My wife does preorder the games obsessively['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Natsume’s farm simulator: Harvest Moon for the SNES.]

Moo-ving to the Country

This week is my wife’s birthday. Being a sentimental man I decided to take this week to talk about her favorite series of videogames. The first Harvest Moon she played was a later version, for the Nintendo 64. She got it on recommendation from me as a rental. Shortly thereafter, she had sunk more time into it than I had spent on any game in a long time.

Harvest Moon for the Super Nintendo, the first in the now long-running series, was released in Japan in August 1996 under the title Bokujou Monogatari (The Meadow Story). Natsume, an U.S. publishing company focused on family-oriented titles; released, translated, and published the game under the title Harvest Moon (which was named by Terry Munson, one of the editors of Nintendo Power at the time). It was later brought to Europe, in January 1998, by Nintendo.

Riceball of a HeroBarnyard Basics

As a young lad, Jack acquires his late grandfather’s farm. Now with the farm in disrepair, Jack must make a name for himself and become a successful and productive part of the community. The game is fairly simple (much more so than later Harvest Moons). Crop and livestock management consume most of the daily routine. Both are limited and easily managed.

Harvest Moon has a time cycle that represents hours, days, months, and seasons. Unlike other life simulators which attempt to match real world time, HM has a fast clock where days go by quickly. Pick some crops, put them in the bin to be sold. Feed your chickens and raise some eggs in the incubator. Train and race your horse. Chop some wood and store it for building. Go to town and buy some items for your farm. All these things you will do for many of these days, months, and seasons.

At certain times, events will happen in town. This is when Jack gets to show off his skills and pick up on some of the women. The five ladies in waiting will grow to like Jack more or less based on how he answers questions, or what types of items and gifts he gives them. When the relationship has properly bloomed then a marriage can be arranged, and from this marriage, a child can grow. The circle of life is complete.

A farm of disrepair
Love and Marriage

It is pretty funny for me to read in Volume 94 of Nintendo Power: “The courtship element of the game reflects the disproportionate percentage of video gamers who are male.” I have seen my wife play many games in the series - she favors the courtship elements in the male versions over the versions that feature a female lead. It allows a certain amount of role-playing not normally allowed in games. And like in real life, marriage and children are not the end. The game keeps going and you can continue to build up your farm and skills with your wife and child. It does not seem to progress past a certain point, but the illusion never has to end.

Getting lost in the simple world of Harvest Moon is pretty easy. With the most recent games, my wife has dedicated a Palm Pilot to tracking and managing crops, livestock, market, relationships and dates. It started on more simple terms, though, with fewer variables. She frequently goes all the way back to play the SNES game to revisit simpler times.

Main CharacterSacred Cows

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]