Natsume has announced that a new Harvest Moon installment, Harvest Moon: One World, will be making its way onto the Nintendo Switch this Fall. The Harvest Moon series has had a rough time for several years now, especially since the company’s split from the original creators.
Newer Harvest Moon games keep trying to add something new, not native to the series gameplay, and it these changes haven’t always been for the better. Of course, a franchise always needs to evolve, but it still needs to retain what made it work in the first place. Unfortunately, One World appears to continue this trend of subpar entries that lack the soul of the old Harvest Moon games.
The first Harvest Moon released on the SNES and was a hit, since there wasn’t anything else quite like it at the time. As more games released, the main concept stayed the same, but developer Marvelous added new features around it. Things like villager relationships, additional cutscenes, birthdays and other things that are now standard for games like this started here.
Eventually, the series needed to evolve, and Marvelous added new gameplay elements to keep the series fresh and distinguish entires from one another. Most of them did well, with only a few earning mixd reception. Then, Marvelous split from Natsume, and things changed.
In 2014, Marvelous decided to have its subsidiary, Xseed Games, publish its games in the West rather than Natsume. However, Natsume retained the rights to the Harvest Moon name. This left Marvelous to continue the original series under the new name, Story of Seasons, while Natsume continued to create and publish its own Harvest Moon series. With this split leading to two competing franchises, the branding became confusing, and the Harvest Moon name began to go downhill.
Natsume’s first title without Marvelous was Harvest Moon 3D: The Lost Valley, which received mixed reviews. The game was a departure from the traditional farming sim, adding world-shaping features like those in Minecraft. Players could somewhat alter the land and plant crops anywhere, with different terrains causing mutations to crops.
On paper it sounds interesting, but the gameplay was bogged down by it, and time was not on player’s side when combined with other standard features. Rather than expanding the game with a focus on the series’ trademark farming mechanics, Natsume took elements from other popular games and didn’t really make them fit. This sounds close to what the new Harvest Moon is promising. Harvest Moon: One World‘s announcement describes the game as having “adventurous challenges” and will take players around the game’s world, not just a single town and its surroundings. Once again, it seems like Natsume is injecting features from another popular game, this time Animal Crossing, into its Harvest Moon title.
After Harvest Moon: Light of Hope‘s release, this had become a pattern for the series. Two years after The Lost Valley flopped, Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories came out on iOS and Android. When the game was first shown, Natsume said it would go back to its roots with a retro style — and it did. Seeds of Memories returned to simple gameplay without gimmicks and did relatively well. Later that year, Harvest Moon: Skytree Village was released to mixed reviews. It stuck closer to the farming elements, but kept a simple version of Lost Valley‘s terraforming. It also removed some standard features, like giving presents to villagers.
This is similar to what is happening now: Natsume went back to the original popular formula with Harvest Moon: Light of Hope, and the oddly near identical art style to Seeds of Memories, and again are trying to inject a new feature from another popular game into the next title, Harvest Moon: One World.
Releasing in the same year as Skytree Village, Stardew Valley, is a game that’s still largely popular four years after its release. It was based on Harvest Moon‘s original formula, something that Natsume seems unable to find despite its long history with the franchise. New Harvest Moon games have lost the series’ identity, and that’s been the problem. Instead of building on what made it successful to start, things like simple farming, ranching and befriending villagers, Natsume keeps trying to add gameplay from totally outside the franchise. One World doesn’t seem like it’ll be any different.
Of course, we haven’t seen much of the game yet, so Natsume could surprise us. The series does need to change, so maybe this is what Harvest Moon needs. Perhaps by “exploring the world,” Natsume means the focus will be a multiplayer component where players can visit each other’s farms and help out, creating a platform similar to Animal Crossing‘s islands. That alone would be a great experience. However, given Natsume’s track record, it’s likely that One World will end up being Animal Crossing with farming.
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A new Harvest Moon game is on the horizon, but it seems that Natsume still hasn't found the series' identity with One World.