If you’re a Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons fan, then you already know that there will be a new installment from Marvelous Entertainment called (roughly translated), “Story of Seasons: Cherished friends of the three villages.” But this version is special: it comes with Hamtaro! To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Hamtaro, Story of Seasons/Harvest Moon will feature Hamtaro as a pet. But why Hamtaro? Even more importantly, will it release in the west?
First let’s understand the phenomenon that is Tottoke Hamtaro (or Hamtaro in the English version). The fans of the English dub can recall the first airing of Hamtaro in 2002. It was a bunch of cute (almost teddy-bear like), little hamsters having big adventures. It followed Hamtaro as he escaped the surveillance of his owner, Laura Haruna (Hiroko Haruna in Japanese), and joined other hamsters on escapades all before she gets home. In Japan, the popular manga-turned-anime resulted in about 200 episodes, 4 movies, 4 OVAs and a line of toy merchandise. Comparatively, North America only showed about 100 episodes and the 4 OVAs (the toy line’s success might not be worth mentioning). With Hamtaro as the mascot for safe and peace-loving adventure, it’s no wonder Hamtaro was popular in Japan.
How does Hamtaro fit into the gaming world? Hamtaro was featured in several games in the past; one of which Marvellous Entertainment and Natsume Inc. had direct involvement. The Harvest Moon, developed by Natsume Inc., series shares a common theme with Hamtaro: living life in an eventful and peaceful manner. So it’s really no surprise that Hamtaro can have a cameo appearance in a game like Harvest Moon.
The biggest question remains unanswered: will this game be released outside of Japan. There’s no definite answer, but we can look at Nintendo’s other IPs to give us a good estimate; here we’ll look at the series that faces difficulty releasing outside of Japan. The first is Xenoblade Chronicles. This game’s original production run was originally for Japan only (along with The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower). It wasn’t until the Operation Rainfall garnered enough momentum (through a petition and maybe media attention) that Nintendo finally invested some thought into releasing it in the West and hence proceeded with the idea. Alternatively, the Phoenix Wright series, while successful in the west, is actually missing one installment outside of Japan. A Gyakuten Saiban featuring Phoenix Wright’s ancestor was released in Japan on July 9, 2015: Great Turnabout Trial: The Adventure of Ryūnosuke Naruhodō. Throughout the entire history of gaming, localization and reception has been a strong factor in deciding whether a game should leave Japan. Things typically with large cultural content usually are not localized (maybe due to costs of recasting, a large knowledge barrier, beliefs of the marketing division, etc.). For most of the Phoenix Wright series, it was localized and well received even up to the latest English release of Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies. But this version does contain some relatively deeply-cultured characters, which may provide a larger challenge to the localization process. And to this date, there’s still no news of that being released in the West.
If we look at the sales trend of the Harvest Moon series as of recent years, the sales numbers are growing (reaching about 100 000 copies sold for the latest installment). So the fate of The new Harvest Moon should reach localization, right? But if we look at Hamtaro games, the last Hamtaro game was released in 2008. The most successful way for this to be marketable in the West is to present it as a Harvest Moon game and have Hamtaro as a special surprise rather than flat out say on the box, “comes with Hamtaro!” But even then, is that enough to release it into the Western market?