Your grandfather has died and you decide to take over his old farm. You have a little over two years to get the farm back to what it once was. During that time you can get married, have children, or pretty much do whatever you please. After your time is up, your father will appear and review your progress.
Harvest Moon was one of the last games released for the SNES so it didn't get much recognition at the time. It was successful enough to have an Even Better Sequel on the Nintendo 64, which spawned an entire franchise, along with some Game Boy side-games at the time. In 2008 it was added onto the Wii's Virtual Console and is also on the Wii U's Virtual Console.
In Japan, there was a Satellaview version of the game called Bokujo Monogatari (BS) released in 1996.
The first portable game in the series, Harvest Moon GB, is actually something of a demake of this game. It has the same basic plot, but removes a number of features from the SNES game: the marriage system is completely gone, the only area you can fully explore is your farm, the mountain area is gone, the village is just a glorified set of menu screens, and there's no "real" ending like the SNES version, meaning you can keep farming forever. The only addition is that HMGB was the first game in the series to allow the player to chose between playing as either a male or female. The GameBoy version got 2 sequels, Harvest Moon 2 and Harvest Moon 3.
Harvest Moon provides examples of:
- Anachronism Stew: This game seems to take place in the early 20th century judging from the fashion and technology, and from the fact that the sequel game seems to take place in a much more modern time, but you have a (rather large) color TV in your house.
- And Your Reward Is Parenthood: A Trope Codifier for the trope, especially within the Farm Life Sim. Having a child is one of the more difficult tasks in the game, as it requires getting married very early on—but doing so helps you get the best ending.
- "Blind Idiot" Translation: It fares well, but sometimes there are lines that range from typos to weird dialogue that makes you want to facepalm. Although it's not that bad considering the translation team for it was just two Japanese men with English as a second language. Particular examples are:
- When Ellen comes with a dog, she will tell you: "Its name is... you do it."
- "Confirm the origin of fire" sounds sarcastic, but it is not supposed to be a joke. A basic translation of the Japanese text equates it to you checking to see if the stove is turned off.
- Bungling Inventor: Ann. During the day, you can find her working on a device, but other days she just sits with the finished invention beside her. If you talk to her, she will ask you to press the button on it. Saying yes will result in you pressing the button and the machine exploding in your face. Ann will apologize for it and revert to working on it. (You get a relationship boost with her for trying it, though.)
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: The religion is a lot more Christianity-esque than future titles. There is a Catholic-looking church in town with a cross in it, but it worships the local Harvest Goddess (though other gods are mentioned).
- Disc-One Nuke:
- The game has the game clock stop at 6 PM, meaning you can clear the entire farm (which is unbelievably big compared to later versions) and fill your lumber shed on the first day, by using the hot springs bath every time you're about to faint. You can't sell anything at night, but you can safely ignore all your other chores until then. Also, if you want to romance Eve, you can talk to her in the bar at night an infinite number of times, maxing out your hearts in one night.
- Due to a time-freezing bug, you can actually clear most of your land at 6 AM on your first day, immediately after you get the dog. However, since time resumes as soon as you enter a building or leave the area, this doesn't really give you any additional benefit beyond what you could get by waiting for 6PM.
- With a bit more planning, you can also exploit the 6PM time stop to romance Nina; she spends Sundays on the mountain, where there's an infinite supply of fish so long as you don't return the fishing rod to its owner.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- This game feels quite different from future titles. For one, you can't ship past 6 PM and you can't ship "perishables" (like cakes and flowers). You also don't have a clock by default — instead you need to earn it — and the nights never end; you must go to bed for the next day to occur. The game has endings, twenty in fact.
- The religion also seems much more Christian-like than in future titles (the priest even wears a crucifix and the church has a huge cross), though it's still obviously pagan. There's mention of gods besides the Harvest Goddess, which weren't properly implemented until at least ten years later when the Harvest King became a character. The Harvest Goddess only pops up once and is referred to as the "God of the Land" for the most part.
- The way relationships works differs. You can only really befriend the love interests and there are no heart events (though each girl has one special event once you get her affection to a certain degree). Also, their dialogue doesn't usually change as their heart levels increase, except for a limited window (between 150 and 200 affection points), above which their dialogue returns to normal; their locations and dialogue do change depending on the seasons, however.
- Most games are set in a Retro Universe; however, this game is implied to genuinely be set in an older time period. It looks more like it's deliberately in the early 1900s, with a touch of Anachronism Stew such as the characters owning color televisions (rather than being modern-day with a deliberately old-timey look).
- The amount of available crops that can be planted are very limited: turnips and potatoes in the spring, then tomatoes and corn in the summer.
- Produce animals couldn't be bought until there was a certain number of grass squares planted on the farm.
- Frothy Mugs of Water: Future incarnations avoid this, but in the original title you don't drink wine, you drink "juice". Eve works at a bar that sells "juice" which you can get drunk on. Ellen's father is the town drunk and he loves "juice". Nina is obviously drunk at more than one festival, even talking about seeing butterflies, but she's only drunk the "juice".
- Heroes Want Redheads: If you marry Ann.
- Honest Axe: The basic gist in regards to how you get the upgraded/golden axe. A small pond in the mountain is blocked off until an earthquake in your first winter clears it. Just toss your axe in the pond and be truthful when the Harvest Goddess asks you about the golden one.
- Lady Looks Like a Dude: It would be hard to know Ellen was a girl by just looking at her, probably due to the sprite-work. Future games make her look more feminine.
- Magic Realism: It seems like a realistic enough game about a rural town but then you have certain things like the Harvest Goddess and Harvest Sprites.
- More Friends, More Benefits: No matter who (if anyone) you marry, your end-of-game score is influenced by your relationship with all five bachelorettes. There's also a "Ladies' Man" ending sequence that you get for having a high relationship with all five girls, but not marrying any of them.
- Palette Swap: Whichever girl you marry will always wear the same attire after marriage: a blue dress with a braid. The only difference between them is the hair color. Which makes it seem like Ellen's hair suddenly grew that length immediately after you and her get married.
- Parental Bonus:
- When you go to bed with most wives their affection goes up. To drive the point, Eve has abandonment issues and her affection goes down each night.
- Ann is implied to be naked in her Star Night scenes at the hot springs, though you only see her from the shoulders up. In three out of four of them, she also doesn't seem to mind Pete hopping in to join her, though she'll sometimes get annoyed at him being Distracted by the Sexy.
- Pink Is Feminine: Nina sports a pink dress and has pink hair.
- Romance Sidequest: You can date and marry any of one the five bachelorettes in town... or date all of them and marry none, and get a special ending for it.
- Romancing the Widow: Not you but Ann's father has a romance with Nina's mother, and if you marry Ann they get married. It goes both ways since they're a widower and a widow.
- A Saint Named Mary: The deeply devout Maria spends most of her time at the local church, albeit a church that worships pagan gods. Most of her dialogue is also religious.
- Shout-Out: An optional sidequest involves planting magic beans that grow into a beanstalk, leading you to a golden chicken.
- Stripperiffic: Eve dresses in more red, lighter clothes than the other bachelorettes and works at a bar.
- Tomboy: Ann is the only bachelorette to wear pants, has a Tomboyish Ponytail, and is always tinkering in her dad's shop.
- Tomboy with a Girly Streak: Ellen. Dresses like a boy but has the most girly behavior of all the bachelorettes.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: What is traditional for the games; for example, you can leave animals out in a storm at night and they will look freaked out the next day. (Or, in the case of chickens, they'll just leave behind a few feathers.)
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair:
- Maria, one of the available bachelorettes, has dark blue hair.
- Nina and her mother both have bubblegum pink hair.
- You No Take Candle: Nina speaks in this manner, for some reason. Partially because the translation team didn't exactly know how to translate her cutesy personality from Japanese to English very well.