Down on the Farm: Saving Money and Other Life Lessons Harvest Moon Taught Me
I remember flipping through a GamePro (RIP) and being particularly drawn to an ad for an upcoming PlayStation 2 game. It featured a cartoonish guy with a backwards hat and a Dragon Ball Z hairdo sticking out.
But it wasn’t his style that caught my eye. I was oddly fixated on everything else going on in the pictures—the cows, the crops, the small-town feel—the game looked peaceful.
At the time, I didn’t pay too much attention to the game. I was around 10 and buying games for myself rarely crossed my mind. I relied on playing the games Low_Score purchased (that’s what older brothers are good for). I filed the ad away and moved on.
A year or so later, I was in a wicked Super Nintendo mood. I’d find a game, play it for maybe a few days, then move on. Then I came across a game called Harvest Moon…It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.
It would be sometime before I played it. Little did I know, that game would change my life.
No. That game would help me understand life.
For the time being, however, I didn’t play it. I didn’t even consider playing it until it finally clicked that the ad I saw in that GamePro was for the newest entry to the Harvest Moon series.
The seed was planted, but nothing grew quite yet.
One day in junior high school, I was home sick—who knows if I was really sick or not, but that’s not important and it’s too late to get in trouble for it now. I seized the opportunity to begin my time on the farm.
Harvest Moon opens with a boy in blue overalls and a blue hat (much like the ad at the beginning of my journey) inheriting the family farm. The plot of land is a disaster; stumps, weeds, and rocks of various sizes litter the fertile grounds. The player’s task is to turn this wasteland into an empire in two and a half years…no pressure.
I named my character Jack because I read somewhere that it was his intended name. However, I just looked it up and saw that that naming convention was a common misconception. The character’s name was intended to be Pete. I’m shaken to the core. I used the name Jack for every game and now I learn it was all a lie? I’ll do my best to complete this article, but I have a lot of reflecting to do.
Day one is spent walking around the unnamed town and meeting the locals. The town includes all the classics: shops, a restaurant, a bar, a church, and the all too common fortune teller. That was intended to be joke, but then I remembered several games that feature fortune tellers in towns. Weird.
The small-town setting sold me immediately. The town folk had unique personalities that enticed continued conversations. I imagined myself living there with all those familiar faces. What a cozy feeling.
Day two opens in the ranch house. The house acts as your base of operations. There’s a diary to save your game, a calendar to check the date, a TV to check the weather, and a notebook with an overview of funds and livestock.
There are a few general things to note before going any further. One, a year in Harvest Moon consists of four seasons. Each season lasts 30 days. This means a year in Harvest Moon is 120 days, suggesting the game doesn’t take place on Earth (wake up, people!).
Two, each day begins at 6 AM and ends at 6 PM, with each hour clocking in at roughly 12.5 seconds in the real world. Oddly, the clock stops at 6 PM. Not only did I not take advantage of this unlimited time my first couple playthroughs, I don’t think I even noticed. I had my fair share of late nights, but never with the intention of breaking the game.
Anyway, once you step outside, a dog runs onto your property. The young girl chasing the dog decides to let you name it and keep it. Restricted once more by the four-character limit, I settled on the name Fido (I was not a creative kid).
After this interaction, you are given full control. Only the second of Spring and already I could feel the mounting pressure to build a flourishing farm.
The farm itself is quite big, populated with various structures—the most important structure being the shipping box. Because there is no sack (a welcomed feature in later games), the player must carry each item individually and toss it in the box. Make sure your aim is solid because nothing is worse than seeing a destroyed item on the floor next to the box. The contents of the box are picked up every day at 5PM, so plan accordingly.
The toolshed is of equal importance. Housed within is an axe, hammer, hoe, sickle, watering can, and later, tools for milking and caring for cows.
Purchased bags of seeds are sent to the toolshed as well. Crops are seasonal. Potatoes and turnips are available in the Spring and are one and done, meaning you plant them, pick them, and plant more. Summer features corn and tomatoes, both of which will continue to grow throughout the season. Fall and Winter are without crops, leaving the player to rely on other means for income.
It’s important to note the player can only carry two tools at any given time. It’s even more important to note that every action depletes an invisible stamina bar. Once fully drained, the player passes out and the day ends.
Other buildings include stables, a chicken coop, a woodshed, and a silo. The woodshed gives a total wood count, which will become important later in the game.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, it’s time to dive into my first ever playthrough of Harvest Moon, AKA, the most disastrous “farm” in existence.
My first order of business was to buy a bag of turnip seeds. My empire begins now, I thought. I raced to the toolshed and excitedly grabbed the seeds and my watering can. I made my way to the garden behind the stables.
Astute readers probably noticed a crucial element missing: the hoe. But who needs to plow land when you have this spiffy garden already installed? I tossed the seeds in the general area. I’d have turnips in no time.
I checked that garden every day. To my dismay, nothing sprouted. In subsequent playthroughs, I’d learn that the garden served another purpose. Excuse me for thinking you grow vegetables in a garden.
Crops got me nowhere and I needed steady income.
I spent the majority of my days foraging in the mountains. The Spring, Summer, and Fall each feature unique items to scavenge daily. There is a pond designated for fishing, which is great for additional income. Of course, I caught my fair share of boots and cans.
Tossing these goods in the shipping box yielded me a nice income, but the real money came from selling to the Peddler. Once a week the Peddler comes to town. He pays a bit more than the standard rate, which is a godsend when saving for a house extension.
That’s right, Harvest Moon features house upgrades. Upgrading the house is essential to getting married (I know that game). The Mountain Men will expand your home for the right price and a hefty amount of wood. This is why it is critical to chop wood daily. Thankfully, I accidentally stumbled onto that one. If collecting wood required more work, I’d have been sitting on a couple broken twigs and some sawdust.
I did a quite a bit of socializing with the townsfolk by attending the festivals and speaking to people on a regular basis. I took to Ann right off the bat. I’m not sure why because I don’t have a thing for redheads or tomboys. Maybe it was her Donatello-like personality that attracted me. Wooing women in Harvest Moon is laughably easy. As long as you talk to them every day and surprise them with their favorite gifts, you’ll break them eventually (Just ask my wife).
Everything was coming up Jack (I will never call him Pete). Well, with the exception of my farm. Crops were out of the question, but maybe I could swing animals. That would give me some more spending money, right? I saved and saved until I could afford my first chicken. Chickens ate fodder and store-bought feed. Since I didn’t have fodder, nor did I know how to get it, I purchased some feed.
Finally, I would be a real farmer. It took me way longer to figure out how to feed the chickens than I’d like to admit, but I got there eventually. The beauty of the chicken was that I could use its egg to hatch more chickens.
Feeling pretty good about the chickens, I set out to get a cow. However, there was a caveat: I needed a certain amount of fodder before purchasing a cow.
I knew fodder came from grass, so I grabbed my sickle and started hacking at the weeds. In retrospect, I should have known this wouldn’t work. After some investigation, I found grass seeds in my toolshed (again, not a bright kid).
I grabbed the seeds, and guess what tool I didn’t take. I tossed the seeds on unplowed earth, eagerly awaiting lush grass to overtake the field.
Despite all my misfires, I played through almost half the game in that one sitting. Praise sick days. Something about the game compelled me to keep going. I wanted to get better.
I started a new game almost immediately after finishing my first. This time would be different. I studied up on the basics and learned how to be a master farmer.
The more I played, the more I learned. I began to work efficiently. I’d plant a sizable field of crops for quick income, which in turn allowed me to purchase several cows and chickens. The milk and eggs brought in big money every day. So much so that I never had to forage again.
I lived self-sufficiently. This bought me more time to speak with the villagers and win Ann’s heart (yes, I always married Ann). I got all the house upgrades. I started my family. I had a thriving farm.
I got my sister hooked on the series, teaching her the ways of farming, from crops to livestock. She’s still a bit rough around the edges and relies too much on foraging, but she does all right. Hopefully she doesn’t read this.
I wasn’t being hyperbolic when I said this game changed my life. I learned some real-world skills on my virtual farm. Harvest Moon taught me the virtues of saving money. While other kids were gunning down hordes of soldiers, I was planning my budget and saving virtual money.
My Harvest Moon budgeting skills applied to my less fun real life. I got through my entire Master’s program without taking out a loan. I’d figure out roughly how much each semester was going to cost so I could set aside funds from every paycheck. Once I hit about half the money needed for a semester, I’d take the other half out of my savings account and pay it off on the spot. With proper planning, I could add money to my school funds, my savings account, and still have a bit left over for myself (my relationship). Meanwhile, friends of mine were living paycheck to paycheck because they’d spend, spend, spend.
Perhaps even more important, Harvest Moon showed me the value of hard, efficient work. Sure, I skated by on picking mushrooms and catching fish, but where’s the satisfaction in that? With proper planning, I figured out I could put in a lot of work early, which not only paid off exponentially, but it allowed me more time to relax down the line.
This very blog is proof of that. In the early phases, I suggested we both write some articles while building the website, designing artwork, and tying up loose ends in school. It was a heavy workload, but it allowed us to come out swinging while simultaneously affording us some breathing room down the line.
I could probably write an entire series of articles based off my time with the Harvest Moon franchise. While it’s difficult to find the time to play them these days, it remains an all-time favorite series of mine. I sometimes wonder what my life would be like had I missed that advertisement. Would I have donned those blue overalls and backwards hat?
I’m not sure. Regardless, thank the Harvest Goddess that I found this series. It’s planted seeds in me that continue to grow to this day.
How was your first farm? Tell me all about your triumphs and failures in the comments below!