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July 17, 2018 2 min read
“Personally, I love fighting games, and shooters, and violent games in general.”
That wasn’t exactly what I thought I’d hear from Yasuhiro Wada when I asked him what types of games he enjoys playing. Friday afternoon, just outside of San Francisco’s Financial District, I sat down with him, along with Akibo Shieh, founder and CEO of Aksys Games, to discuss Little Dragons Café. The game, releasing later this summer, is a lifestyle-shop sim where players control one half of a set of twins as they try to keep a café in business while raising a dragon that is the key to waking their mother from a deep slumber. That may sound outlandish, but it's par the course for one of gaming's most resilient creators.
I didn’t appreciate the brilliance of Mr. Wada until I was in my 20s. Growing up, my hands firmly planted in an SNES control from the moment I finished my homework to the moment it was time for bed, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that farming in Harvest Moon could be fun. “Farming was for hicks,” I’d tell myself, not realizing until years later I grew up in a small town full of hicks that’s now full of meth but that has nothing to do with this story. To me, having fun was about saving princesses with Link, gunning down Aliens in Contra, and hitting home runs with HGH-addled baseball players in Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball. Farming? Pfft, farming is dumb.
It wasn’t until 2009 that I really gave the franchise a shot. Wada had long moved on from the series at this point, and the title that convinced me to give it a go had nothing to do with the main series. It was Harvest Moon: Frantic Farming, my favorite puzzle game on the Nintendo DS. The absolute joy that game filed me with convinced me to really give the mainline franchise a go with its next entry, Harvest Moon DS: Grand Bazaar.
Even though Wada wasn’t a part of the development team on this title, it followed the formula he established more than a decade ago; a formula that found a new generation of fans not too long ago with Stardew Valley. Frantic Farming and Grand Bazaar showed me how much fun a more laid-back gaming experience can be, experiences Wada continued to produce with his Toybox Inc. development company.
Sure, Hometown Story was a swing and a miss, but last year’s Birthdays the Beginning -- re-released on Switch this year as Happy Birthdays -- is one of the most unique titles I’ve ever played. Again, like with Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons/Bokujo Monogatari, Birthdays is an engrossing experience that engages people through meaningful activities that promote harmonious ideas; the polar opposite of the types of games Wada himself plays.
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