Have you ever played a game that permeated your very soul? It started out simple enough, but soon you found yourself irrevocably drawn to the game, and it became your passion, your obsession. For me, one of those games was Harvest Moon 64. It’s not just a farm simulator, but then again none of the Harvest Moon games ever are. They are life simulators that just so happen to focus on a life where your livelihood is a farm. Harvest Moon games are very personal life simulators, as they focus on a very small village or town and the intricate relationships within. Of course, you also have the prices of produce to worry about and animals to feed.
Many fans of Harvest Moon consider the Nintendo 64 entry to be the best one of all, and I definitely agree. However, the appeal of Harvest Moon 64, or any Harvest Moon for that matter, is difficult to explain. It’s a concept that is dull on paper but fantastic in execution. Think of similar titles like Animal Crossing. How would you explain why you love these games to the uninitiated without putting a controller in their hands? But I digress.
Harvest Moon 64 tells the story of a young man, who is you. Sorry ladies, there was no female player option back then, but the role of the player is quite gender-neutral aside from the marriage system. Your grandfather has passed away, leaving his farm on the outskirts of Flower Bud Village to you. So, you decide to leave the bustle of city life and settle down by yourself on the farm with little more than a pocket full of change and a couple tools. You have to manage a profitable farm, and you will meet your new neighbors to find friendship and even love.
So, how do you make a successful farm? You plant crops, you raise animals, and you sell things. This is an ever-repeating cycle that will gradually net you more cash, allowing you to expand your home and farm. Farming is not so much a goal as it is a means. Well, that’s not entirely true because your father evaluates your farm’s progress at a certain point. However, you can keep playing Harvest Moon 64 for years and years (in-game years, I mean) on the same file. The daily grind of milking your cows and plucking your veggies only serves to fatten your wallet.
While the farming aspect of Harvest Moon 64 is fun and very satisfying, I found the greatest appeal to come from the world. This world feels alive and full of spirit, and its small land area affords it massive depth. Seasons pass, weather changes, and people grow up. Some townspeople get married, celebrate events, and even die. It’s not a comprehensive world by any means, as only certain people get married, but it makes the world rich. Every single person in the game has a home, and they have unique dialogue depending on the season. What’s more is that every person has specific likes and dislikes, and they all can become your friend. Future Harvest Moon titles have expanded upon these mechanics, but Harvest Moon 64 was really the first game to do it right. While Harvest Moon for SNES laid the groundwork, the 64 version made the game infinitely more enriching.
The world in this game is also very relaxed. Unlike a game such as Animal Crossing, the world in Harvest Moon 64 is at your mercy, and not real time. True, the days can go by in like 30 minutes, but you can walk away from the game and pick it back up years later and still continue exactly from where you left off. When I first got Animal Crossing: Wild World, I played it nearly every day for a solid 9 months. I spent so much time maintaining my town. I ended up putting the game down for a while, and when I came back, it was all ruined with weeds, cockroaches, and missing villagers. It was like I was being punished! I consider that to be a game holding your time at ransom. A game like that doesn’t respect your time, it expects to own it. Harvest Moon 64 on the other hand, is entirely inside of its own clock. I picked this game up after at least 4 years and started right off farming and visiting like nothing had changed.
This is the entire world within the game. It seems small, but it’s dense!
Harvest Moon 64 is not perfect by any means though. The game is notorious for being littered with localization errors and severe typos– Natsume doesn’t even spell its own name correctly on the title screen! There are also a myriad of strange glitches that can occur under certain circumstances, but knowledge of these can help you avoid them. However, like any game with a cult following, the flaws of Harvest Moon 64 are somewhat endearing. I think of Shenmue, whose piss-poor deadpan voice acting still manages to be captivating to those who are acquainted with its idiosyncrasies. Such is the case with Harvest Moon 64, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Harvest Moon 64 is still an incredibly engrossing game, even over 13 years later. It’s addictive, it’s endearing, and it has heart. If you pick it up for the first time now, you might not be so enthralled, but it remains a solid game nonetheless. Harvest Moon 64 comfortably sits on the list of my favorite games of all time, and I spread its gospel to any Nintendo 64 fans willing to listen. Who would have thought that a farming game would be so good?