Life on the Farm: Harvest Moon Interview
We chat with Yasuhiro Wada about his new farming game for Nintendo's portable.
Yasuhiro Wada has spent a large amount of his time as a game creator working on the Harvest Moon series - an agrarian adventure that baffles its detractors with its farming antics almost as much as it delights its fans.
The series started on the SNES in 1996 with Wada serving as the producer on the first game, simply titled Harvest Moon. Many Westerners saw it as a kooky farming game from Japan, and that quirky nature has helped keep it going for over a decade.
The newest game in the series is Harvest Moon DS, out this week in Europe. It tells a familiar story of a character that comes into some land that must be tilled and toiled over in order to survive.
These days you can choose to play as either a boy or a girl if you buy the corresponding version. A minor change, you may think, but it's one that has helped the series push across the gender divide. Where once girls and women in the audience were outnumbered four-to-one, these days they're on even standing with males.
"There aren't many other games that are designed with girls in mind," Wada says.
Farmers can't live on the affections of sheep alone, so recent instalments have let players forge relationships with other characters in the game. This extracurricular romance isn't what's bringing in more females, according to Wada, who says the increased interest in the series from girls and women has come on the back of the decision to allow people to play as a girl.
What hasn't changed much for Harvest Moon DS is the gameplay, which Wada readily admits is largely the same as what players have found in the series since the second instalment. He says it so characteristic of the Harvest Moon franchise that he was loath to change it.
Wada and his team of 15 (sometimes 25) developers worked for around a year and a half on the original Japanese version and then the localization process began, to bring it to Europe.
The result has some critics bemoaning the lack of innovation. Harvest Moon DS does little with the gameplay opportunities afforded it by the DS's unique hardware, though you can shear sheep and do other farm-related activities with the stylus.
Wada doesn't deny that there is a lot that is the same. And he laments asking players to tackle two control schemes. This is something that will be made simpler in future instalments.
Surely someone who has spent more than a decade working on farming games has a wealth of expertise in real-life farming.
"No," Wada says with a knowing laugh. "But I've tried it. It was hard work."
Harvest Moon DS will be out across Europe on Friday, 13 April.