As I further put off playing games that I should be trying to review for this blog and instead play games that I’ve beaten roughly a quadrillion times, I find myself coming back to one game in particular. Rather, one series. Harvest Moon has been one of my favorite titles in video games for a while now, and while there are several other virtual farming sims mixed with dating sims now on the market, none have had the same charm as this particular series
. However, in the tone of this blog, I wouldn’t necessarily call the series feminist in and of itself; I would be willing to give it feminist-friendly, on the other-hand. What’s the difference? It’s the difference between an actual, conscious effort being put into a game’s female characters to make them well-rounded, and that result merely being coincidental. Now, this point is purely subjective, so we could argue it until the cows come home, however this article is not about me arguing this point (we can do that in the comments if you really feel that passionate about it). It’s about me celebrating my favorite game in the series and the diversity in in characters.
Out of all the Harvest Moon games, the one that has kept my interest the longest—indeed, I’m still playing it to this very day—is Animal Parade. In this game, the player character starts a farm in Harmonica Town (which is not ideal for farming at first) and is tasked with completing several objectives to ring a set of magical bells and bring back the Harvest King. While the plot isn’t the important part of the game—although by doing it, you do open up different areas—what is important are the characters you meet, become friends with, and maybe even marry.
Looking at the female characters, and especially at the bachelorettes, it would be easy to write them off. And true, in some of the previous Harvest Moons you could write off the bachelorettes, and every character really, as being one-note and ultimately unimportant. However, what Animal Parade does better than every other game in this series is give these characters—especially the bachelorettes, who are more apt to be duller than their male counterparts—actual character. Hell, flawed system as it is, this game even passes the Bechdel Test without the help of the create-a-character protagonist. And for a game that boils down to “farming and weddings”, that’s pretty impressive.
My favorite example of this is when newly-hired dancer Selena is taking a break at the bar (where she’s employed). Having been hired quickly due to her skill, not everyone has yet met her, and so when one of the tailors of the town, Luna, comes to the bar she doesn’t realize that Selena is actually an employee. Instead, Luna starts complaining about how Selena is dressed and how the girl wouldn’t get hired for her dancing skills. Of course, Selena rightfully defends herself, and the two get into an argument. Eventually, the bar owner’s daughter breaks them up and explains the situation and has the girls apologize to each other, mentioning that the two of them really should be acting like sisters and supporting each other. At the end, Luna and Selena respect each other a bit more and come away with the beginnings of a friendship. Not only does this scene show three women interacting and going through an array of (not all positive) emotions, it also highlights the idea that women and girls should be supporting each other, not tearing each other down. Even if it’s a one-off scene, it’s such an important message and one that is further reinforced throughout the game.
In general, though, the variety of ladies is stunning, and not only from a “pick your dating type” aspect. One of the most interesting women in the game lives away from the main town, on an island across the sea with her husband. When you meet this couple, you see soon enough that the stereotypical gender roles have been reversed, but it’s not treated as weird or “exotic”. The husband tends to their inn and generally acts all lovey-dovey while the wife is a hot-headed fisherwoman who takes no shit from anyone. But they still love each other deeply—it’s hard to find, in my experience, quote-unquote strong female characters in games who have spunkiness and are allowed to adore their loved ones without some sort of tsundere aspect to them. But the interesting female characters don’t stop there! There’s the seed seller who seems to be legitimately dealing with depression and ends up giving off a hopeful “I’m going to take this one day at a time” vibe, the jeweler who is still getting over the death of her husband, three old women who aren’t just sweet old granny tropes, and the bachelorettes are just as varied.
Just as a quick aside, I really like how even though the point of the game is to summon the Harvest God, the Harvest Goddess is really the one that sets everything into motion. And this isn’t forgotten: the Harvest God? Kind of a dick. There was a reason he was forgotten about, I guess…
If farming sims aren’t really your thing, or you don’t have a Wii, I can’t really recommend this game—which is a shame, but what can you do. However, if you’re looking for something non-intensive with interesting characters, nice designs, and an overall interesting atmosphere, I can’t recommend this game highly enough. Although with its last couple of releases, the Harvest Moon series has really missed its mark, this particular game stands the test of time. I’d certainly call it a classic.