Features// Harvest Moon: Rising Star's Wonderful Life

Posted 10 Oct 2011 09:38 by
Surrey Quays Farm, London.
Surrey Quays Farm, London.
Think of companies that are synonymous with Japanese games, and it?s highly likely that Rising Star Games will be one of the first on that list. The European publisher has gained many fans in the region for bringing cult games such as Deadly Premonition, DoDonPachi and No More Heroes when nobody else would.

But the game the company is best known for - and the reason it was even established - is its localisation of Marvelous Entertainment?s Harvest Moon series. It seems apt then, that a brand new entry to the series, Grand Bazaar, was released on Nintendo DS at the end of last month, just ahead of the company?s 7th anniversary last week. Even more apt to send a load of journalists to Surrey Quays farm in London to celebrate the launch of the game.

Harvest Moon is one of those serene, chilled out games that captures the massmarket consumer but is also highly regarded by gamers. The premise is simple, really - by some circumstance you come to owning a farm, and your objective is to raise crops and cattle and live a rather comfortable life as a functional member of virtual society. In Grand Bazaar, your character moves into Zephyr Town, a locale once famous for its weekly shopping festivals.

Over the years, the place has become quite the dump though, and tourism hasn?t been too hot as a result. Although you?re still tilling fields, watering seeds and fishing for food, there?s now something of an end goal - your goods can be sold at your own special stall in the Bazaar to give you major cashback and to help rebuild the town. Earning money will allow you to buy pets and animals to raise in the spacious green behind your house. Other features to enrich your farming life include horse racing, flower festivals, tea parties and sipping wine.

Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar
Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar
Much like Nintendo?s own Animal Crossing, it?s not a game you play with a particular sense of adventure. It?s a nice pick-me-up that offers a pleasant experience for the gamer who wants to take a day to just slow things down. And while the series has been going since the Super Nintendo days, Rising Star has been helping Marvelous perfect it all since 2004.

In fact, Rising Star was created as a European subsidiary of the Japanese entertainment powerhouse for the sole purpose of pushing Harvest Moon in the West. Product Manager Yen Hau revealed that the series has sold over one million units in Europe and that it is still reaping the sales rewards from the first Harvest Moon title on Nintendo DS. As a franchise that is seen to be rather niche, its performance in the games market proves that it?s anything but.

?The Harvest Moon series is very popular indeed. We?ve seen, with the rise of Farmville on Facebook, that people really do love farming games,? Yen said. ?It?s a simple mechanic - raise your crops, water it, till the land, get special seeds and reap the rewards - but it?s that constant attention that the game requires that keeps you coming back for more.

?Simulation games of this kind - and especially Farmville as an example - all came about because of the popularity of Harvest Moon. It?s very much the mother of all farming games. And it does very well for Rising Star Games,? he added, noting that the huge install base for consoles such as the Nintendo DS means that there is huge scope for sales. Which most likely explains why Grand Bazaar has been released on that platform in favour of the 3DS.

So powerful is the Harvest Moon brand, that Marvelous and Rising Star have explored other avenues with the franchise in the form of spinoffs. As Grand Bazaar was released, so too was the third in action RPG series Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon. With a different art style and an emphasis on exploring dungeons and thwacking enemies with swords and arrows, Rune Factory 3 fuses the core farming experience with a classic role playing system.

Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon
Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon
Growing crops and cooking recipes will allow you to level up in certain areas and tackle bigger foes, while exploring different dungeons will net you some rare seeds and items to use on the farm. This kind of experience keeps an audience of more action-oriented gamers engaged, with a storyline to follow and a depth of skills to uncover, whilst still maintaining that which makes Harvest Moon so unique.

With success like that, it begs the question why Japanese companies are normally resistant to releasing localised versions of their games in Europe. It?s certainly a business which Rising Star has thrived in. Yen explained that bigger publishers may not take on a franchise seen as niche overseas, while Japanese companies may not be effective at marketing their product internationally themselves.

?For publishers like us, it?s very important that we exist because there are these really great, quirky games out there that don?t get seen by big publishers because they?re so niche. There are risks in every business but I think we?ve found an avenue where we can exist, which is welcomed and which has products that people are asking for.

?And I think the Japanese companies need help. I can?t speak for all of them, but most of them develop and publish in Japan and know their market very well. That?s why their games are so heavily tailored for their markets. Outside of Japan they don?t have the expertise to market successfully.

"We?ve got the advantage in that we?re all otakus in our office and we love Japanese games, but we also know our own market very well. So more often than not it?s probably easier for Japanese publishers to just license the product to us. It?s minimal work for them, and we can really do their title justice.?

Svend had so much fun, he became a farmer. He had to leave though because he was rubbish.
Svend had so much fun, he became a farmer. He had to leave though because he was rubbish.
Since forming the European publisher, Marvelous Entertainment has sold its controlling interest in Rising Star Games and the company is now free to localise products from other Japanese studios like shoot?em up gods Cave. As part of the split deal however, Harvest Moon remains a title exclusive to Rising Star - the two are ?synonymous with each other,? according to Yen, and ?it would look weird for it to go anywhere else.?

And the future of Rising Star is looking very bright. Yen says that the changing of hands (the publisher is now part-owned by another Japanese entertainment corporation called Intergrow, Inc) has actually opened a lot of doors. ?Now that we are no longer partly owned by MMV we are actively looking for products to license, it is a freedom which is new to us and we are talking to a lot of new people. They?ve seen how good a job we?ve been doing in Europe, so it?s actually put us in good stead.?

Here?s to another seven years, Rising Star. Cheers!

Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar and Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon are available on Nintendo DS now.

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