I still vividly remember the day I discovered Harvest Moon. While flipping through the latest issue of Nintendo Power, I came across a game that was unlike anything else I’d ever seen. In retrospect, I’m not sure why Harvest Moon captured my imagination so completely. I’d never had any great love for farming or a burning desire to raise livestock. But somehow, I knew I had to play it, and a lifelong addiction was born.
I had a surprising amount of fun growing crops, but where Harvest Moon really got me hooked was its dating sim aspects. Back then, I hadn’t played anything like it, and I obsessed over finding the perfect gift for each girl. During my first playthrough, it took me ages to get married, but by the second time around, I had it down to a science. Within months, I’d successfully wooed the lady of my choice, and it was incredibly satisfying.
But after Harvest Moon, I didn’t know where to go to get my dating sim fix. Every once in a while, a game like Final Fantasy VII would give me a taste of the dating sim experience, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy my craving. If I’d been aware of games like Azure Dreams, I would have purchased them in a heartbeat, but as it was, it felt like there was nothing else out there. Occasionally, I’d read something about a game published in Japan and sigh wistfully.
Aside from the occasional Harvest Moon release, my dating sim desires went mostly unsatisfied. All that changed when I saw an ad for a game called Ever 17: The Out of Infinity. The art made me think of every Japanese game I’d dreamed of playing, but the ad made it clear that the game was headed my way. I went to the listed website, discovered the demo, and stared in awe. I couldn’t believe that a game like this one was finally within my grasp. I pre-ordered it immediately and anxiously awaited its arrival.
Once I had Ever 17 in my grasp, I played it nonstop. There weren’t gifts to give its heroines, but it didn’t matter, because in its place were choices. I unlocked ending after ending, crying my eyes out, and when it was all finished, I knew I needed more.
I tracked down every English visual novel and dating sim I could. I imported games and downloaded translation patches, and played through some pretty mediocre stuff to get another dose of dating sim goodness. I discovered otome games and learned I could woo men as well as ladies. A door had been unlocked, and there was no shutting it now.
To this day, dating sims and visual novels are a huge part of my life. As I type this, I’m attempting to unlock a new ending in Winter Wolves’ Nicole. As weird as it may sound, I don’t think I would have ever fallen in love with the genre if it hadn’t been for Harvest Moon. Sometimes it takes a farming sim to teach you that you really like pretend relationships.