Natsume is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Harvest Moon franchise by releasing Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness for the Nintendo DS on August 26 and Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility for the Wii on September 16. The Harvest Moon series is in full bloom now, but only because Yasuhiro "Hiro" Maekawa, President and CEO of Natsume, planted the seeds. We spoke with Mr. Maekawa about the series and his views on the future of Harvest Moon.
Wow, I can't believe Harvest Moon is already 10 years old. Looking back at the first game, did you ever think the series would be so big?
Yasuhiro Maekawa, President and CEO of Natsume: Let’s me put in this way… When I first came across this Japanese farming simulation game for SNES and played it, I felt strongly that this original, non-violent, family-oriented game could have great potential to find an audience. At that point, yes, I thought the series would be big.
Why did you choose to localize Harvest Moon in North America? During the Super Nintendo days, RPGs and story based games weren't nearly as popular as they are now.
It was and still is our main marketing strategy to find, create and raise niche and unknown original titles to franchises having a long lifecycle by patiently investing time and money, if we strongly believe the titles have the potential to grow big. Harvest Moon was such a title and it fit nicely into our marketing strategy. Therefore, we felt it was worth the risk in a market that did not have many “life simulation” games.
Where did you get the name Harvest Moon from? Doesn't the Japanese title translate into something like Farm Story?
It does translate into something like "Farm Story." This name just didn't quite feel right for the U.S.
I chose the name "Harvest Moon" after considering lots of different name ideas. In the world of Harvest Moon, hard work leads to success, which embodied for me an important concept–that is “Hard-working people should get rewarded for their work.” In Harvest Moon, the harvest is the culmination of all of the hard work of raising and nurturing your crops; it's that deeply satisfying moment when you get to see your work pay off.
So I felt strongly that "Harvest" should be in the game's title. Once I decided that, the name "Harvest Moon" just fell into place. Something about it just felt right.
How did you promote the first game?
I made every effort. I visited and talked to every video game magazine publisher I could. I tried to get as many Harvest Moon stories as I could out there, including previews, reviews, strategy guides, and anything else to help expose the game to as many people in the U.S. as possible.
Frankly, we did not have a huge advertising budget at that time and public relations were our best option for promoting the game.
What was the most difficult part about localizing Harvest Moon for North America?
The most difficult part of localization was and still is maintaining consistency throughout the series. For example, the words, names, etc. used in the games have to be consistent. Every thought and consideration goes into creating a world that draws the user into and make an enjoyable game play experience.
Did the popularity of Harvest Moon ever explode, or has the series steadily grown over the years?
It has grown steadily over the past ten years. We prefer this slow but steady growth and would like to keep the same pace for many years to come.
Which Harvest Moon game did you have the most difficulty with in regards to a US release?
It was the first title for the Super Nintendo. It was 1996 when I first came across this farming and life simulation game, which I named “Harvest Moon” later.
I played the game and found it very unique and enjoyable. My instinct told me that this niche title might have great potential to find an audience in the North America. I was a newcomer to the video game industry and did not know much about video games. So, I tried to find out what other people in the industry thought about this game. To my surprise, everyone else thought that Western gamers wouldn't understand the relaxed pace and constructive theme. The thinking was that Western gamers just wanted platformers and action games with lots of explosions! I really liked the change of pace that Harvest Moon presented, though; instead of fighting aliens, you got to build a farm, grow crops, help your neighbors, and get married. It was really addictive and rewarding. My instincts told me that there might be an audience in the U.S. who had been waiting for this type of game. So I decided to just ignore the advice of my peers and bring the game over. And here we are, ten years later, and we're still releasing Harvest Moon games to tens of thousands of fans!
Who knows what might have happened if I didn’t go with my gut feeling and introduce Harvest Moon.
What Harvest Moon game is your favorite from the series?
All of the Harvest Moons games! If I have to pick one, it would be the first Harvest Moon for SNES. It was the very beginning of Harvest Moon's history.
What about an animal?
The Harvest Moon cow!
It would have to be the main character from Harvest Moon SNES, the one that started it all.
Do you ever worry there are too many Harvest Moon games and the series is reaching a saturation point?
It is our mission to make everyone, including our fans, of course, happy. We always listen very carefully to what our fans say. If they think that there are too many Harvest Moon games, and they are not happy with that, we will certainly think about the best way how to make our fans happy.
Recently, Marvelous started Harvest Moon spinoffs by looking at the future with Innocent Life and a fantasy setting with Rune Factory. What kind of Harvest Moon spinoff would you like to see?
A game which extends the Harvest Moon world to a new genre. For example, with Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, we took Harvest Moon fans to a fantasy setting. We also introduced an action-RPG element, bringing a whole new group of RPG fans into the world of Harvest Moon.
We'd love to do that with another genre, as long as it could be blended well with the world of Harvest Moon, like Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon and Puzzle de Harvest Moon.
How much involvement did you have with the creation of Puzzle de Harvest Moon?
It was my original idea and we teamed up with a well-talented development studio.
I see Natsume USA is working with other developers like Cave to create original games like Princess Debut. Are there any other dream games you would like to create?
Yes! It is a little too early to disclose those plans, though.
Last year we heard rumors about "Harvest Moon Online" when Wada-san (the President of Marvelous Entertainment) talked about an online Harvest Moon game. Can you tell us anything about this project?
I may not be the best person to talk about this subject at this point in time.
Are there any plans to release the Wii version of Harvest Moon: Magical Melody in the USA?
It was almost two and a-half year ago when Harvest Moon: Magical Melody for GameCube was released. We will be releasing our first Harvest Moon for Wii, Harvest Moon Tree of Tranquility shortly.
If we were to release the Wii version of Magical Melody, we would most likely be looking at a limited release aimed at our hardcore and loyal fans. We have had quite a few requests to release this game and are looking into it.
Images courtesy of Natsume.