Story of Seasons Producer Talks Innovation, Farming, And Romance
The name Harvest Moon is synonymous with peaceful farming simulation. The series, called Bokujō Monogatari in Japan, was just rebranded Story of Seasons in North America (though Natsume is continuing to make its own games under the Harvest Moon banner). The name may be new, but fans will feel right home with Story of Seasons’ combination of country life and old-fashioned productivity.
In the wake of Story of Seasons’ release (read our review), we asked producer Yoshifumi Hashimoto about the new name, the role of technology in the series, and providing an array of interesting characters to court and marry.
The Story of Seasons name change is unique to the West. Did that “fresh start” (for one region, at least) influence your approach to development at all? Or did you treat it like any other new Bokujō Monogatari title?
Hashimoto: We treated this title exactly like any other Bokujō game. There have been no huge changes or influences on our design process as a result of the overseas name change, but we were grateful as always for this opportunity to deliver a true Bokujō Monogatari experience to the fans once more. And one positive thing to come of this new beginning was our attempt to make this title easier to pick up and play so new players could better enjoy it, with the addition of two difficulties being one of the key elements toward that end.
This series is accessible to all sorts of gamers; is that an intentional goal, or just a side effect of the style of game you want to make?
It's been over 15 years since we launched the first Bokujō Monogatari, and many of the players who enjoyed it back then have seen many changes in their lives at this point, such as falling in love, getting married, and having children. Some of these long-time fans have told us that they now play the Bokujō games with their kids. And since the fanbase for this series has expanded so much since that first title, we always try to develop our games so they can be enjoyed by people of all ages.
Dedicated players want (and expect) certain things to remain consistent from one entry to the next. I’m sure you are grateful for the loyal fans, but do those expectations ever keep you from experimenting with new ideas or features?
Some people have indeed asked why we add new features to these games, so I guess it's true that not changing anything might be preferable for some fans. I just don’t want players to spend their money on the exact same game over and over again, and it makes us happy when we hear people say things like, “I didn’t expect that, but it was really fun!” We certainly don’t want to create games that are completely different from one iteration to the next, though, as that's not what the fanbase wants, so we try to keep a good balance between old and new with each entry. And I will say, fan comments never keep me from experimenting with new ideas; I actually really appreciate hearing what our playerbase thinks of the series, good or bad.
Most of the tools players use are from a more idyllic era of farming. What are your thoughts on technology’s place in Bokujō Monogatari? Does it conflict with the nature-focused themes?
We've actually thought about adding more modern technology to the Bokujō Monogatari series, but I've always wanted players to experience the cycle of life as people used to.
A while ago, I was listening to this random radio station, and they were talking about a kid who lives in a city and had never been to the forest before. The insect he was taking care of died one day, and the way he described it to his mother was that his insect’s “battery” had died.
Stories like that really drive home the need for me to stick with a more traditional message in these games, about the meaning and the nature of life.
The inclusion of other farmers in the town (and competing with them) is a fun addition for Story of Seasons. What inspired this new feature?
We tried to add other farmers and farming competitions to this series several times before, but we never quite saw it through because we were afraid it might make the game too convoluted for some players.
During the development of Story of Seasons, however, I came up with a new idea on how to pull it off, and really began planning out how to incorporate competition into this game. The idea was to add a friendly character who could clearly and naturally explain the way this competition system works so that players wouldn’t need to go through a long tutorial and become overburdened with unnecessary information dumps.
I also thought having other farmers in the game could provide an opportunity to show players examples of good and not-so-good farming methods.
On the one hand, this series allows players to go at their own pace. On the other hand, some things must be completed on a restricted timeline. During development, was there ever any concern about the pressure those elements might put on players who don’t want to miss anything?
We were concerned about it, certainly, but we still saw fit to add these elements since there are just as many gamers out there who won't enjoy titles that have absolutely no restrictions or rules at all.
Fans get especially invested in the courtship/marriage aspects of the series. How did you create the roster of available bachelors and bachelorettes in Story of Seasons?
Well, just as with the previous titles, the characters were created based on my own personal tastes. Maybe it's because I wanted to create movies before I entered the video game industry, but I really enjoy developing characters in general. And I always try to keep a certain balance; like, if we had an aggressive character in a previous game, we'd feature a warm and peaceful character in the next one to help balance things out. I always try to create unique and fun characters to impress players, and I always hope players will feel like they don’t want to stop playing because they've come to really enjoy all the charming characters and places we're presenting them with.
Part of the fun in Story of Seasons (and previous games) is getting to know the villagers and talking to them every day. However, their stories only develop through events; your day-to-day conversations with them stay the same. For future installments, do you see those conversations becoming more dynamic?
Oh, of course, that's something I've been thinking about, too. Conversation is always a tricky prospect in games like this, since players could forget about their main purpose and their farm duties if the conversations change too often. But if I can create fun and dynamic dialogues alongside engaging gameplay, that would be the ideal, and that's what I'm continuing to strive for.
Did you have any opportunity to make any adjustments (big or small) to Story of Seasons between the Japanese and North American releases?
After switching to a new publisher and changing the series' name to Story of Seasons, we received numerous ideas and opinions from Xseed Games on how to improve the gameplay experience. And as such, when we began to localize the game, we likewise began to "localize" our thoughts on worldwide game publishing as well.
Xseed's general feelings about the game were that we shouldn't change anything if it would cause any serious paradigm shifts in the core of the Bokujō Monogatari experience, so we instead focused on making smaller quality-of-life changes to the game, so it would be easier to pick up and play. If you have any suggestions or opinions about Bokujō Monogatari, I hope you'll pass them along to Xseed. I always appreciate hearing feedback from fans, and I love it when people share their very different opinions with me on the work that we produce.
Of course, we receive a lot of feedback, so we can't guarantee all of the suggestions made by fans will come to pass in our next title, but I'd love to continue developing the Bokujō Monogatari series through your feedback for many years to come.