While Harvest Moon is one of the happiest and most light-hearted series you can play, it introduced me to my greatest fear.
As a child, I had heard of death. I wore a bracelet with my name on it that a family friend had gotten made before he died in a car crash prior to my birth. My mom would tell me stories of her sister who was killed during the Nicaraguan Revolution. But someone I personally knew hadn’t died. So after six in-game years in Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life, the understanding that came with the death of my virtual extension devastated me.
While other Harvest Moon games have endless days of farming, chatting with townsfolk and building a family, this is the only installment in which your character dies at the end. Once you finish A Wonderful Life or Another Wonderful Life, the meaning of the title becomes clear: live a wonderful life because the day will come when it’s gone.
It can and likely will come sooner than you think. One night, your spouse reminisces on how much time has passed, teasing you about your wrinkles. They end the conversation by saying you both still have work to do. A few mornings later, you die. Your spouse and child are distraught, and the townsfolk you befriended over the years gather at the town’s bar to mourn you.
And life continues. The farm you poured energy, money and love into is still successful. Your partner lives on. Your child finds a path in life and pursues it. Takakura—the farm’s co-founder, your guide and your deceased father’s close friend—keeps working. Your dog or cat still roams the house. The animals you helped bring into the world will grow until they one day die, too. Forget-Me-Not Valley continues, not quite forgetting you but moving forward without needing you in it.
Looking back, it’s brave of this game to make the player come to terms with their mortality, especially since it’s for children. Interestingly, the ending explores the three essential aspects to a child’s understanding of death: irreversibility, non-functionality and universality.
The first two are easy to grasp. Irreversibility is knowing there’s no coming back from death. Once you reach the game’s ending, you have to create an entirely new save if you want to keep playing. Non-functionality is understanding that a dead person cannot function like a living one. During the ending, your agency is removed—you can only watch as Takakura speaks to your deceased father’s memory, hoping you’ll all reunite to start a farm in the afterlife.
And then there’s universality—coming to terms with the fact that death comes for everyone. A Wonderful Life begins with you moving to Forget-Me-Not Valley after your father’s passing and ends with your own death. While some elderly townsfolk puzzlingly don’t die before you do, Nina—an old woman you come to know for her kindness—dies after your first year. Throughout the game, some of your animals die—from not being outside enough, from not being fed properly, from illness, from old age.
That last aspect has always been difficult for me. It’s terrifying to know I’ll leave this world one day and that life will simply go on. I hate knowing I’m the tiniest brush stroke in the grand painting of the universe. I’m one of the hundreds of waves that crash against the shores of the beach of Forget-Me-Not Valley every day, present for the shortest breath before I’m pulled back into the ocean. I’m the grass growing behind the farm barn, valuable for a few moments before I am sickled to make way for new life. I’m one of the seeds I bought from Vesta, the other farmer in the valley, flourishing over the course of a fleeting season before it’s my time to get uprooted from this earth. I hate that my loved ones share this fate just as much, if not more, and I hate that I, like Forget-Me-Not Valley, must continue without them.
It’s always been comforting to play games and pretend death is avoidable—to see it as an impermanent and inconvenient state from which I can easily return. In taking that away from me, A Wonderful Life taught me a crucial part of life that we all eventually learn about. I don’t know if I’m thankful for it. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop needing to do exercises to push away panic attacks when I think about death for more than a few moments. What I do know is that, with the recent announcement of Story of Seasons: Reunion in Mineral Town, I’m happy to stick to my coping mechanisms and experience an endlessly wonderful life, at least for a little while.
Natalie Flores is a freelance writer who loves to talk about games, K-pop and too many other things at @heartimecia.