Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, and making games harder.

So, I had a big post planned for today, but I got, um, sidetracked. You see, Dolly recommended I write about video games I loved, and that made me think of Harvest Moon, possibly my favourite game ever. However, when I moved to Arkansas I lost all my gameboy games! It was seriously tragic, and yes, I did cry. A lot. I was so close to unlocking all the Harvest Sprites! So close!!

Anyway, my mother bought me a number of new games as an apology for moving to Arkansas when I really, really didn’t want us to, but instead of re-buying the games I had before, she got me the newer versions. This was cool for Lost in Blue and Brain Age, but not at all cool for Harvest Moon. You see, the newest version of Harvest Moon was Rune Factory, wherein the game creators said, “Hey, you know what this charming, tranquil farming game really needs? Monsters!”

And lo, there were monsters! There were monsters everywhere, impeding all the basic functions of farming. And it ruined the game for me. For one thing, it made no sense– you’d find a sheep-monster in a cave, and you’d beat it nearly to death, and then you’d take it back to your farm and feed it and brush it and gather wool from it? The monsters were hell-bent on killing you, until you killed them and then they were “domesticated,” and if they weren’t bizarre animal-monsters, that was okay, because you could just enslave them and make them water your plants.

I was not cool with this. For one thing, the monsters kept killing me. Again and again and again. I couldn’t even run away from them! For another thing, enslaving monsters is sufficiently different from befriending rainbow-colored forest sprites that it’s just not the same game any more. I think they wanted to make the game a little more challenging for their regular fans, who have mastered the art of virtual farm management, but it made it too challenging for me. I was disappointed, but not too disappointed, because Lost in Blue 2 was awesome. (I love those games!)

Luckily, it looks like the franchise is developing separately from, not replacing, the traditional Harvest Moon games– there’s a Rune Factory 2 out, but ALSO a new regular HM game, “Island of Happiness.” I bought it today (plus a used copy of Harvest Moon DS, the game I had before, so I can finally beat it…) and they’ve changed the game mechanics to make it more difficult, but in a completely different way.

Basically, they’ve made the weather vastly more important. It’s all explained here— basically, plants need a certain amount of water or sun to progress to each of the stages of growth, and each kind of weather gives a different amount of sun or water. And each plant needs a different amount for each stage. And if you leave it in the ground for a few days after it matures, it’ll improve in quality, but if you leave it too long, it’ll rot, and those numbers are different for each plant too.

I like this a lot better, because it makes it harder by enhancing the complexity of the core aspects of the game, as opposed to adding a completely new aspect to juggle. It’s true to the spirit of Harvest Moon while still providing a challenge for experienced players. I love it.

I love it so much, I’m going to go play it some more right now. Maybe I’ll do that special post tomorrow.

Or maybe I’ll just play more Harvest Moon.

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14 Responses to Harvest Moon, Rune Factory, and making games harder.

  1. dollyann says:

    Haha! My suggestion, FTW!

    I haven’t actuallly played Harvest Moon before though. 😦 I remember seeing ads for it, I think, in Nintendo Power and there were lots of dwarfish, Hummel-like people riding wagons and carrying gardening tools, lol. I guess that wasn’t enough testosterone for teh gamer boiz?

    And were the monster-sheep you killed like reincarnated as domestic sheep? I get the death and then the domestication, but whatever’s inbetween is flying way over my head.

  2. eloriane says:

    I never actually defeated any of the monsters but as far as I know, no, they didn’t change form. You just filled up your barns with hideous sheep-monsters.

    Harvest Moon 64 was actually my very first video game. It’s a simple concept that’s surprisingly addictive. I actually like the cute, squished graphics of the gameboy a lot better than the more-realistic ones they’ve been doing on the wii (and before that, the gamecube). It makes it easier to pretend my farmer character is just a butch lesbian. 😀

  3. dollyann says:

    Yeah, you don’t get a lot of butch lesbian protagonists in video games, do you? I mean, homosexuality goes almost completely unaddressed in video games, unless of course it’s intended to mock a (usually) male character (in which case, it’s purely homophobic). Then again, considering the dearth of female characters in general (and minority characters, now that I’m thinking about it), I’m guessing we won’t be identifying with any L,G,B,orT leads anytime soon.

    Still, I guess it’s possible there’s one out there… do you know of any?

  4. eloriane says:

    I promise you, if I knew of any, I wouldn’t shut up about it!

    The closest we get is the Sims, where everyone is bisexual and polyamorous, but that’s not really the same thing.

    Any medium where the cost of production is high is going to avoid “risks” like a sympathetic gay character. I think this is why it’s possible to find a lot of gay folks in books (though not usually in the genre fiction 😦 ) and every now and then you can find gay people in movies (but, again, never in the sci fi) but video games are a never-ending Straight Parade.

    There’s also the fact that games have this reputation for being evil vehicles for immorality. When Brokeback Mountain came out, nobody tried to say that all movies were therefore inherently immoral, but Mass Effect took a lot of rubbish for it’s “”lesbian”” romance sub-plot and it was used as evidence that all games are ruining the youth of today.

    (I put “”lesbian”” in double scare quotes because the second female is actually a blue-skinned alien from a mono-gendered race, who just happens to look female to humans. You can have the romance with her regardless of your gender. I think a lot of it was done for the titillation factor, rather than actual inclusiveness.)

    I don’t think it’s a great excuse, but I kinda see where the game industry is coming from. I still want my lesbians, though! Or at least women who never show interest in men, and who I can therefore pretend are lesbians. But no, games tend to go to great length to show how straight all their characters are. Alas.

  5. ShinChuck says:

    I Googled “Rune Factory” and came across your blog. Just picked the game up on a lark and was a bit surprised myself! I saw it at GameCrazy with “A Fantasy Harvest Moon” emblazoned on the cover and assumed that meant they’d be waltzing around in medieval dress in a little village looking like it was circa 1200 A.D. or something.

    Needless to say, it was a little jarring when suddenly I found myself wielding a sword against a cast of creepy looking monsters!

    I like your comments about games being unfairly labeled, too. I did a paper on this a couple years ago, comparing examples of PG and PG 13 movies got away with so much more than a roughly equivalent T game. It’s downright absurd that a game has to get drinking and smoking removed from it to score a T rating, while a PG 13 movie can have smoking, drinking, sexual content, suggestive language, blah blah blah.

    They kinda backed down with Mass Effect, it seems. Did you ever play Knights of the Old Republic? It was done by the same developer and featured an entirely homosexual character (in this case, of the female persuasion). You could romance her as a female, but it was not possible at all as a male (you could simply become good friends, but she never expressed any more sort of interest in you).

    That’s one of the few cases I can think of with a game featuring a strictly gay character…

  6. eloriane says:

    Hey, glad to have you!

    I’ve always thought it odd how standards vary so much between games, movies, and especially books. I mean, anything goes in a book– but the original Harvest Moon games got stern warnings because you could drink wine at the vineyard.

    As for KOTOR– I had no idea! Unfortunately, it falls firmly within the category of games that I can’t play by myself, but my littlest brother’s birthday is coming up…maybe he’ll play it with me 🙂

    I’m surprised/impressed that the gay character is female though– usually gay male characters are more prevalent. I mean, they show up in comedies all the time, and while they’re generally reduced to making stupid jokes and being laughed at for being gay, they are at least there, whereas lesbians don’t tend to show up except in lesbian-centric movies. Actually, even among gay romances, gay male characters are a lot more prevalent. Netflix has to recommend three male gay romances for every one female one it gives me.

    But I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth! KOTOR is on my list of things to buy when I finally have money! Thanks for letting me know about it!

  7. ShinChuck says:

    Yeah, no problem. Bioware is usually pretty good about that sort of thing, although most of the time they’re bisexual rather than straight (uh, no pun intended) gay or lesbian. It’s been forever, but I think their game Jade Empire had two bisexual romances (one was a guy, the other a girl).

    You’ve got me curious. I’m really racking my brain trying to think of other games besides KotOR that had strictly gay characters as protagonists or love interests. I can think of several minor characters (many of whom were, as you said, mere “comic relief”), but that’s about it. I’m sure there’s more out there, I just never really thought about it before.

  8. eloriane says:

    Yeah, Bioware has made it onto my list of “Companies I Like.” It’s not on my list of “Companies I Purchase From Obsessively” (that will probably always be Nintendo, since Nintendo is the only one that consistently makes games that play to my strengths; Bioware makes great games, but they play to my weaknesses, so I need help to play them.)

    But honestly, I am bordering on shocked that there’s a straight (heh) gay character anywhere in game-land. Video game culture has always seemed to me to be very focused on proving heterosexuality– like, a guy will play as Lara Croft, but only because he likes to look at her ass, not because he actually identifies with one of those woman-beasts. Women don’t have to prove their heterosexuality as much, but then, they don’t have to in real life, either.

    So I guess I’d like to reframe the question: rather than seeking characters who are 100% interested in their own sex, can you think of characters that are 100% uninterested in the opposite sex? This would still include the girl from KOTOR, but rule out the bisexual cases. I ask because I don’t need a character to be openly gay for me to feel included, I just need the game to not explicitly contradict any possibility of homosexuality.

    I suspect it will be a similarly fruitless search, but all I’m asking for is enough flexibility for me to imagine in the orientation of my choice.

  9. ShinChuck says:

    Quite true. Without doing any research, she’s the only one I can think of that’s completely uninterested in the opposite sex. Maybe I’m just too optimistic, but I’m sure there’s gotta be more somewhere, even without delving into obscure indy PC titles. I’m definitely gonna keep more of an eye out now.

    But on a lighter note, it is pretty hard to go wrong with Nintendo!

  10. eloriane says:

    It occurs to me that Animal Crossing fits the bill! It’s still a slightly heteronormative universe– the only relationship is between the nice post office goose and Pete the mail-goose– but everyone else in the game is nicely uninterested in relationships. They’re also animals, but still. It wasn’t hard to play as a lesbian (albeit a single one).

    And I’d have to take a look at it, but I think the girl in Trace Memory never expresses an interest in the opposite sex. That’s getting a little obscure, though, I think; it’s a DS game from maybe five years ago. A good one, though. I’ll have to write about it some time.

    I tend to be a complete cynic, but I’ll try looking around with your optimism and see what else I can find 🙂

  11. OrangeJDW says:

    a little late response, but you can be gay in the original PC version of Fable, don’t know about the new one though.

  12. eloriane says:

    You’re right! Fable (and the Sims, actually) let you have all kinds of different relationships, so you can be gay if you want to.

    I have a lot of respect for the Sims, actually, for that very reason. I’d be pleased with Fable as well, except that, of course, they forgot I might want to play as a gay WOMAN.

  13. sara says:

    I just got Harvest Moon Tree of Tranquility for my wife for christmas, and we’re trying to get a girl to fall in love with her (female) character – anyone know if it’s possible on this version?
    one of the male characters seems pretty fucking gay to me, so I wonder if they’re finally getting it (though do they need to go so stereotypical?)?… Julius is described: “few guys have a better sense of fashion than Julius. It’s hard to say why this adventurous metalsmith spends so much time hanging around Ramsey’s blacksmith shop, but you might catch his eye with a gift of roses, perfume, and the best pumpkins grown on Waffle Island”

    I’ll post the results once we figure it out!

  14. eloriane says:

    My source of info for all HM games is Ushi No Tane, though they don’t seem to have much about Tree of Tranquility. Usually there’s no gay allowed in the original version, and then sometimes if there’s a second release of a “for girl” version, the girl can become “best friends” with a female character, which is for all intents and purposes the same as getting married. I’m pretty sure this is because they’re aware their audience is largely male and they want the guys the option of avoiding “acting gay” by courting a male character, while still getting the benefits of a spouse. However, it always gets edited out for the North American release.

    And Pierre in Island of Happiness is pretty queer, too, if you ask me 🙂 If I were to play as a girl, I’d definitely go for him; he’s a pronoun away from being a really cute butch girl.

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