As the daytime high temperatures stay solidly in the 80s and we all desperately wish it was fall already, it’s natural to want to look for a game to pass the time until the leaves actually do start falling off the trees. Fall (and pre-fall) is one of the best times of the year for cozy games, or the games that are the equivalent of a warm, fluffy sweater. We’ve already looked at some upcoming cozy games, but what if you want something you can play right now? Enter: the Harvest Moon series.
You’ve probably heard of the farming sim genre through Stardew Valley and the latest Sims expansion, but Harvest Moon was what made the genre a household name. These games were cottagecore long before it was trendy; the first game was released for the SNES in 1996, and the series enjoyed a solid amount of popularity for over a decade. After experiencing publishing issues and a rebrand to Story of Seasons, more recent games have struggled to gain the popularity or prestige that their predecessors did, all of which were part of the impetus behind Stardew Valley‘s creation. Regardless, some of the earlier titles still hold up today, and they make a great addition to your cozy game repertoire.
Harvest Moon: Magical Melody
I have to start with my absolute favorite Harvest Moon game: Magical Melody. On release, it scored a 9.0 in Nintendo Power magazine, which is what originally convinced me to try it. This GameCube title came after the highly-regarded A Wonderful Life (which we’ll get to in a moment), making many wonder if it could live up to the heights of its predecessor. It absolutely did, and then some: while it pulled a The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker move and went for more cartoony models instead of advancing A Wonderful Life‘s realism, Magical Melody is no less deep or engaging than its precursor.
There’s just so much to do in the game, and you have a lot of freedom around when and how you do it. You can go the traditional farming or ranching route…or you can just catch fish and go mining all day and make your profits from that. You can expand your house and your farm, buying land all over Flower Bud Village until the entire town is basically your expanded farm. While the characters are pretty wooden, there are quadruple the amount of marriage candidates (and characters in general) than there were in A Wonderful Life, so there’s someone for everyone. Magical Melody even expanded on relationships by creating what are known as “rival heart events”, where if you become friends with certain characters, they can and will marry eligible candidates, decreasing the amount of villagers you have to choose from.
I could go on and on about animal moods, growing mechanics and different soil types, secrets, the great soundtrack, or the achievement-style system that has you completing different tasks to receive rewards from the Harvest Goddess. The game even removed some of the more frustrating aspects of A Wonderful Life, like cows randomly stopping giving milk and the very barebones fishing mechanic. If you’ve ever wanted to see Stardew Valley in 3D, Magical Melody is the best way to go about it, in my opinion.
Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life/Another Wonderful Life
Predating Magical Melody by a few years, A Wonderful Life is another excellent example of Harvest Moon (Another Wonderful Life is almost exactly the same game, but it allows you to play as a girl and includes a few bug fixes). The game takes a more realistic approach to farming than a lot of other Harvest Moon titles do: cows will stop giving milk a year after having a calf, the time you wake up depends on the time you go to bed, and crops don’t always stay watered for the same period of time. While a lot of these mechanics can be occasionally frustrating, it does make for a slightly more authentic experience.
The game does have a few advantages over Magical Melody. Characters have never been Harvest Moon‘s strong point, but A Wonderful Life’s characters are slightly more interesting than Magical Melody’s. There’s also less of a tutorial in A Wonderful Life: there are a lot of secrets and events to explore in Forget-Me-Not Valley, and the game leaves it to you to figure everything out. Another Wonderful Life lets you experiment with hybrid crops, which gives farming a little more depth, and there are animals like goats that Magical Melody doesn’t have. The experience feels a little rougher and less polished than Magical Melody, but it’s still a classic farming adventure.
Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town
If you’re looking for something a little more portable, Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town is for you. Prior to the series’ PSP and DS releases, Friends of Mineral Town was the only handheld version of the series. A lot of the series’ later portable entries, like Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness and Harvest Moon DS, were just…not that good. Island of Happiness had a broken economy that made it very hard to get your feet off the ground, and Harvest Moon DS literally rips sprites and locations directly from Friends of Mineral Town with double the amount of bugs. Just stick with the source material if you can.
Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town features a lot of iconic series characters and is a very pretty GBA game, to boot. The basic mechanics remain the same, but if you’re more interested in fostering friendships with townies and advancing the social nature of the story than digging in the dirt, a la Animal Crossing, Friends of Mineral Town might be the game for you. If you’re super old-school and you also have a GameCube, A Wonderful Life, and a GBA-GCN link cable, the two games can even be connected, and they’ll influence each other’s events and character dialogue.
Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
I’ll admit that I’ve never played Back to Nature, but I’ve heard a lot of great things about it. It’s one of the only Harvest Moon titles that didn’t appear on a Nintendo platform; instead, it was a PlayStation 1 exclusive, so if you were a PlayStation kid, it’s time to flex your muscles. The game also features the residents of Mineral Town, so if you’ve played one of the many other HM games that feature Mineral Town, you’ll be familiar with its cast. Like Stardew Valley, Back to Nature also includes a loose objective: fix up your grandfather’s old farm in three years or get booted out of the town. If you’re looking for something a little more structured than the very open-ended Magical Melody and A Wonderful Life, this might be up your alley.
Like a lot of retro games, finding an intact copy of Back to Nature can be difficult. If you have a working PS1, it’s worth checking with local resellers and retro game shops to see if they can find you a copy. Thanks to the disc-based nature of these games, it’s pretty likely that they’ll have scratches, scuffs, and skips, so be sure to save your data early and often.
Whether you’ve played Stardew Valley and you want to see the beginnings of the genre or you’re coming off of The Sims with a new taste for farming, the Harvest Moon series is a great way to spend a cozy evening–or several. I’m holding out hope for a revitalization in series quality sometime soon, but even if that doesn’t happen, I know that there are a lot of great experiences contained in its past games. Now get out there and farm!