The Past And Future Of Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon is a series that’s been around a long time, and in its many years has been published by a number of different companies, both in Japan and the West. Earlier today, Xseed announced that they will be publishing the next game in the series in North America, and we thought it would be a good occasion to take a look back at Harvest Moon’s publishing history over the last 18 years.

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The Victor Interactive Years: (1996 – 2002)

The very first Harvest Moon was released in August 1996. The project was led by a Japanese game designer named Yasuhiro Wada, at a company named Pack-In-Video. Harvest Moon was created for the Super Famicom and already contained the two major features the series has become known for—farming and marriage. A single year within the game consisted of four 30-day seasons, and a single day lasted from 6 am to 6 pm.


Shortly after its release, in October of the same year, Pack-in-Video merged with the gaming division of a company named Victor Entertainment to form Victor Interactive Software. That same year, Victor acquired the license to Tomb Raider from Core Design, and published the game in Japan, selling over 300,000 copies and having it nominated for the CESA Award. They also produced the first Reel Fishing game for the PSOne, and this game was published in North America and Europe by Natsume Inc, the American division of a Japanese company named Natsume Co. Ltd.


Natsume’s relationship with Victor Interactive extended beyond Reel Fishing, though. The company also published Harvest Moon in North America, taking a chance on the farming game at a time when localizing JRPGs was considered risky. During this time, Natsume filed a trademark for the “Harvest Moon” name in the U.S., and as such, it belongs to them.

As the years went by, Victor Interactive continued to produce Harvest Moon games under their own label, eventually entering the 3D era with Harvest Moon: Back to Nature on PSOne and Harvest Moon 64 on the Nintendo 64. Then, on March 31st, 2003, the company was taken over by Marvelous Entertainment Inc., and the organization was renamed Marvelous Interactive.


The Rise of Marvelous Entertainment:


From 2003 onward, Harvest Moon games in Japan were published under the Marvelous label, while Natsume would continue to publish the series in North America. Over in Europe, publishing duties began with 505 GameStreet and eventually landed with Rising Star Games, who went on to publish a number of Harvest Moon titles in European territories.


During this time, at Marvelous Entertainment ambitions for the Harvest Moon games began to outgrow the confines of the original concept of leading a farmer’s life. A producer at Marvelous, Yoshifumi Hashimoto, began work on a new game that would take the two basic concepts of Harvest Moon—farming and forming relationships with people—and add a third to complement them: combat.


The new game, titled Rune Factory, was more stylish, more ambitious, and took place in a fantasy world that evoked a greater sense of mystery. It included just about everything that made Harvest Moon enjoyable and layered dungeon exploration, combat and equipment customization on top of it.


Rune Factory made its debut in 2006. Marvelous published the game in Japan, and Natsume were once again responsible for publishing duties in North America, where the game was titled Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon. In the years that followed, Rune Factory amassed a significant audience of its own—one that has been growing ever since the release of the first game, both in Japan and the West.


The Start of Marvelous and Xseed’s Relationship:


2008 – 2011 was a time of change for both Harvest Moon and Rune Factory, and for Marvelous Entertainment. In 2008, Marvelous signed a co-publishing agreement with a North American localization company named Xseed Games. As part of the agreement, Xseed would publish a number of games produced by Marvelous… save for Harvest Moon and Rune Factory, which were still to be published by Natsume.


Nonetheless, in the coming years, the relationship between the two companies would only grow stronger. This became extremely evident when Marvelous allowed Xseed to publish Rune Factory Frontier in North America, instead of Natsume, marking the first time in the history of the series that a company other than Natsume had published a Harvest Moon game in the U.S.


Xseed, at the time, was owned by a company named AQ Interactive. As fate would have it, in 2011, Marvelous and AQ Interactive merged together, along with a third company named Liveware Inc., and the new entity was named Marvelous AQL. Xseed was renamed Marvelous USA, and would collaborate even more closely with Marvelous in the years to come, publishing major Marvelous titles like Rune Factory 4 and Senran Kagura Burst in North America.


Wada’s Departure and Hometown Story:


Amidst these events, Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada announced his resignation from Marvelous. Wada left the company in 2010, and went on to form his own company, named Toybox.  Ever since, Rune Factory creator Yoshifumi Hashimoto has become the primary name associated with both Rune Factory and Harvest Moon, and serves as the producer for both series.


Meanwhile, Wada developed his first brand new game at Toybox, titled Hometown Story. A mix of life-simulation and shop management, Hometown Story was clearly inspired in part by Harvest Moon, and owing to his close relationship with Natsume, Wada signed up with the company to have them publish the game in North America. Meanwhile, Rising Star—who also share a relationship with Wada—published the game in Europe.


The Present and the Future:


And finally, we come to the present day. Xseed are now publishing both Rune Factory and Harvest Moon in North America, and are already looking at publishing Marvelous’ next life-simulation RPG, Forbidden Magna. It looks like Natsume may be out of the picture permanently, with regard to Harvest Moon and all associated series developed by Marvelous.


As for Europe… that’s a trickier question to answer. Marvelous AQL, in collaboration with distributor Zen United, published Harvest Moon: A New Beginning in Europe. Whether or not Story of Seasons will be handled by Zen or Rising Star Games is unknown at this point. When reached for comment, neither publisher was willing to provide further insight into the situation.


So here’s where we’re at: While Xseed can publish Harvest Moon games in North America, they can’t call them “Harvest Moon”. This is because Natsume owns the Harvest Moon trademark in the U.S., which is why Xseed’s version is titled Story of Seasons. And In Europe, we don’t know what’s going on yet.


As for Natsume… since the company owns the Harvest Moon trademark in the U.S., it is entirely possible for Natsume to continue publishing games in North America under the “Harvest Moon” title.


Wouldn’t it be interesting if they chose to co-develop another life-simulation game with Yasuhiro Wada and named it Harvest Moon? Personally, I would love to see it happen, partly because I really don’t want Natsume to lose their identity.


Food for thought:

Oh, the irony.

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Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.