Friday, May 14, 2010

Real People, Neither Villains nor Heroes

Friends and family who never play video games often have no real understanding of the appeal that Harvest Moon and Rune Factory have for me. With the title of 'Hero of Leaf Valley', a non-gamer might be excused for assuming that the game would be a traditional role-playing game (RPG) with narrowly defined Villains and Heroes. Such is not the case, as any one familiar with Harvest Moon would know.

Every Harvest Moon game has a philosphical basis. Some explore the philosophy in more detail and are more profound than others. The basic premise of any Harvest Moon game is the need to live in harmony with Nature and more than that, to understand that the world of plants and animals is OUR world as well. We are not its masters or its creators. We all must work together if the universe is to prosper. It is not how much you sell or how much money you amass but your ability to interact positively with others and with your environment that is the key to a good life.

I often describe the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory series as true interactive novels and in fact, the detail and depth of dialogue only has expanded in each new game.

In 'Hero of Leaf Valley', it is the conflict between real estate development and the traditional use of land that is the basis of the tale. A corporation named 'Funland' has purchased the land in Leaf Valley and intends to create an amusement park. Your character must be the 'Hero' by foiling this plan. He has a number of choices as to how this can be achieved. The most straightforward would be to save 50,000G to purchase the land outright from the Corporation. The other methods would be to transform Leaf Valley into a Nature Preserve by finding endangered species and documenting their presence or by transforming Leaf Valley into a desirable tourist destination by encouraging residents who have various talents to explore and perfect those abilities.

As you can see, there is nothing simplistic about the plot. The Characters are fairly complex as well. There are three members of the Funland Corporation in Leaf Valley: Alice, Renton and Charles. Alice is the CEO of the company. Renton is an older man who exhibits some friendliness and sensitivity from the start, but even Alice and Charles, both young and ambitious, are not true 'villains'.

If you bother to interact with them and raise your Friendship levels with them, their dialogues will show their own desire to balance their ambitions with a certain amount of humanity.

Charles will tell you:

Charles: It seems that you misunderstand. I am just doing my job. Would you stop talking about us behind our backs, now?

Charles: I didn't come here to harass the people of Leaf Valley. Isn't it only common sense to want to evict the people who won't leave your property? That's all we're trying to do. I wish you would stop vilifying us.

The residents of Leaf Valley are people who live fairly simple lives. Your own Character is a farmer. There is a local Greengrocer and owners of various small businesses, including a Florist, a General Store and a Carpentry Shop. The Starling Ranch raises Animals. They all represent the traditional way of life. The Funland Corporation, on the other hand, represents technology and development. They believe that change always represents an improvement, that if you do not exploit the land, you are wasting its potential.

Charles: There are a lot of things that I have to do with my job. I don't just walk around town. I'm not the same as people who only have to work when the sun is up.

He is an engineer who develops robots and sophisticated machines. His counterpart in the Valley is Louis who owns an 'Items Shop' but who is an inventor as well. Where Charles works for a large corporation, however, Louis owns a shop where the primary business interactions are performed through a system of barter.

What Harvest Moon always tries to demonstrate is that the old ways can be the best in many ways. At the same time, lack of progress or any stimulus whatsoever is ruinous. At the start of most Harvest Moon games, the village has suffered from the loss of its youth who, perceiving no future there, have moved to larger cities. One of the goals you have is that of infusing your Community with new challenges and a reason for people to return.

Harvest Moon games are very realistic in that farming, animal care, fishing and mining all take time, require patience and much repetition of the same actions. Farming and Animal Care in reality involve repetition for the most part. You must water crops regularly and feed Animals daily. Even fishing and mining require patience. Often, most of the items you catch or find will be nothing more than rubbish. The desirable items cannot be obtained unless you are willing to put in the time and demonstrate patience.

Some players consider this aspect of Harvest Moon 'boring' or 'tedious' but in fact, it is this that creates a sense of reality and places one in a sort of contemplative state that is relaxing and therapeutic. For the most part, hard work and determination will lead to rewards. When you harvest a Crop, it has far more significance to you after all of your labours than it would have if you could throw the seeds on the soil and immediately find ripened Crops in their place. The same is true whenever you find a rare Gem in the Mines or catch a new type of Fish. It is far more exciting and rewarding for all the rubbish you had to find first...

As I write strategy guides for these games, I have to pay even more attention to details and often involve myself in even more repetition than other players. For example, much is revealed in dialogue, but often characters will repeat the same dialogues again and again. The dialogue is randomly generated to some extent in order to provide variation in your encounters. Dialogue can be based on the season, the weather and the level of your friendship with the individual as well.

It was only by finding Charles in his workroom in the basement of the Funland Headquarters and speaking to him again and again relentlessly that I was able to experience the Dialogues I copied above. As I wished to see how many variations in dialogue I could obtain, I kept speaking to him over and over.

After he had repeated himself a few times, he finally turned to me with an appearance of being utterly fed up and cried:

Charles: Oh! I am trying to do some thinking here! Please don't interrupt me!

It may have been coincidental in fact, but how much more realistic could a social interaction in a GAME ever be?

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