a snowball fight during a mini-game.
In comparison, the newest installments of the series are lackluster in terms of festival interaction. In Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns, the most complicated festivals are mixing a new brew of tea or collecting money from villagers. Once the festival starts, you watch a few people talk and the event ends.
having challenging festival mini-games would make farm life a little more exciting. It would also increase villager bonds by perhaps befriending a specific villager, so they’ll train you in the mini-game.
Add More Helping Hands
The Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons games are primed for people who love to micromanage tasks. But after days of doing the same chores over and over again, gameplay gets monotonous.
The older Harvest Moon games allowed you to delegate tasks to the Harvest Sprites. After befriending them with gifts of flour, they would help water plants, harvest, care for animals, and bring them inside and out each day. Of course, this may seem too easy for more hardcore players. Having the option was great.
In the current Story of Seasons games, you’re alone except for pets. Pets with a high heart level can herd animals, but everything else is up to you. It would be helpful to request aid from your spouse, a high-level friendship villager, or even your child, like in Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. Doing everything on your own is a great accomplishment, but it shouldn’t be a punishment to ask for help.
Bring Back Rivals
Rivals are a sore subject with many fans of the series. Some gamers don’t want their love interest to get swept away from them while they’re busy tending to their farm. While I can understand some jealousy, the newest games have totally removed the feature. Your farmer is the only one that can get married. The rest of the candidates end up alone, forever, or until you put down the game. This just seems really sad.
In Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town (or Harvest Moon: Back to Nature), after getting married, you could help others discover love. I found it fun to help the other candidates get their happily ever after. But if I was not yet married and trying to romance a candidate, I found it a motivator to work harder to impress them.
Aside from rivals, it would be fun to help other non-romanceable villagers get married. In Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns, helping Miranda romance Frank would have been a welcomed addition.
Add After-Marriage Goals
Is marriage boring? Marvelous and Natsume imply this in the farming series. Marriage has become too easy in the Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons series. Give your love interest their favorite item every day, see their love events, get married, and have a baby. There is life after marriage, afterall. The addition of after-marriage events could (and should) be added.
Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns allows you to have three meals a day with your spouse, and you can spend festival days with them. But after that, it’s a regular work day. Having the option to take a walk (like with pets), go on vacation, work on the farm together, or have additional love events would be a welcomed addition.
As much as I enjoy these farming simulators, I find myself losing interest after the baby is born. There are few goals to work for after that. Adding more events after marriage could extend gameplay.
Increase Family Interaction
The most welcomed addition to the Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns game has been more family interaction. Previous games have assumed you are living on your own, never to speak to your family again. Phones exist, but only to call in a mail-order from the shopping network.
In Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns, the game begins with a fight between yourself and your father, Daryl. As the game progresses, your mother and little sister can come to visit you for a week. Your Uncle Frank is a few farms away, welcoming you in for meals or offering advice. But after marriage, the visits and letters mostly stop.
As for your spouse, you may never meet their family. Adding more family interaction could add more gameplay possibilities and more depth to each of the series. Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons always emphasize family and friendship, but strangely lack interactions with your own.
Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons continues to grow with fans today. Though the series is decades old, the overall formula still works. Farming, friendships, and family still lie at the heart of both Marvelous' and Natsume's series. The choices of removing more challenging aspects of the series, such as rivals and mining for more farming is damaging the Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons games more than improving it. If the developers want to hold onto fans attention, they should experiment to keep us interested. If not, they risk losing longtime fans.
Do you think the developers, Marvelous and Natsume, should change up the formula in their future Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons games? What changes would you want to see? Or do you disagree and believe the games are great as is? Let us know in the comments!