By Miguel Concepcion
Yasuhiro Wada's 'Hometown Story' feels very much like a homecoming. As the creator of the original 'Harvest Moon', Wada-san was instrumental in spawning a franchise that has over 30 games to date (that's including spin-offs). Of course, his career hasn't been dominated with endearing and highly accessible farming simulations; directorial involvement in Marvelous Entertainment and time at Grasshopper Manufacture further showcased his multi-genre prowess. Yet there is a circular charm in seeing him at Natsume's E3 booth so he could present his new IP, the once titled 'Project Happiness', now officially 'Hometown Story'. It feels like a homecoming even though it's clearly not part of the 'Harvest Moon' universe while there is certainly strains of that franchise's DNA.
The trailer Natsume showed, however brief, did a lot to get my attention: adorable character designs that are notably different from the characters in 'Harvest Moon', creature companions who look more like Pokemon than farm animals, and a soundtrack by famed game composer Nobuo Uematsu. Instead of tending to a farm, you're looking after a village store, and all the while you're interacting with neighbors and contributing to the town's prosperity.
As Wada-san reflects on his humbling beginnings with 'Harvest Moon'--and how he didn't expect it to become a huge franchise--it will be interesting how 'Hometown Story' crafts its own identity (and possible brand) since its creator is older, wiser, and goes into this new IP with a very clear image of his vision. For example, he recalled his feelings of surprise on how marriage became such a popular goal for many 'Harvest Moon' players. With 'Hometown Story', there's a notable shift toward different kinds of human relationships.