The Story of Seasons series has reached quite a hallmark in regions outside of Japan this year. It has celebrated its 20th birthday! With the Bokujou Monogatari split happening in 2014, with Marvelous deciding to have XSEED work on localizations of future entries while Natsume retained the “Harvest Moon” name and began using it on a line of original games, it may be difficult to follow the course of the series. We’re here to help you figure out which farming simulations might be right for you.
1997, Super Nintendo (Amccus)
Available on Wii and Wii U Virtual Console
If you’re going to head into Bokujou Monogatari, it is a good idea to begin with the game that started it all, since the formula has changed so little over the years. All of the series staples — by which I mean inheriting a family farm, tending crops daily so they’ll grow, caring for animals, interacting with townsfolk and participating in festivals — got their start here. Hunting down an original cartridge may be a bit troublesome, but Wii and Wii U owners can turn to the Virtual Console for easy access to this simulation. Fun fact: Harvest Moon was also one of the first digital games! There was a Satellaview version in Japan, and its episodic releases allowed people to download the four parts of the game during specific periods.
Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town
Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town
2003/2005, Game Boy Advance (Marvelous)
Available on Wii U Virtual Console
Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town and its 2005 female-avatar counterpart are remakes of Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, and comprise one of the most memorable entries in the series. (They’re also the first ones developed by Marvelous!) These games have all of the basics from the previous entries, like an array of tools to use and upgrade, chickens, cows and sheep to raise, a dog and horse as pets, people to befriend or marry, festivals to participate in, a mine to dig through and recipes to collect. The key is that everything comes together so well in this portable installment. It makes you want to do your best to accomplish as much as possible every day. The Super Nintendo installment acts as a foundation, and the Mineral Town entries show how far the series has progressed.
The next steps
Harvest Moon: Animal Parade
2009, Wii (Marvelous)
Harvest Moon: Animal Parade is the biggest entry in the series available on consoles. We get to explore a large town, interact with exotic animals like ostriches, and grow new crops like coffee and wheat. Time goes more slowly, which makes it easier to accomplish your chores, and you can call upon your spouse and two children to help around the farm. There are even fast travel options in the form of ferries, mine carts and lost circus animals. This feels like one of the fullest and most efficient installments. People who got their feet wet with earlier games will get a chance to do even more here.
Harvest Moon 3D: A New Beginning
2012, 3DS (Marvelous)
The first 3DS Harvest Moon game focused on customization. You decide what your avatar looks like, changing his or her appearance and attire. You determine the layout of your farm, putting buildings, decorations and farmland where you would like. You change the look of your home, altering items placed inside. You get to craft various items. There are even vacations you can take, should you get married and have a family. It is the first Harvest Moon game to really let you make your farm unique and, even now, is one of the best when it comes to completely customizing your surroundings. It is quite a change, since earlier installments are more structured and generic. Being able to change things to meet your specifications gives a player a new objective to work toward in the game.
Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland
Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley
2001/2010, PlayStation 2/PlayStation Portable (Victor Interactive Software/Marvelous)
Available on PlayStation 3 as a PS2 Classic
Every Harvest Moon game is about restoring a farm to its former glory. Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland is the first that offers you multiple ways to protect a farm and town from being turned into a tourist destination. (Nine, to be exact.) It cuts back a bit compared to other installments, since there’s no marriage and fewer animals available, but offers a greater sense of purpose instead. Think of it as a more goal-oriented game. The PSP’s Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley is essentially an updated version of Save the Homeland. It adds more ways to save the town, bringing the number up to 16. It also brings the marriage system back into the game, allowing you to wed after you have saved the town. In both cases, the games challenge players by adding these additional objectives, which is exactly what someone might want after focusing on farming for profit.
Harvest Moon: Magical Melody
2006/2009, GameCube/Wii (Marvelous)
Harvest Moon: Magical Melody is another Harvest Moon with defined objectives. The Harvest Goddess turned herself to stone, and you must collect notes to play the magical melody that will revive her. There are 100, but you only need to collect half during the course of your daily life to rouse her. This entry is notable for the number of bachelors and bachelorettes, as there are 11 for each gender, and various multiplayer minigames that have you engaging in activities like climbing, fishing, mining, racing horses and swimming. A Wii version that added motion controls and removed the female avatar options was released in Western territories. Since Harvest Moon is usually a solo affair, it is a nice twist to get a game that allows you to have friends join in the fun after spending so much alone time on a virtual farm.
The deeper cuts
Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life
2004/2005, GameCube/PlayStation 2 (Victor Interactive Software)
Available on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 as a PS2 Classic
Most Harvest Moon games acknowledge the concept of time, with day/night cycles and yearly progression that takes you through the four seasons, but Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life is the only one to take you through your characters’ entire lives. You manage a farm, one which has ducks and goats for the first time. Fertility is now a factor, as crops have varying degrees of quality depending on how you’re tending them. More importantly, you help shape your child’s life after you marry. The activities you engage in with your son shape his destiny. (Or daughter, if you are playing the updated Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life Special Edition release!) Since it can require more of your time to reach a satisfactory end, people should wait to try it until they have sampled some other Harvest Moons and know this is a series they will actually enjoy.
Harvest Moon DS: Grand Bazaar
2010, DS (Marvelous)
Most Harvest Moon games don’t have you thinking about what happens to your crops after you grow them. You drop them in a box to ship them out, getting money in return in the morning. Harvest Moon DS: Grand Bazaar makes you think about the next step. On the in-game weekends, you head to the bazaar to sell your produce and products. You have to really worry about quality and quantity. Unfortunately, this entry does get rid of the mining element, but adds bug-catching as an activity instead. Since there is an element of waiting and saving to earn money, people should wait until they are more familiar with the series’ formula before heading to the Grand Bazaar.
Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns
2011, DS/3DS (Marvelous)
Things get a little more complicated in Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns, as it is the player’s job to juggle between two towns and work to reunite them through performances at cooking competitions. Each town has a different focus, with Blueball centered on ranching and Konohana on farming. Players choose a town to live in, but can swap and still interact with both villages. (A task made easier when the tunnel between them is fixed.) This entry added alpacas and bees as animals and also allowed people to pickle produce for the first time. Since someone really needs to know if they prefer farming or ranching, it is wise to wait until they have experience with both before heading into this game that makes them choose their focus.
Harvest Moon: Skytree Village
2016, 3DS (Natsume)
Harvest Moon: Skytree Village is a crop-centric game. It is the first Natsume-developed installment really worth playing. Here, you get to terraform the land before sowing seeds. Elevation, season and soil quality all influence the outcome, meaning you can yield a different crop from the same seed depending on your preparations. This entry also has a full village, helpful Harvest sprites and a fishing system where altering the land to make larger lakes or rivers can change the kinds of fish you’ll find. It can get a bit complicated, so only experienced farmers willing to take detailed notes should make Skytree Village their homestead.
Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns
2017, 3DS (Marvelous)
Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns is a game that is good at making you feel wanted. There is not just one town with people to please and quests to undertake, but three. Each one has its own regional nature and specialties, as well as desires when it comes to products your farm can produce. It’s quite customizable, with various buildings you can have on your farm and a home you can redecorate. You also have multiple pets to choose from, which can be brought to town with you. Another highlight happens to be Super Mario-themed costumes that offer the player special abilities when equipped. Since there is so much to do and so few hours in the day, it is a good installment for people who find themselves finishing their chores quickly in earlier games and looking for more to do.
Harvest Moon GB
1998, Game Boy (Victor Interactive Software)
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
Harvest Moon GB is the second entry in the series and first on a handheld device. It also happens to be the first game in which players choose the gender of their avatar. This rather basic, monochromatic adventure forces you to meet deadlines each winter or face a game over. Since there’s no town to visit, your entire life is focused on tending the farm. It has a very limited focus, even compared to the Super Nintendo’s Harvest Moon.
Harvest Moon 64
1999, Nintendo 64 (Victor Interactive Software)
Available on Wii U Virtual Console
Harvest Moon 64 brought the farming simulation into the 3D realm. It is known for introducing limitations on players. You only have a certain amount of energy, limiting how much you can do each day, and time passes as you engage in activities. Sheep appeared as a potential animal for the first time here, and people could also collect photographs of special moments and recipes by befriending townsfolk. It took some time for the stamina and time management systems to really be refined, which means people who come to this Harvest Moon after playing others may be in for a bit of a shock.
Harvest Moon 2 GBC
2000, Game Boy Color (Victor Interactive Software)
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
Hey, remember Harvest Moon GB? Meet its slightly better sibling, Harvest Moon GBC! This one actually adds a town you can visit! There’s a small forest to explore! You can build a greenhouse! But, it’s still a rather stripped-down version of its console counterparts. It is an improvement on Harvest Moon GB, but remains very narrow.
Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
Harvest Moon: Boy & Girl
1999/2007, PlayStation/PSP (Victor Interactive Software)
Available on PS3/PSP/Vita as a PSOne Classic
Remember when I recommended Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town earlier? This is basically that, only not as refined. You get three years to restore a farm. The PlayStation version released outside of Japan only offers a male character, which is unfortunate and limits your options. In 2007, the PSP port offered both the male and female versions of the game packed in a single game. Sadly, “beating” the game as girl causes the game to end. The PSP version also has some bugs and glitches.
Harvest Moon 3 GBC
2001, Game Boy Color (Victor Interactive Software)
Available on 3DS Virtual Console
The last Harvest Moon Game Boy game is the one that tries to do the most. This is an installment set on an island, which means have to seize opportunities to visit the mainland twice a week to restock at shops. It also has some disparity with the gender options, as the male character can play indefinitely and upgrade tools, but the female character starts with a cow and brush, doesn’t have tools that can be improved and will see her game end when she “wins.” Having such inequality between the two genders makes the male avatar the only real option. Also, having to wait for mainland visits limits your options unless you have accumulated a lot of money and can really stock up between trips.
Harvest Moon DS
Harvest Moon DS Cute
2006/2008, DS (Marvelous)
Harvest Moon DS added a bit of a collection element to the game. You’re still farming as usual, in spots wherever you can find viable land, but are attempting to meet goals and rescue the Harvest Goddess at the same time. There are 101 Harvest Sprites of these little guys hidden. After you find them, some can act as aids to help you with various activities around the farm. This installment can connect with Friends of Mineral Town and More Friends of Mineral Town, allowing you to marry folks from that game. After Harvest Moon DS, Harvest Moon DS Cute was released, which was the same game with a female avatar. It is notable for implementing a Best Friend system that offers same-sex relationships. The problem with these two installments is the original Harvest Moon DS had a number of bugs and glitches. Cute fixed some, but not all, of these.
Harvest Moon DS: Island of Happiness
Harvest Moon DS: Sunshine Islands
2008/2009, DS (Marvelous)
Island of Happiness introduced a few new elements to the series. A shipwreck strands your avatar and a family on what seems to be a deserted island, but your farming efforts can revitalize it and bring more people to the land. This is accomplished entirely with touch controls. While you have your own life, so do your rivals. This means they will marry and have children with the people you choose not to marry. Rice paddies are available as a possible crop. Also, it was the first entry to offer Wi-Fi connectivity that let you submit your stats to rank your farm against others and participate in voice chats with other players. However, the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service has ended, so people can no longer enjoy those elements. In the updated version, Harvest Moon DS: Sunshine Islands, a new bachelor and bachelorette are added. It also removes the limitation that restricted you to touchscreen controls only, bringing an optional traditional control scheme back. However, your rivals can no longer raise families in this adjusted installment. The concept of being stuck on a deserted island is interesting, but the forced touchscreen controls and horse glitches in the Island of Happiness iteration are annoying.
Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility
2008, Wii (Marvelous)
Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility is one of those entries that offers a sense of purpose. You arrive on an island and are tasked with running a farm and restoring rainbows to resurrect the goddess. What’s interesting here is the New Game+ feature that allows you to end your “current” game and resume as your child. Said child coincidentally looks just like you and could have the ability to marry your former spouse or other bachelors and bachelorettes. Not everything carries over, as you lose animals, buildings, materials and your story progress, but it is a way to try again with extra money, makers, recipes and tool skill levels. The problem here is that Animal Parade is Tree of Tranquility 2.0; the follow-up essentially makes the original obsolete.
Harvest Moon 3D: The Lost Valley
2014, 3DS (Natsume)
The first Harvest Moon developed by Natsume has some issues. It essentially traps you in a valley with no town to visit. A terraforming system is in place, which allows you to customize your farm and adjust elevations to yield variations on crops, but it is not as refined as subsequent installments. You have to wait for people to visit the valley to get to know them, but actually making time to find them is a pain and they don’t really have anything interesting to say. It did introduce the context-sensitive control system present in all Natsume-created entries, which is nice. Not-so-nice are the glitches that cause animal and character models to behave in unexpected (read: bad) ways.
Story of Seasons
2015, 3DS (Marvelous)
Story of Seasons wants you to think about foreign lands. Don’t center on your own farm; remember that there are other countries out there! This is showcased with an animal safari, where you can unlock animals to have them appear and increase the admission fee visitors will pay to see what is basically your zoo. A Trade Depot will have different countries asking for different things from you. As you grow in notoriety, you’ll eventually get to have your own shop. There are also Super Mario-inspired crops to grow in this game. It suffers from the same issue as Tree of Tranquility. Trio of Towns does everything Story of Seasons does, only much better.
Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories
2016, Android/iOS (Natsume)
Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories is the first 2D entry developed by Natsume. It looks very generic, as if someone attempted to use RPG Maker to put it together. Its touchscreen controls aren’t as precise as you would like them to be. While it has received updates that added new kinds of animals and crops, it is much easier to “break” the game and mine your way to fame and fortune. Unfortunately, since you can use the mining element to quickly profit, it feels like there is no point engaging in other activities.