It is hard for modern gamers to understand what the farming simulator world was like before Stardew Valley. Farming RPGs were considered “niche” and “kiddy,” almost as if they were not even worthy to be called games to begin with.
It is hard for modern gamers to understand what the farming simulator world was like before Stardew Valley. Farming RPGs were considered “niche” and “kiddy,” almost as if they were not even worthy to be called games to begin with. One entry into a popular franchise changed my opinion on the farming genre altogether, however, and even helped to inspire me a little bit with some of the hobbies I share with my wife today. I am talking, of course, about Harvest Moon 64.
Releasing for the Nintendo 64 in 1999, Harvest Moon 64 was a rather odd title among the plethora of multiplayer titles on the console. You play as a young man who inherits a farm from his late grandfather and are charged with getting it back into order by the end of three in-game years. This is not really a unique premise given that it is fairly standard for the Harvest Moon franchise, but it does help the new player understand what the end goal is for them. However you decide to increase the profitability of your farm – growing crops, raising livestock, mining for hours on end, etc. – there is still a ticking clock for you to be aware of.
This ticking clock follows you wherever you go. How are you going to spend your days working on your farm? The looping cycle of earning money to buy more crops to upgrading your tools to grow more crops to earning more money is a vicious one, often leading to many hectic evenings trying to finish harvesting all of your turnips so that they can be sold by a particular time of the day. Hard work is like that sometimes, though, and I think that is where Harvest Moon 64 really grabbed me.
Contrary to popular opinion, I spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid. I really enjoyed getting fresh air and playing with my friends and especially riding my bike around. Exploration was a key feature of my growing up, and this is how Harvest Moon 64 sunk its talons into me. I saw it on the shelf of my local video game rental place (which doubled as the entire town’s gas station) and was immediately perplexed by what in the world you were supposed to do. The anime-esque boxart spoke to me in the way that only Nintendo boxes could, but other than that, I didn’t really know what I was getting into.
Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional investment I put into this game. I did not expect to get so attached to my various farm animals or the villagers or my particular way of ordering my crops, but I fell head first into this game. I spent countless hours playing this game in as many large chunks of time as I could, and when I wasn’t able to play, I was researching on the early internet about what in the world I was supposed to do. The learning curve was steep because there weren’t exactly a glut of farming simulation games released at the time, but every little tidbit I learned added dramatically to the experience. Figuring out the schedules of the different townspeople – especially the marriage candidates – took a lot of charting and graphing, and then figuring out their likes and dislikes so I could get to know them better almost felt like I was solving a puzzle, that I was somehow affecting the game in my own way. I really appreciate that kind of engagement, and I can remember the difficult moment where I finally had to choose a bride, one among the many girls that I had come to know and appreciate. What a crazy thing to get invested in as a kid, but I really appreciated how deep the storytelling really went.
In fact, this game was one of the ways that my wife and I bonded in our early years of marriage, and is probably part of the reason why we have embraced so much of the home farm experience for ourselves. We have outfitted our own house and yard to better utilize our property for both growing crops and raising animals. It is a small and humbling enterprise, but we have enjoyed being able to have that experience and share it with our children. Would we have done it without playing Harvest Moon? Possibly, but even we can’t deny the level of inspiration that the game has on us when we continually reference moments from the game even to this day.
While this game is certainly showing its age at this point, it is still a fun and engaging experience that will help you get a bit of a better understanding of what the series is about. If you haven’t gotten completely hooked on a farming simulator yet or if the very concept sounds boring as all get-out, you owe it to yourself to give it a try and see what the hype is all about. Given that it feels like we are getting a new farming simulation game each week, that is just a testament to the fact that the genre speaks to people in a unique way. There is almost something biblical about returning to the vocational roots of human civilization, working the ground and tilling the soil for the fruits of your labor. And who knows? Maybe you’ll get inspired to embrace that farming life for real.