Back To Nature

Taking a break with a relaxing classic.

By: Ryan Winslett

Filed Under: Reflections

Welcome to Buckshot Farm, where the vegetables are grown with care, the livestock is raised with love and the produce is always ready to be shipped off to market by 5 p.m.

It’s a sweeping landscape of agricultural perfection, run by a master of the land and patrolled by his trusty canine companion, Pistol.

Well, it will be, anyway, as soon as I spend some more time here.

Right now the place is covered in rocks, tree stumps and invading weeds. I haven’t played Harvest Moon: Back to Nature in about a decade, so it’s taking this old hand some time to get back to his roots.

I already left Pistol out in the rain one night because I forgot to check the weather. And the only crops I’ve been able to plant is a single 9×9 plot of cucumbers with two of the spots filled with potatoes because I forgot how to plant things properly. I’m sure that won’t have a negative impact on my anal retentive nature. As for livestock, I can’t even dream of affording a single chicken just yet. I caught a snake while exploring up in the mountains and placed him inside the corral I built for future livestock, but I was sad to see he had disappeared by the next morning.

I’m moving at a slow, somewhat awkward pace here, and that’s exactly what I need right about now.

I think what initially brought me back to this turn-of-the century farming simulator was a need for simplicity. Modern games are all about learning to perform combos and head-shots with fine-tuned perfection. If you botch a single button press in a quick time event, you get to watch as your hero gets ripped apart. Get too far away from that hostage you’re supposed to be escorting and they’ll get mowed down by terrorists. Stray too far from mission objective and it’s an immediate fail. I’m not saying that modern games are more difficult. Quite the opposite, actually. I just feel like sometimes I need a break from the constant explosions, high-flying action, go-go-go, shoot-shoot-shoot, experience-points-level-up-prestige-perks-touchdown pace of what the current generation typically has to offer.

I needed a break from the norm and, while there are certainly a nice selection of more laid-back offerings available in the current gen, I decided to curl up with a more simplistic title from a more simplistic era. Hence: Harvest Moon.

I wanted to take it easy and just enjoy some basic gameplay without the encroachment of enemies, co-op partners, high definition cutscenes and the like. I typically enjoy all of those elements in a game but, after being bombarded by the stuff title after title, sometimes you just needs to step away from the cacophony and take a breather.

I didn’t even bother with hunting down the manual because I wanted to re-learn things at my own pace and gather information from the (sometimes) helpful villagers. That has instead devolved into me constantly yelling questions across the house to my girlfriend, the household’s resident Harvest Moon guru. She was happy to help at first, but then it became clear that my incessant inquiries were starting to get on her nerves.

“Jeeeeenn! How do I upgrade my hoe?”

“Go see the blacksmith.”

“Okay…Where might he be?”

“In the town.”

“How do I get to the town from the forest?”

“Dude, RTFM!”

“Sweet! Hey, Jenn, I found a squirrel! What can I do with this squirrel? Forget about the blacksmith, Jenn, this squirrel is my main priority right now!”

(Terrifying silence.)

At this point, I’ve probably lazed away a good 10 hours in Harvest Moon, promising villagers vegetables I then forget to deliver, searching my ranch for a pony that keeps hiding in the last place I look, passing out from exhaustion because I worked too hard in the mines, or planting valuable crops two days before the season changes and thus wasting my time and money. Jenn’s also helping me decide which local lady to court, which makes for some very bizarre conversations about how I don’t want to marry the girl that she wants me to marry.

I’ve been playing a lot of games lately, all of which have been jam-packed with the latest and greatest in modern technology. Eye-bleedingly beautiful graphics, touchscreen, motion control, asynchronous multiplayer, co-op campaigns, online battles, etc. etc. etc. I may only be bumbling my way through Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, but I think it’s giving me the break I need before heading into what appears to be a busy spring season and, hell, a busy rest of the year.

With titles like God of War: Ascension, Metal Gear Rising, Bioshock Infinite and Dead Space 3 coming out in the next couple of months, as well as even more new AAA games and possibly two new consoles hitting store shelves by the end of the year, I’m going to be up to my eyeballs in the “latest, greatest, most advanced hotness” the gaming world has to offer. It’s a fast moving train and I’m usually tickled pink to see it moving full steam ahead.

But every now and then it’s nice to get “back to nature,” as it were. I may never whip Buckshot Farm back into a pristine state, but at least I know I can visit here from time to time when I need to escape the hustle and bustle of the modern age and just unwind for a few peaceful nights at a slower pace.

Now, can anyone tell me what my options are involving this squirrel?

[Photo credit.]

Filed Under: Reflections

About the Author:
Ryan Winslett is an Arizona-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a contributing writer for Gaming Blend and his work has also appeared on Joystiq, Gamasutra and Joystick Division. His only crime is loving too much.

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