Before the times of Stardew Valley, there came another: Harvest Moon.
It’s the OG farming simulation game dating back to the 90s, where players are given an open canvas in the form of a farmyard and told to, essentially, do whatever the heck they want.
It’s a leisure game without many deadlines or hard goals, where players can customize their farming fantasy: how they make money, who they befriend, who they marry, and basically what they do from dusk until dawn.
Over the years there have been many Harvest Moon titles to come and go, and although I haven’t played every single title… I’ve played more than I probably should have made my mom pay for. Regardless, over my 15+ years of playing this game, I’ve come across titles that I’ve loved, and titles that were less than amazing.
For transparency sake, these titles will not appear on this list – not because I think they’re poop, but because I haven’t played them yet: Harvest Moon GBC1/2/3, Hero of Leaf Valley, A New Beginning, The Lost Valley.
Without further hesitation, feed your animals, water those crops, put your produce in the shipping bin, and get ready to disagree with
My top 7 best Harvest Moon games of all-time:
- Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life (2003)
Aesthetically, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life (AWL) was everything I wanted in a Harvest moon title. It was breathy, and effortlessly captured that country, small town feel. The music was a sheer delight, and the townsfolk migrated from place to place like real people!
It introduced some fun features that I would love for other titles to have, like the option to set up a quick sidewalk sale and barter with the locals. My absolute favourite thing about this game, however, is that it allowed for actual human growth!!! As you got older, your child would also grow up. And even more, along the way you could influence what career he’d have through these little, nondescript tasks.
Where AWL fell short, was… how on earth did it manage to make a Harvest Moon game even slower than it already was? Days dragged on, and the ten-day seasons felt longer than the regular 30-day ones in other titles. Also, while you still have options (such as ‘punishing’ your child ), the story is told in chapters: you need to get married. You need to have children. Etc. That definitely sucked some of the fun out of the game.
- Harvest Moon: Animal Parade (2008)
Harvest Moon Animal Parade was the new and improved version of Tree of Tranquility that carried with it a lot of exciting upgrades. In addition to the regular in-game missions, they included both a main quest and a side quest in case you ever got tired of chasing tail (note: I did not). The main story saw farmers looking to revive the rundown, ailing town by finding five bells, and the side quest had players… retrieve circus animals…
What I really enjoyed about this game was, oddly enough, the world. This was by far my favourite city in a Harvest Moon title – it was colourful, multi-leveled, unique and vast. Unfortunately for the last point, however, if you don’t have a horse (or sheep, or cow) to ride, getting from place to place can be extremely time-consuming. Luckily your farm is conveniently placed in the middle of the three main areas, so you’re never too, too far away from home.
- Story of Seasons (2014)
While it doesn’t bear the original ‘Harvest Moon’ title of its predecessors, it’s still a Harvest Moon game through and through. For those unaware, the games had been previously translated into English by Natsume Inc., however, for this installment, it was localized by Xseed Games. Since Natsume owns the rights to the name ‘Harvest Moon,’ the name had to be changed. And thus, Story of Seasons was born.
Now that we’re finished with that brief history lesson, Story of Seasons serves as a triumphant return to hand-held Harvest Moon, as the last few titles released on hand-held before then were a tad bit underwhelming.
This installment came with more customizable options, including skin colour, clothes, and more, and was a nice refresher in the world of Harvest Moon. It even reintroduced the ‘colour heart’ system that I loved in the earlier titles with a little revamp! Unfortunately, the extremely tedious, days-long beginning-of-game walkthrough doesn’t really promote the replay-value, but it’s a great game nonetheless!
- Harvest Moon: Magical Melody (2005)
Harvest Moon Magical Melody took customization to new heights in the world of Harvest Moon. Suddenly, you were able to pick one of three empty lots to live, could choose the placement of your house, barn, coop, indoor furniture, and much more. Although Harvest Moon has always been a “do whatever you want” kind of game, customization to this level wasn’t ever an option.
It also introduced a main-game “goal” that was later recreated for other installments: to save the Harvest Goddess, players must collect 50 of a possible 100 musical notes. Certain tasks will earn you certain notes, and those tasks can range from the extremely simple Idle Note, to the harder-to-get Very Rich Note.
My main gripe about this game, which I will admit is pretty petty, is the art. I’m not a fan of the chibi-style animation. Over the years I’ve definitely gotten more used to it, but as I wrote earlier, to me, AWL was aesthetic GOALS. Out of all of the main-title games released, this falls the furthest from that look, so my stance shouldn’t be too surprising.
- Harvest Moon 64 (1999)
Harvest Moon 64 was my first Harvest Moon game ever, and boy, did it impress lil’ childhood me. My brother had originally borrowed the game from one of his school friends, and after I saw the gameplay, I was h o o k e d. So hooked, in fact, that I spent the entire weekend trying to marry non-eligible characters and ponder over where I’m going wrong.
This installment is by far the one that’s most steeped in memories for me because of how absolutely crazy I had become for the franchise. As I played late into the night, a printed out Freyashawk walkthrough was spread out in front of me. I. Was. Obsessed.
It was a great introduction to the franchise, back in the day when cheats weren’t SO readily available online (RIP CheatPlanet.com). Although I had my walkthrough in tow, every new discovery was a surprising one. I still love that about that game. The world was quite small, but there was so much to do and to discover. The festivals were more interactive. And it’s a flatearther’s pipe-dream. I can’t listen to this, this, or this without getting all caught in my feels.
- Harvest Moon: Back To Nature (1999)
There was a long while when I would debate which was the ultimate best Harvest Moon: 64, or BTN? 64 or BTN? In the end, Back To Nature, to me, stands proud as the new and improved Harvest Moon 64. It had the same characters and same general theme, but with a different location and different character relationships.
This title definitely has almost as many good memories tied to it as 64 did. My friend, who I had gotten into the series, had received this title for her birthday one year, and we went IN.
While Harvest Moon: 64 has the inspection, it’s almost impossible to fail. Here, the three-year inspection could make or break your game. Now, as a seasoned Harvest Moon player (cough), it’s pretty easy to pass. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and you’ll squeeze right through. But back then though, it lit a fire under our butts and made us work tirelessly towards the goal. The OST for this game is also a great one, and it introduces a lot of festivals I wish we saw in later titles.
- Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town (2003)
… I debated grouping BTN and FoMT together since they’re practically just variations of themselves. After all, I didn’t include Tree of Tranquility on this list because I felt as though Animal Parade trumped it in enough ways. But in the end, I decided against it because these games (64 included), in my opinion, were very pinnacle titles in what Harvest Moon would become.
Change is good, expected and encouraged. However, any time a Harvest Moon tried to deviate too far from one of these titles, they’d become a little… trite. Later Harvest Moons definitely improved certain aspects of the game and introduced much-needed ideas without a doubt. But even though I could have two kids in AP, customize the shit out of my farm in MM and change my character design in SoS, FoMT laid the foundation for a solid hand-held Harvest Moon.
There was a ton to discover. Characters were interesting. Festivals were fun. Cooking was revolutionized. It really just encompassed everything you wanted out of a Harvest Moon game, and it was hand-held!!! To me, that’s what’s what puts it ahead of BTN. Although they bear a TON of similarities since FoMT is practically just a port of BTN, FoMT was able to improve upon them, and make for an enjoyable Harvest Moon on the go.
There you have it from one Harvest Moon fanatic to the next. What was your favourite title? Let me know why I’m wrong down below!