Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Today, Kate's not impressed by what she's seen of Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life so far...
My very first Harvest Moon game was A Wonderful Life on the GameCube, which is lucky, because it's one of the best. I'm not just saying that because I'm basically a nerd donut filled with delicious nostalgia jam, but because it was a really weird game. It had characters that died. It had a full lifecycle in which you could live 30 years and then pass your farm onto your kid. There's a talking plant, and a yeti, and a mysterious homeless man who sometimes steals from your farm unless you train your dog to chase him away.
It's not the only weird game in the series' history. Harvest Moon DS was full of strange stuff, like the mermaid that lived in a mad scientist's basement, or the fact that you have to murder your own animals to marry the Witch Princess. Friends of Mineral Town lets you marry a pond monster. Even as recently as Trio of Towns, there was the option to marry Woofio, a large dog mascot, and you're informed at one point that there's no one actually inside the costume, and he's in fact a human being that was cursed by a forest spirit.
In later games, that trademark weirdness has slowly been draining away. Pioneers of Olive Town, the latest game, is full of rather boring normal people, and although you can dress up as a cat or a buffalo every single day if you want, that's about as funky as things get.
Unfortunately, it seems like Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life might be heading in the same direction, i.e. boarding the train to Normie Town. We haven't seen much of the game yet, it's true, but we've been treated to a lot of the character redesigns, and... well, they speak for themselves, really:
To address a potential elephant in the room: Cody (now named Gordy) was desperately in need of a redesign, as his original design was a pretty racially insensitive one. But they've steered in entirely the opposite direction, turning him from a muscular, punky-looking guy into someone who looks like he'd sulk if you beat him at a football game.
And Gustafa? He used to be this bizarre, pointy hippy with sunglasses that were unnervingly opaque. Now he looks like an oat milk latte version of John Lennon with no fashion sense. At least the glasses are still unnerving, just in a cult leader way rather than a "guy who grows his own mushrooms, if you know what I mean" way.
Don't get me wrong, these character designs aren't bad by themselves. But compared to the originals, they seem so sanitised, and samey. The characters don't have the cartoonish, memorable natures that they did in the GameCube original, and although they're now much more realistic, they're also a bit more inoffensively boring.
But I think my heart breaks most for Nami. In the original game, she's a quiet, standoffish tomboy who leaves the town at the end of the first year unless you marry her. She's hard to win over, because she's independent and distant, and because she keeps to herself; but that's part of the reason I love her so much. The other bachelorettes, Celia and Muffy (now named Cecilia and Molly), are both friendly and warm to you from early on, but Nami is her own person, and unlike the other two girls, she's not particularly femme in her presentation, preferring to wear Converse and flannel.
She's still kept pretty gender-ambiguous in the remake, which I appreciate, but now she has makeup on. It seems silly to be sad, and it seems like it's not a big deal. Of course androgynous and masc-presenting people can wear makeup; I do all the time! But that thin line of baby-pink lip gloss is bigger than it seems.
Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons have always been slow when it comes to progressive additions to their games, dragging their feet all the way into conceding that maybe you can play as a girl and maybe you can marry someone of the same gender. Back in the early 2000s, Nami — an androgynous character who doesn't particularly care about the player, who goes by her own schedule, and is reluctant to open up to anyone — felt special, especially amongst the more typical bachelorettes.
It's probably not hugely surprising to hear that a lot of people who enjoy farming games and life sims are queer women like me, and though I highly doubt Nami (or Celia, or Muffy) were ever designed for that demographic, they nevertheless have their fans in the queer community, and Nami — even accidentally — is a queer-coded character. LGBTQ+ gamers have always found ways to find their own stories in games, even as they are forced to play as straight men over and over again, and marrying Nami was one of those.
Listen, for the record, I went for Celia, because I was a child and she was the easiest to woo, but Nami felt like representation of how a woman could be — representation that I didn't see much elsewhere.
Perhaps Nami's boyishness was part of why A Wonderful Life was so weird. Back then, it felt like Harvest Moon wasn't afraid to be a little different, because it was in a category all of its own. It wasn't competing with anything, or vying for new players with some shiny new feature. It wasn't afraid to have characters that perhaps weren't typical. For players like me, weird was what we were, and weird was what we wanted.
But when one door closes, another opens. For the first time in Harvest Moon history, players will be able to select "non-binary" as their protagonist's gender, as confirmed by XSEED themselves. And you can marry whomever you want, meaning that same-gender marriage is possible once more. So, I can forgive them giving Nami lipgloss, and I can even forgive them for making Gustafa into a tedious hipster, because player representation is the kind of progress that truly matters.
Also, if I'm totally honest... Nami's still hot.
Do you agree with us that the character redesigns in A Wonderful Life are a bit boring? Are you still going to marry Nami? Tell us in the comments!