Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Making a Better Clone - Harvest Moon

In realizing that I am actually going to pick up a 3DS XL this year thanks to Rune Factory 4 finally getting a localization window of 'this summer', I started thinking about the reasons why I want a 3DS in the first place.  Obviously Rune Factory 4 is the tipping point, but really, all things Harvest Moon and even tertiary to what Harvest Moon is about is pretty much what's drawing me to the system.  The other Harvest Moon game that came out towards the start of the 3DS' life, Animal Crossing, Project Wonderful, all just games that have the same little charm to them while being relatively similar in that you're just making a little life for a little avatar and working to better it in some way.  Of course, such a realization paints a pretty big light on the fact that such games are few and far in-between and while I get the why of that, it still bugs me a little.  Since these kinds of games are -fun- and I would happily buy more of them.

So, what is it, precisely, that makes Harvest Moon and its related games tick?  More or less, it seems to be the sort of free-form style of gameplay that generally allows you to do what you want.  In proper Harvest Moon, it's all in what you decide to grow, what you decide to raise animal-wise, who you decide to date, etc.  In the Rune Factory games, you have that still as well as fighting styles and skill development to consider.  In Animal Crossing (since it's honestly in the same thing), it's maintaining a day-to-day ritual and getting acquainted with the various townsfolk that breeze in and out of your lovely town.  It's all simple stuff and because of that simplicity, it's charming.  Even though things don't -stay- simple in a sense, it never becomes over-complicated and thus that charm only ever gets away from it because you simply get used to it as you're going to get used to -anything- with enough exposure.

Were I to make another iteration into this type of series, a little blend of everything that was mentioned previous is honestly the way to go, I think.  Harvest Moon's structure, Rune Factory's flexibility and Animal Crossing's importance on your avatar and its impact, as well as the transient nature of the town/city/what-have-you will all blend together to make for something rather wonderful, I should think.  A New Beginning's penchant for customization is well appreciated however, though perhaps not quite as ambitious as it could be.  Though what Harvest Moon does and does solidly is establish an area, a town, a valley or a city, what have you, and subtly guide you towards everything you'll ever need.  Rune Factory adds a lot of variety and longevity with skills and crafting, giving you tangible goals to work towards that aren't House Addition related.  And Animal Crossing makes sure you have something to do every time you play it.

Something that all three series suffer from, however, is the lack of real surprises after a while.  Eventually, you sort of get -everything- the game has to offer, in terms of understanding the characters, of figuring out the mechanics, and of really understanding just what you're going to do.  There's no real element of surprise or randomness and they could really do with that - the only example of that, really, in Animal Crossing is when folks breeze out and new ones come in to replace them.  Of course that gets stale when you realize that there's about twenty personalities for 50 or so characters, but it's a sound concept.  Something that I would honestly encourage in a proper 'clone' game and with things that we have now, namely internet connections, this type of thing would be -really- easy.

Have it so that the game can 'push' in new content at will without having to rely on DLC, since it's all...I don't want to say server-side, but something along those lines.  Take Spore, for example.  When you're playing around in Spore on, like, the Tribal stage, I think, you start running into other creatures and -some- of these creatures are actually created by people who have played the games themselves.  You are fighting or allying with the creatures of people who you don't know, who have simply played the same game.  You didn't download some DLC pack that put their creatures into your game, it was just 'pushed' in and that is what I'm getting at.  In much the same way as Animal Crossing denizens come and go, you could just as easily have randomly created people come in and leave your city/village/etc. unless you manage to convince them to stay permanently one way or another.

This all just gives you another level of control over the game and the environment while also giving you a long-term goal.  There's always the chance of that 'perfect' villager showing up, and, depending on how the game is set-up, you could do other things with that same set-up.  Perhaps have people come into town bearing exotic animals or things to grow.  With careful patching, you could coordinate new content with this type of thing as well, making everything new and exciting and surprising if only for the simple fact that that's fun to do.  Hell, you could even do events from that front, having Holiday-themed visitors coming in around whatever Holidays they're celebrating and sticking around for a few days for shenanigans before heading out.  There's honestly a lot of really neat little things you can do with something that simple.

Really, my 'big plan' would just be mixing three popular series and adding a new level of longevity through randomness and support, but, well, it's an idea.  Certainly Natsume, nor Nintendo, have really gotten that yet or just haven't implemented it in a proper enough way.  I very much hope that Animal Crossing:  Jumpin' Out (I think that's the name) will at -least- make somewhat nice use of the 3DS' online capabilities.  I'm not exactly expecting a full-blown version of what I suggested here, but adding a couple new animal villager types.....couple new personalities....new outfits, things like that, it would be really nice.  I'm not expecting it in the slightest, as I haven't heard anything like that for the Japanese version, but a man can hope.  I seem to be doing a whole lot of that lately.

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