A night of fine sushi and 20th anniversary cows!
By Robert Marrujo:: It was a chilly Friday night in Burlingame, California when I walked through the doors of Sakae Sushi & Grill. The Michelin-rated restaurant was warm and welcoming, with a small Christmas tree sitting next to the entrance and a throng of people stuffed inside. Immediately upon stepping in, I was greeted by none other than Hiro Maekawa, the president of Natsume himself. It was the 21st annual Natsume holiday party and it was hopping.
I tucked myself into a corner of the restaurant with Nintendojo contributor Angela Marrujo and her boyfriend Zack Fornaca. We were all caught up in the swirl of activity; people chatting, snagging sushi and roast beef from the counter, drinks of all kinds being poured. I've worked as a video game journalist for about five years now, but it was the first time I've ever found myself in a setting like this and it felt swanky.
Then came the speech. Mr. Maekawa stood atop a short stepping stool to address the crowd. It was fascinating to hear him talk about the inauspicious origins of Harvest Moon, which turned 20 this year. He spoke of being in Japan playing the original game on SNES back in 1997 and knowing that it was something special, something that could do well in America if given the chance. Mr. Maekawa saw America as a nation rich with history in farming and agriculture and believed that it would appeal to us as a result.
It's a testament to his vision that despite the trepidation he was met with in deciding to bring Harvest Moon overseas, he carried on anyway and it indeed became a hit. None of us would have been standing in that restaurant listening to him give his speech if not for the fateful decision he made. Frankly, I don't think Harvest Moon gets enough credit for helping to expand the horizon of the video game industry. To this day, games of its ilk are an anomaly; it's a lot easier to stumble across a gritty shooter than it is a peaceful sim. Bringing Harvest Moon to America showed gamers that there's a lot more variety to be had from this wonderful pastime of ours.
A variety that continues to be as important now as it was then. For me, my first exposure to the series was Harvest Moon 64. I'd never imagined, beyond playing Sim City 2000 as a kid, that video games could be about something that happens right outside our windows. Where The Legend of Zelda is swashbuckling adventure, Harvest Moon was like a trip to my grandma's house; that wasn't common in the video game industry of the late '90s. What's more, it managed to take something as plain as farming and everyday life and turn it into a genuinely engrossing and fun time. I spent hours throughout the summer fine-tuning my farm, raising livestock, fishing, mining, and wooing Karen (she was the best!). Every character was so intriguing, every task such a pleasure to complete. In the years since, Harvest Moon has continued to be a beacon of positive entertainment.
After the speech, the chefs at the restaurant produced an enormous tuna from the back. They quickly began to slice it in front of all of us, an act that seemed equal parts culinary arts and performance piece. It was in incredible sight that culminated in a seemingly endless second course of sushi. As the night wound down, however, I couldn't help but look out at the crowd of people and marvel at what a tightly knit group the folks at Natsume are. It felt not like I was at a corporate holiday party, but instead a gathering of friends and family.
As we polished off our food and made our way out of the restaurant, we said goodnight to Mr. Maekawa and his wife, who were both kind enough to give each of us a 20th anniversary Harvest Moon cow figurine. It was a quaint and kind gesture that really spoke to the nature of Harvest Moon itself, as well as Natsume. With Natsume bringing Harvest Moon: Light of Hope to PlayStation 4 and Switch early next year, as well as continuing to diversify its offerings with titles like River City: Rival Showdown, I felt a surge of happiness knowing that the company will be carrying on for many more years to come.