As ridiculous as such labels are, I tend to consider myself a hardcore gamer. I've been playing since I was maybe six or seven years old, owned 38 different consoles and about 1000 games before I moved to North Carolina (stupid space restrictions!), and, most importantly, consider videogames to be an important part of my life. I recently discovered, however, that I am not hardcore enough for Harvest Moon.
I have a strange relationship with the Harvest Moon series. Despite the fact that the games don't actually change all that much from installment to installment, I have nearly a dozen of them for the PlayStation, N64, GameBoy Advance, GameCube, and the DS. I've played them all, but never actually gotten very far in any of them. Oh, I get a cute little farm, expand my house a bit, and raise some very happy chickens, cows, and sheep, but before long my attention wanders and I'm back to shooting things in the head. I never feel like I've done right by Harvest Moon, so I brought the latest installment, Sunshine Islands with me on a recent vacation, determined to spend my week away from civilization devoted to my tiny virtual farm.
In case you're not familiar with Natsume's long-running franchise, the object of each installment is pretty much the same: revitalize your farm or ranch while making friends in the community and eventually settling down and raising a family. Time passes at a steady clip, so you have to balance work life - tending crops, raising livestock, and whatnot - with social life, making sure to have enough time leftover to sleep and eat. It sounds tedious, but it's remarkably addictive, and the animals are almost painfully adorable. It also has surprising depth. Among other things, you can train your animals for competitions, collect recipes, craft jewelry, dig in the mine, attend festivals, and persuade Harvest Sprites to help you in your labors. There's a lot more going on than just watering strawberries, is what I'm saying.
I started Sunshine Islands the way you start pretty much every Harvest Moon game, with nothing but a patch of land and a cheerful disposition. Eventually I got the tools necessary to whip my farm back into shape, and after a day of playing, I had some money in my pocket, a bit of livestock, and some friends in town. I thought I'd made some decent progress. I was clueless.