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Story of Seasons Interview with Yoshifumi Hashimoto

by Becky Hollada, Clay Johnson, and Kimberly Keller - June 23, 2014, 6:22 pm EDT
Discuss in talkback!

We sat down in a joint interview to learn more about what to expect.

At E3 this year, NWR and Gamespot got to sit down together with Yoshifumi Hashimoto, head of development over at Marvelous AQL, to discuss their new game and details about the split from the Harvest Moon name. Mr. Hashimoto has worked for years on both the Bokujō Monogatari (localized as Harvest Moon in the west) and Rune Factory series with Marvelous.

Yoshifumi Hashimoto: As for the title change, we couldn’t use Harvest Moon anymore because that’s another IP for their title. So we tried to come up with a different name, and that’s Story of Seasons. The original Japanese title is Bokujō Monogatari, which is just Farm Life. But the subtitle was Connect to a New World, or Connecting to a New World, and we really concentrated on the “connect” part, because for the first time in the series we have other NPCs who are farmers. Up until now in the series, you were always the only farmer in the whole village, so even though you were working hard and doing a good job, you never had that praise; you didn’t know how good you were at what you were doing. But because you have other farmers this time, they’re sort of like a rival, while at the same time they understand what kind of life farming life is. So you have a rival but a companion too. You have friends that you’re connecting to in that sense. There will be also be Wifi capabilities, so you can actually connect with other users and help out their farmers as well.

Throughout the series, there was always a shipping box that, when you produced something, you would put it in a shipping box and magically get money out of it. But for this game we omitted that system. Instead there’s a trading port that you go to, and there’s actual people demanding stuff--say, “we’re lacking strawberries in our country,” or “we’re lacking something.” And when you actually fulfill them and do a good job, you get a thank you letter from them, like, “Oh, your thing, your whatever that you made has been a big hit over here. Thank you so much.” You get to do the milking and the crops not just for money, but also get to actually see the extension of what happens afterwards and receive praise from it. There is more of a connect to all the other stuff, and playing not just for your own benefit is one of the big features of this game.

The main part of the farming is you tending your crops and you taking care of your animals. But in the old or previous titles, there were always wild animals that you could see, touch and throw if you wanted to, but that was extent of your interaction. In this one there’s a safari area that you can create. You can actually invite those wild animals to that place and give them a paradise of their own, feed them and take care of them. So having this area that you get to see all the wild animals in one place is one of the new features that we added.

For the first time in the series, we have a collaboration with Nintendo. You can actually grow the Super Mushroom and the Super Star and the Fire Flower. For example, the Super Mushroom, in the Nintendo version, the character just got bigger. But that has no benefit in Story of Seasons, so when you actually successfully grow the Super Mushroom in Story of Seasons, all the crops around it will become giant. For the Mushroom, you’ll actually see it just grow bigger in size right in front of your eyes instead of having to take care of it every day. It’ll just grow up to the size you need to ship it out right away. These are little new features I think the users will really enjoy.

That is the gist of all the new features.

Gamespot: Part of taking this and having a new name and a new developer working alongside Harvest Moon, is there anything you weren’t able to do in Harvest Moon that now, because it’s sort of a separate series, you can do?

Hashimoto: That is an excellent question, because I think that’s one of the things that people are really confused about. The thing is, in Japan it’s called Bokujō Monogatari, which is Farm Story. In America, it was Harvest Moon, but Natsume owns that IP. So even though we’re changing the publisher, it’s the same [series in Japan]. For 18 years, it’s been the same development team, so the game itself hasn’t really changed in that sense, but Natsume’s doing their own Harvest Moon now because we sort of have a different way of looking at where Harvest Moon should go. That’s where we departed each other. So in that, Xseed being part of--we’re in the same company. We’re 100 percent subsidiary of Marvelous AQL, so it’s just easier to communicate on a daily basis from moving on. Before, when it was Bokujō, it was Bokujō and that was the end, because the product was done, and it was Natsume who localized it into Harvest Moon. But moving forward, and with this one too even though it’s already sold in Japan, I still working with Xseed to sort of fine tune it for the US audience. Talking about things like is it okay to have the difficulty level the same as the Japanese version, and truly make it a little more difficult? Are they more used to it, or should we make it easier in these kind of parts? Not to change it, not to culturalize it, but to make it so the US audience will experience exactly what the Japanese people are experiencing. That’s one of the things we’re really concentrating on.

Nintendo World Report (NWR): So, obviously, the economics--trading, etc--is a brand new element that wasn’t in previous titles. It’s really pushed very far with trading and how the prices change and ideas like that. I’m wondering how far it goes. We only got a taste of it in the demo. And would it tie in with things like StreetPass with other people who have the title?

Hashimoto: So, for the trading system, we did make it pretty… not difficult, but still complicated in a sense. I think because Japanese people are more maniacal about those little things, they’re fond of trading systems. But that is a thing that we’re in talks with Xseed about; maybe we should simplify it because the audience over here is a little younger than the Japanese audience and they might not be able to understand it. But we’re still in talks, so we’re not sure how it’s going to end up.

One other thing is that it’s not like there will be a lot of different countries that you can trade with from the get-go, so it’s not overwhelming. There’s only one country to start and you can kind of see how it moves. Depending on the season or the weather, prices will change. So you’ll get used to it, and after you get to a certain level or when you do well with your one country, another country will pop up. Then you’ll start doing trading with two countries, three, and four. And as each country develops, they will have their own tastes or feelings, so you’ll get more imports of different clothes, and different animals too. So every time you open up a new country, the feeling of the game will completely change. It’ll be like an overhaul of new stuff you can customize yourself. Customize your farm, your lifestyle.

NWR: So obviously you see this really going in a different direction from the Harvest Moon titles being developed by Natsume. Do you see this becoming a series in and of itself?

Hashimoto: So Story of Seasons is a new title, but we’ll be continuing on with the Bokujō series in Japan. As long as we’re making that and going through Xseed, Story of Seasons will start off a new series. And it goes back to what I mentioned a little bit before, when it was just Japan and I was done with it. Now that we have a US subsidiary, we have more of a relationship to talk about what we can do to internationalize it or to have the same experience in most countries or no matter where you play. I guess the biggest thing would be, there are a lot of farming simulations on social apps and other media, but on consoles there aren’t that many. So to see another one… and as long they’re good, they’ll keep vitalizing the genre, and it won’t disappear. There’s a lot of genres that used to be so popular, but you don’t see anymore just because the demand wasn't there or the publisher didn’t make any money out of it. So to see another title out, I think that will just bring the bar of the quality people can expect higher, which vitalizes the genre. I think it’s good for the industry as a whole that there are more titles I can compete with.

But we have been creating the Bokujō--or Harvest Moon as it used to be--for eighteen years, and I do have pride in what we do. So I do not want to lose to them.

Gamespot: Nintendo was criticized recently for omitting gay relationships from Tomodachi Life. Is there anything of the sort in this Story of Seasons that might take place?

Hashimoto: That’s a tricky question, because no matter how I answer it I get criticized for it. But personally, yeah, as long as you fall in love with someone I think it’s okay. But I think it is a touchy subject and difficult because it is for a mass audience. Just looking at how the world changes, and which one is more accepted, I think things will start changing more and more. But we’ll see how it goes.

NWR: For you, what is your favorite part of the game to work on? What do you think is going to be most looked forward to, or most well-received, here in the American market?

Hashimoto: For the development part, in this title--for the first time in 18 years--you can actually go into the water. And the dev team really hated that because that’s a lot of work for them. But the first time we were able to have the character go in and grab the fish with his bare hand, I really felt like that was a big step in the genre, to actually be able to explore some place that you were never able to go into before. So that was a really happy moment for me.

The second part, what I want the US audience to feel when playing this game; one of the things we’ve been talking about, that I’ve been hearing from a lot of people--or parents--is that you take care of your animals in the game. And if you don’t, they get sick, and in the worst case they pass away. It’s sort of realistic in that sense. It is such a cute child-friendly game, but I think that is one important part: if there’s something that you really love, you really have to take care of it, or else there are consequences--you might not be able to understand--but it’ll be gone. So I don’t want to make this like it’s an educational tool or that I’m teaching something to children or people, but something to say it is like a life within the game. There is a happiness side, and there is a sadness side. So just a little glimpse of what real life could be for those kids.

NWR: Just going off something you said earlier, do you see yourselves doing any more collaborations like you’ve done with Nintendo in this game? And where could that go?

Hashimoto: The series has been going on for 18 years, so the longtime fans are really sensitive to major changes. In the last one [Harvest Moon: A New Beginning], you were able to completely construct the town however you wanted by placing whatever you wanted. We got some praise, and there were some people who didn’t really understand what to do. That was one thing, and the other thing was to have the avatar system. In the very beginning when we announced that, we got a lot of flak or negative comments for it, but once the game was out, it was actually a positive thing that a lot of people actually enjoyed. So it’s a trial and error, I guess. But for this one, it’s the first time we tried this collaboration, and so far the reception has been really good. I think, moving forward, I will try to come up with more stuff that’s feasible. But the collaboration is a success, so we’ll probably see that in the future as well.

Gamespot: Are there any changes to the early game of clearing the land and planting your first crops and that core loop that has been with the series since its inception, and how has that evolved in Story of Seasons?

Hashimoto: Compared to the very first one, it is a lot easier. We tried to take out all the tedious work and make it simpler. We always experiment with other stuff, like there was a time we tried an experiment to put a tractor in there and see what happened. But I think the core essence--one other way I look at it--is there’s a land, and it is your property, but in the end it’s mother nature’s property and you are able to do something. So in doing that, I want them to experience using their hands to move stuff, to feel more like one with the land instead of using machinery and just making it too simple. That’s one of the things I keep in mind creating the game.

NWR: I heard, though I didn’t experience it in the demo, that you can expand to have more properties for the different seasons or activities. Do you buy these and place them where you like or do you have to rent the land, and how expansive is this for you and your property?

Hashimoto: So the main part of having your own land and then expanding that as you pay money is the same, so you can make it bigger and bigger. But there are these village-owned properties this time. Previously when there was a festival, it was just a festival you could attend. But this one, in a festival, you can actually compete against other NPCs for that land, like in a certain time frame seeing how many crops you can make. And if you win that battle, you can actually rent that land. So you can have your own land and extra lands as well. And there’s multiple extra properties. As another festival comes, another NPC might challenge you for that land again, and if you lose, you’ll lose that rented land.

NWR: I’ve noticed in this title you’re going away from more of an overarching story structure, such as, “you have to do this, you have to save these harvest sprites in order to save the harvest goddess,” those kinds of things, instead making it more of a general world where your goal is to be successful and connect with as many people as you possibly can. Which design do you favor more, to have something that’s a little bit more structured or something that’s maybe a little less?

Hashimoto: I’m Apple 2 generation, so I just love any kind of freedom. But sometimes when I create something that’s just free--”You can do whatever you want, here’s all the tools”--and have our young employees play it, they are just lost, and they don’t know what to do. There’s just so many options. So for this one, we do have sort of a story every once in a while, to push people to see, “Oh, there’s this kinda thing you can do.” And then that becomes sort of a tutorial, and at the end you’ll be able to roam around. There are also still stories that come in from season to season, but mainly it’s like a good balance of those two. [A game where] the majority [of the time] you’re free to do whatever you like in your life is what I prefer to make.

Gamespot: Having worked on the series so long, is there anything you’ve noticed about your world view or the things you value that you have changed about the series or you feel are more important to reflect in the next games in the series you make?

Hashimoto: I don’t think I will just dramatically change anything because I see something. Because it has been going on for a long time, there’s a long-time core fan base that, like I said, are really sensitive to any changes. So if it feels natural enough, of course I will start implementing those. But if I want to make it in a different way--Rune Factory is a really good example. There was farming but I wanted to have more of a fantasy effect to it and we didn’t want to put that into Harvest Moon, so that’s why we created Rune Factory. If I wanted to make more of a realistic farm simulation, then it will probably branch out to another title.

NWR: There are probably a lot of differences between what is received well in Japan versus America. Going forward with games, when you’re developing and looking ahead, do you consider how they’re going to be received on a global level or is it more so your personal taste? How do you approach that?

Hashimoto: We always do a little bit of research, of course, and try to see what we can implement in the next one. But one time we did really heavy research on what users were asking for and that was Wind Bazaar [ “Grand Bazaar” for the English release]. That one was something users were asking for so we decided to base it off that, but that one was really hard to create because it wasn’t something that I had thought about. I couldn’t really pour my soul in because I had to guess what the people were asking for and not what I wanted to create. And the sales were okay, but I didn't feel comfortable or happy creating that as much as the other titles. So I decided not to go that route and always rely on what I want to create and what I want to show to users. In that sense, I do think about what people are thinking, but not in like a Japanese or US or global standard, but just as users. What will they think and how happy will they be playing my titles?

I guess I’m not one of those people that someone can suggest something to and I follow it. I just feel more comfortable creating something that I can put my heart into.

NWR: What is your favorite aspect of the whole series you’ve worked on to this point? There are common elements that go from game to game. We’ve talked about what you like best in this game, but what’s your favorite part when developing a new Bokujo game?

Hashimoto: More than development... Well, first, I hate it when--not hate it, but it makes me sad when people say they like the previous title better. But [my favorite thing is] just thinking about what the core user is, or the child and the parents that like playing with them sometimes, and all the fan letters and packages that we get. One time I remember I got a letter from America saying this young man wanted to be a farmer because of playing Harvest Moon. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough money so he just kept playing the game, but he said, “At least I get to experience what the farmer life would be.” So whenever I get those kinds of letters that say they’re appreciative, it really makes me happy. It’s sort of like motivation to keep creating the games.

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