FEATURE: Ranch Story – The Harvest Moon Franchise

There are a lot of game sites that cover classic games.  With virtual console et al making such things more (legally) accessible than ever, more people can go back and relive childhood memories.  You can read a lot of nostalgic coverage of series like Ninja Gaiden, Metal Gear, Shinobi, Dragon Quest, and any other well-loved franchise played by people in their childhood, the same people that faithfully buy every new installment and will tell you at length which ones in the series are the best, regardless of age.

Amidst all this coverage, Harvest Moon is rarely mentioned. Perhaps this is because it is largely played by girls, and young girls, at that. “Gamers” who seek help at Harvest Moon forums are usually… well, disgusted when confronted with the level of maturity of the average Harvest Moon player.  Willy would also be quick to point out that many of the games are re-releases of the same games with extra features or “For Girl” versions, what he calls “Game Sweatshop” games.  That’s true, too.   And yet, this series sometimes sees several games a year, and all of them always make it to the United States, regardless of system or quality of game (there are three exceptions, but even then… they still came out here). Over 30 Harvest Moon games have been released since 1996. Few video game series can boast those kind of numbers and apparent popularity in both East and West.

For adult women who are also gamers, Harvest Moon can be just as nostalgic as Castlevania or Final Fantasy. I was twelve when the first game came out in 1997, and it was probably the first video game I was really addicted to. I’ve bought and played every installment since, and am a bit ashamed to admit that my console and handheld buying habits revolve almost solely around Harvest Moon games. It’s a big part of why I play video games.

For this article, I’ll discuss the series at length, then link to reviews for what will hopefully be every game in the series.

In general, the gameplay stays pretty consistent throughout the series, keeping the best elements and continuously adding and keeping things that work well with the core game.  As most people know, you farm in Harvest Moon.  Usually, there’s a scenario where you take over an old farm, or start a completely new one, and must start from scratch, pulling weeds and rocks and cultivating the land little by little in order to make money to grow new crops, buy more tools, eventually get a ranch operation started with cows and chickens, those then supplement your income so that you can expand your house and eventually marry and start a family.  Sometimes the games have goals or set endpoints, but usually you can keep playing as long as you like and there is no real goal.

Other common features include:
– in-game clock speed that passes hours, days, weeks, and years, and gameplay elements that revolve around elapsed time (certain shops are open at certain times, you must ship everything by 5pm, festivals on certain days, things available during certain 30-day seasons, et cetera)
– a village with shops and residents that you befriend and marry
– health/stamina that limits the amount of activity you can do in an in-game day
– tools, crops, and farm buildings that can be upgraded as you progress
– instead of farming, you can mine, fish, ranch, or forage to get ahead

Most of the appeal of Harvest Moon comes from seeing direct benefit from all the work you put in.  It may be a pain watering all those crops, but it’ll certainly be sweet when you finally build that barn and buy your first cow.  Tired of digging through the mines?  It’s a good way to get money, and eventually you’ll be able to dig down for rare materials to build machines to process your produce differently.  Even farming will unlock better crops, or sometimes even things like rice paddies or wheat fields or soybeans or many other items.

The one thing that plagued the games until recently was the extremely high learning curve that the game doesn’t bother to explain to you.  In order to grow crops, you have to clear a 3×3 patch, use a hoe and till a 3×3 patch, then stand in the middle to throw out a bag of seeds, then water each square individually every day.  For being what you do in the game and such a specific and bizarre way of doing it, the games didn’t bother to explain these things to you until recently.  The older games had many such nonsensical and bizarre rituals one had to perform to do many regular tasks. It wasn’t something I thought about after I read how to play the first game in Nintendo Power, because the same systems are used to this day, but it always hurt my feelings when someone scored a game poorly because they couldn’t figure out how to play.

Also, these games are deceptively difficult. It is downright impossible to do almost anything early in the games, and you’ll find yourself near crippled until at least the first summer, or longer if you don’t know how to maximize profits by farming. A lot of people cite this as a problem and get discouraged and quit, but the same people have no problems memorizing levels and playing them over and over again in platformers, which strikes me as much the same thing.

These things are less of a problem now since there are thorough tutorials, good in-game text, and the internet.  There are still lots of insane old-school challenges to be had in the games, such as unlocking all the tools, crops, and content, finding all the sprites, cooking all the recipes, or digging through 1,000+ floors of the mines. There are several different ways to play each game, and there are games that cater to those who want less and those who want more, people who want to farm, socialize, mine, or do anything else. The Harvest Moon games are just as customizable as they are maddeningly and fascinatingly repetitive, and you can make of them what you will.

Basically, I am a girl, and this is my Mega Man, thank you very much.

Harvest Moon (SNES – 1997)
BS Harvest Moon (SNES Satellaview – 1996 – JP only)
Harvest Moon GB/C (Game Boy/Game Boy Color – 1997)*
Harvest Moon 64 (Nintendo 64 – 1999)
Harvest Moon 2 GBC (Game Boy Color – 2000)
Harvest Moon: Back to Nature (Playstation – 2000)
Harvest Moon for Girl (Playstation – 2000 – JP only)
Harvest Moon 3 GBC (Game Boy Color – 2001)**
Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland (Playstation 2 – 2001)
Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town (Game Boy Advance – 2003)
Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life (Game Cube – 2004)
Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town (Game Boy Advance – 2005)
Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life Special Edition (Playstation 2 – 2005)
Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life (Game Cube – 2005)
Harvest Moon: Poem of Happiness (Game Cube – 2005 – JP only)
Harvest Moon: Magical Melody (Game Cube – 2006)
Harvest Moon DS (DS – 2006)
Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon (PSP – 2007)***
Harvest Moon: Boy & Girl (PSP – 2007)
Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon (DS – 2007)
Puzzle de Harvest Moon (DS – 2007)
Harvest Moon DS Cute (DS – 2008)
Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness (DS – 2008)
Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility (Wii – 2008)
Rune Factory 2 (DS – 2008)
Rune Factory Frontier (Wii – 2009)
Harvest Moon: Magical Melody Wii (Wii – 2009)
Harvest Moon: Frantic Farming (DS – 2009)
Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands (DS – 2009)
Harvest Moon: Animal Parade (Wii – 2009)
Harvest Moon: My Little Shop (WiiWare – 2009)
Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley (PSP – 2010)
Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar (DS – 2010)
Rune Factory 3 (DS – 2010)
Minna de Bokujou Monogatari (PC/Browser – 2010)
Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns (DS/3DS – 2011)*
Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny (Wii/PS3 – 2011)
Harvest Moon 3D: A New Beginning (3DS – 2012)
Rune Factory 4 (3DS – 2013)
Hometown Story (3DS – 2013)
Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley (3DS – 2014)
Story of Seasons (3DS – 2014)
Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories (iOS/PC – 2016)
Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale (3DS – 2016)
Harvest Moon: Skytree Village (3DS – 2016)
Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns (3DS – 2017)

*I’ve got separate entries for separate versions of each game with even the most minute changes, but there really is no difference between the GB and GBC versions of this game. One’s just in color. There’s your review of the differences right there.  Similarly, Tale of Two Towns is the same on DS and 3DS

** Christ, were we really still playing Game Boy Color after the PS2 came out?

***The 10th Anniversary spinoffs are also on this list, including the Puzzle, Futuristic, and Fantasy Harvest Moon spinoffs. Since Rune Factory has recently been declared its own series, it is usually not included in these lists anymore, but here you go.



  1. […] { May 1, 2010 @ 9:57 pm } · { Game Boy Color Reviews, Game Boy Reviews, Wanda Elektrix } { Tags: 1997 } this article is part of an ongoing series examining the entire Harvest Moon franchise. see the main article and index here. […]

  2. […] { May 1, 2010 @ 10:02 pm } · { Wanda Elektrix } { Tags: 1996 } this article is part of an ongoing series examining the entire Harvest Moon franchise. see the main article and index here. […]

  3. […] { February 13, 2010 @ 1:43 am } · { WiiWare Reviews } { Tags: 2009, Wanda Elektrix } this article is part of an ongoing series examining the entire Harvest Moon franchise. see the main article and index here. […]

  4. […] This is technically not part of a series of articles I’m doing that covers the entire Harvest Moon franchise, but you can still read what I’ve covered over here. […]

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