In the first localization blog for Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, XSEED Games has announced that the western version of the game will let you have a same-sex marriage. This will be the first time in the history of Story of Seasons, also formerly known as Harvest Moon in North America, that the player will be allowed to be queer.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is a remake of the 2003 titles Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town and Harvest Moon: More Friends Of Mineral Town. The original games and the Japanese version of the remake maintain the heteronormative system of being able to technically marry only men as a woman, and only women if you’re playing as a man.
Producer Yoshifumi Hashimoto had told Polygon in 2016 that the team knew same-sex relationships had to be included in the series sometime in the future, though there were development complications the team had to overcome. Hashimoto had said that this was less a response to the much more LGBT-inclusive and modern Stardew Valley, which is heavily inspired by Harvest Moon, and more a part of building plans for the series.
This would later seemingly come in the form of the “Best Friends” system in the Japanese version of Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town. This system allows you to form a lifelong partnership with a character of the same sex. It’s practically everything that marriage is — the ceremony is even basically a marriage ceremony — except in name. This obviously read as… a little funny, at best, to queer players because it was very, “oh my god, they were roommates.”
But the western localization of the game is doing away with any pretenses.
“In our version, this will just be called “marriage,” and the relationship between same-sex couples will be given identical treatment to opposite-sex couples,” says John Wheeler from XSEED Games. “This has been a very long time coming in the STORY OF SEASONS series, and the producer has been supportive of our decision from very early in development. One minor but important change for the North American and European releases of Friends of Mineral Town is that the “heart icon” indicating a marriage candidate’s romantic affinity for the player will display for all marriage candidates from the start of the game, where in the Japanese release it will only display for same-sex candidates after you confess and start dating.”
Wheeler ends the blog on the note that he hopes, “you’ll join me as we bridge the gap between the past and present for a new and yet wonderfully familiar experience.”
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Such a move displays the power and influence of localization teams. One similar and recent high-profile localization move was the editing of an extremely controversial homophobic scene in Persona 5 for the Persona 5 Royal release. When speaking to Michael Higham from GameSpot, Persona 5 Royal senior project manager Yu Namba explained the difficult but worthwhile process of pushing for such a change. “As a localization manager, I really cannot do too much about what has already made it into the game … [but] with Royal, we were determined to see if we could do something about it at least localization-wise.”
“On our end, it took a lot of effort consulting not just the production department, but talking with our marketing, and how they would feel about it if we changed how things were in Persona 5 to this new way–what would the public reception be, what the company would think, whether it would be okay if we do make the change,” said Namba.
However, as our own Kenneth Shepard notes in a Gayming Magazine article, the localization changes were admirable but couldn’t make Persona 5 truly inclusive at heart. The original material, in reference to both Persona 5 and the Japanese version of Persona 5 Royal, remains the same. “Persona 5 Royal’s western localization might no longer actively push gay men out of its narrative, but there’s nothing it can do to bring them in,” Shepard writes.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is a step above this, for it’s not just applying the proper label to the “Best Friends” system but also implementing the system of romancing same-sex characters from the very beginning of the game. And while the Japanese version still has the system, the ability to essentially marry someone of the same sex is still there, serving as an attempt at a more inclusive future for what has long been a conservative series.
Reading the blog post, and even writing this news article, might’ve made me cry a little. Harvest Moon was a formative series during my childhood; it was undoubtedly the series I spent the most time playing. Before I developed any concept of queerness, much less realizing how it applied to me, I explored my own through Harvest Moon‘s heteronormative rules. I always got both the “boy” and “girl” versions of each game and had an equally wonderful time courting the men and women. Sometimes, I even preferred the games in which I was a boy. I found the women prettier than the men and would experience the same feelings of giddiness I did when I played as my gender. I remember making Keira from Harvest Moon: DS my desktop wallpaper and going through the massive trouble of descending to the 255th floor of the mines just to give her gifts. (I will do this for no one now, regardless of gender or level of attraction.)
I eventually grew out of the series, and I could never exactly tell why. Maybe, on a subconscious level, I realized what the series couldn’t afford to give me as I inched closer to the day in which I would realize my queerness. It’s been quite some time since I played a Harvest Moon (now Story of Seasons) game — and now, all these years later, I’ll return and have the freedom to be myself. And that has me excited for the series in a way I have not been in very long.
The western version of Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is currently slated for a European release on July 10 and a North American release on July 28 for the Nintendo Switch.