Rune Factory, producer Yashimoto Hirofumi states, was originally created as a celebration of the tenth anniversary of Harvest Moon.
His initial concept, he reveals to Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata, was to use a more western-based idea—placing the concepts of Harvest Moon in an open fantasy world. The original inspiration came from his experiences with Dragon Quest, in which his favorite moment was wandering around the world after having beat the final boss and talking with all the NPCs (who would constantly sing praises of the hero). He felt that this openness and exploration is the best part of an RPG, and so he strived to include it in Rune Factory as well.
Because of this, Rune Factory doesn’t just concentrate on the adventure aspect or the farming aspect. Sure there’s an evil villain and dungeons to explore, but you don’t technically have to go after them. You could just enjoy farm life if you want. Or you could pursue your favorite girl (or boy) in a romantic relationship.
Hashimoto focused just as much effort into the communication with other town inhabitants as he did with the farming and other events. He didn’t want any nameless NPC girl standing behind the store counter, saying the same line all the time, so instead he introduced a character, complete with name, who would react to recent events and change her lines accordingly.
As he described to his staff, “I want to create a small but rich microcosm in the DS, where every single person’s lives shine like jewels in a treasure box.” To Iwata, he compares both series to living in the Hobbit village in The Lord of the Rings.
One way this is achieved, he says, is through the movement of time, seasons, and weather over the course of the game. These influence character actions, so you would not only find yourself planning your “life” differently, but you would want to see how other characters are spending their time in different situations. To create characters players would love, Hashimoto almost always had a hand in design. According to him, he loved designing—it was part of why he wanted to create movies at first.
This is especially prominent in Rune Factory 4, where the main theme is “passionate love, sweet marriage”. There are more dating events, the events are more dramatic, and you can go on adventures with your child and wife. The story still exists, but in the end you could ignore the evil king and just farm, or you could defeat the evil king and go back to farming. (Here, Iwata laughs. “So you have to return to farming in the end?!”)
This may have worked so well that Hashimoto has received letters from fans saying, “I was supposed to make lunch for my husband, but instead I made it for XYZ [in the game] today!”
Letters like these, he says, move him more than anything could. Seeing and hearing the voices of the players—whether it’s in letters (“My toddler smiled when (s)he touched the game!”) or in ASCII graffiti—is one of the main reasons he loves creating games. It’s this love of watching his joy become other’s joy and his plain old passion in the interest that gives him the energy and motivation to create both Rune Factory and Harvest Moon series at the same time.
(A bit too much energy, perhaps, as he states that he would love to work weekends, too, but if he stayed at the company for too long, then he’d get chased out.)
Also, the audience of Harvest Moon and Rune Factory differ, increasing the range of people playing his games. Harvest Moon attracts primarily elementary school children and 20+ year-old mothers, while Rune Factory usually attracts high school students and males in their mid-20s. Because of this, there’ve also been people who’ve gone from Harvest Moon to Rune Factory and then back to Harvest Moon.