I don’t think there is a game series that has made me question my sexuality and gender as much as the Harvest Moon series. This reached a whole new pitch playing Harvest Moon: Animal Parade. Let me first say, that Animal Parade is probably the single most relaxing and inoffensive game I have ever played. This is as much a criticism as it is a compliment. On the one hand, it’s a good thing because it feels like a genuine return to roots, often reminding me of my favourite game of the series, Harvest Moon: Back to Nature. It feels smooth, calculated, lulling me into a sense of security and peace. On the other hand, everything is a bit too smooth; I keep having the perverse desire to ruffle a few feathers, even entertaining the idea of giving a failed soup to a neighbour – though, of course, I haven’t actually followed through! I am just sorely tempted.
In this particular edition of the farming series, you must restore the balance of nature by ringing five mystical bells, which adds a Zelda questing aspect to the gameplay. Along the way you also tend to your lovely farm and animals, make friends with the neighborhood and fish – the usual. Animal Parade has a total of three (!) mines, and Toucan Island is an accessible, fun addition that changes up the scenery. I enjoyed the characters, though I felt their plot lines lacked drama. On the technical side of things, while the graphics are pleasing and have a Wind Waker-esque charm, the frame rate is bad to the point of distraction. It’s telling that the only time my pulse rises when I play this game is when enduring the load times between areas. The Wii can handle a cinematic masterclass like Xenoblade Chronicles, so why they couldn’t fix this I don’t know.
Now to what I really want to say: Animal Parade is so innocent, so easy-going…playing this game sends my mind to odd places. (Yes, this blog post is about thoughts. Deal with it!)
For one thing, I noticed that the girls are much, much more attractive than the guys and, as I was playing as the female character, I felt rather cheated. If it wasn’t for the Wizard and, later, the Harvest King I might have even chosen to be a male farmer. This got me thinking: why couldn’t I get with a girl character? Was this just to keep the more conservative fans of the game happy? In a game which does away with formal religion (the combination of the church and the Harvest Goddess myth has always seemed a little forced to me), why do I have to choose opposite sexes as spouses?
And another thing, why monogamy? Yep, this game had me dreaming of polygamy – spouses are the ultimate collectible! You could just keep making your house bigger and bigger a la Little King’s Story, and have many, many children. I imagined a tall multi-storied house, or crazy castle, filled with rooms for spouses and your children. Perhaps, to get around the thorny issue of pregnancy, you or your spouse would visit a magical seed bank to have a baby. Or perhaps there would be an human Miracle Potion.
I also daydreamed quite a bit while watering my crops with my incredibly effective watering can about what Harvest Moon would be like crossed with Silent Hill. The Witch is a recurring character in the Harvest Moon series – now imagine if she was the Goddess of the game. What would her world be like? I think a cutesy but creepy Harvest Moon would be pretty awesome. Animal sacrifice. Growing weeds. Perhaps you could choose between being evil and being good? Follow the way of the Goddess or the cult of the Witch?
All in all, I felt this game played it a little safe, even sanitised – but I did really, really enjoy it. After all, what Harvest Moon fan doesn’t like safe? Videogame farming is sanitised! But I felt like a bit of drama would give this game some spice, and spice would prevent me daydreaming about animal sacrifice and the demise of monogamy…