By Quentin H. / February 6th, 2021
Natsume has been localizing, developing, and publishing games in North America since the 1980’s. Some of their best-known franchises are Harvest Moon and Reel Fishing. In recent months, Natsume has teamed up with Limited Run Games to both re-release classic games from their back catalog on their original consoles and to handle the distribution of their collector’s edition for their latest marquee title, Harvest Moon: One World.
I caught up with Graham Markay, Vice-President of Operations at Natsume, Inc., to talk about how this partnership with Limited Run Games began, about the various titles that Natsume and Limited Run Games are releasing together, the latest on the Natsume Indie Program, and more.
This interview has been edited for clarity and content.
Operation Rainfall: Hello, my name is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, and you are?
Graham Markay: Graham Markay, with Natsume, Inc.
OR: Before we dive into talking about the games themselves, I have to ask: where did the idea to partner up with Limited Run Games to release both classic and new Natsume games come from? What is the story behind how this partnership came about?
GM: The funny thing is, everybody at Natsume knew of Limited Run Games years and years ago. But it wasn’t until, if memory serves correctly, two or three years ago at PAX Prime that myself and Natsume’s Producer Taka [Maekawa] were attending that event and another, smaller, evening event. And we actually ran into the guys at Limited Run Games. We knew of the company, knew what they did, but during this sort of event- we were actually able to sit down with them and get to know them personally. We found out that they are a great bunch of guys, I mean they have a huge passion for games. Especially classic ones. And also music- it just seemed like we were just talking for hours. And that’s just kind of how we got to put a face to the name of the company, and right then, we were thinking ‘We’ve got to partner on something, we’ve got to do something that makes sense.’
“Well, something we’ve always done- that we’ve always tried to do for the Harvest Moon fanbase- was to give them something unique and special.
So we wanted to make sure that we came up with something really unique and exciting for the fanbase. And that’s where the musical diorama came into fruition.”
OR: How do you decide on what games to publish in your partnership with Limited Run Games?
GM: After that event, we stayed in touch- and we’ve always tossed back and forth ideas. But mainly, it was a collaboration between Limited Run Games and Natsume on what games would best excite their fanbase, their following. And that’s where we came up with that. After a little bit of back and forth, we came up with a nice group of games that we felt that Limited Run Games’ fanbase would truly enjoy.
OR: We’re going to jump a little bit forward and then work our way backwards on the game catalog. A couple of weeks ago, Limited Run Games announced as a limited time open-preorder the NES-classic S.C.A.T.: Special Cybernetic Attack Team. Could you tell us a little bit about this game?
GM: Sure, by all means. S.C.A.T.: Special Cybernetic Attack Team is one of those kind of classic retro multiplayer side-scroller shooters set in a sci-fi atmosphere. One or two players take on a variety of different enemies and bosses with a variety of power-ups as they try to save the world from an alien invasion. You know, your classic NES-type scenario. *laughs*
OR: So what thought process went into choosing this particular one? I mean, we haven’t seen this game since the NES days, other than on when it came onto Virtual Console.
GM: Correct. S.C.A.T., and some other games, were on a variety of virtual consoles. Actually, they are available on Switch Online at the moment- one of those retro games that you can play if you’re a Switch Online member. So that being said, the games have always been available digitally. But the thought of having them being out there physically for the classic gamer or a collector- we jumped at the opportunity.
OR: There is also a collector’s edition for S.C.A.T.: Special Cybernetic Attack Team that is available for open preorder. This includes a metal coin, a standee, the soundtrack, and more. What was the creation and design process like for these new goodies? How did you decide what to include in the collector’s edition?
GM: When it came to this collector’s edition, we actually deferred to Limited Run Games’ expertise. Once again, they have their finger on the pulse of the retro/collectible gamer, whereas Natsume has definitely done promotional items- mostly surrounding our Harvest Moon series. So we’re kind of real familiar with what our fanbase, the Harvest Moon fanbase, would want in some sort of collectible or promotional item. But it was Limited Run Games that came up with the fantastic idea of what to put together for this particular collector item on S.C.A.T.
OR: Speaking of Harvest Moon, Limited Run Games is also distributing the collector’s edition for your newest Harvest Moon game, Harvest Moon: One World, set for a March 2021 release. How does it feel handing over your flagship title to be published by another company?
GM: Well, it’s actually not being published by Limited Run Games. But what they are doing is they are taking care of our collector’s edition for us. They have a great fanbase, they have a great internal system on how to take preorders and on shipping and on the logistics of it all. So it just kind of made sense- we were already partnering up and doing something else, and then we started discussing ‘Would you guys be interested in taking care of our collector’s edition?’ When that was said, obviously all of the components of the collector’s edition was something that Natsume put together, built, approved, assembled, and shipped to [Limited Run Games]. And then what they will do is that they’ll take care of the preorders and then the shipping for those that purchase it.
OR: Let’s talk about that [Harvest Moon] collector’s edition: there’s a chicken plushie and there’s a diorama that plays a tune from the game with magnetized placeable characters on it. It’s pretty elaborate. How did you decide what items to give Harvest Moon players in this collector’s edition, and what was the creative process for these items like?
GM: Well, something we’ve always done- that we’ve always tried to do for the Harvest Moon fanbase- was to give them something unique and special. A lot of times, we would do these different sized plushes, whether it was a gift with purchase or a preorder bonus. At the same time, we’ve done a variety of things throughout the years. But we’ve always thought: ‘Would this be something I’d want, or would I want to display this?’
So we wanted to make sure that we came up with something really unique and exciting for the fanbase. And that’s where the musical diorama came into fruition. So what it is- the diorama has magnetic pieces that are interchangeable, depicting a scene from Harvest Moon: One World. It also features an exclusive track from the game. The magnetized outside ring rotates and is battery operated, so when you turn it on, you can put the animals on there or put the main character on there with an animal. So it allows for a bit of customization, which is nice. And at the same time, it plays a great song.
It’s a great for those die-hard Harvest Moon fans.
OR: Before we move on, I’m going to ask you a couple of questions about your Harvest Moon: One World game. Can you tell us a little bit more about the game itself? What are some new features that players who love this genre can expect to see in it?
GM: One thing we’ve always tried to do with Harvest Moon is to evolve the series. We try to innovate, we try to do new things, so that one game is different than the other. However, it is fundamentally the same sort of core game: that is, farming, lifestyle choices, and things of that nature.
In Harvest Moon: One World, I can point to three key items that I think really distinguish this game from other games in the franchise. One of those items is the Harvest Moon Wisp Seed system. In the past, there’s been harvest sprites, but now, unlike most other Harvest Moon games, you won’t be able to go to the general store to find seeds or purchase those seeds. Rather, what you’re going to need to do is find those seeds through harvest wisps. And there’s hundreds of them in the game. So you might find a harvest wisp hiding behind a tree, and that one might give you turnip seeds, [while] another one might give you watermelon seeds. Some hard-to-find harvest wisps might give you rare flower seeds. So it’s all these wisps that kind of push the user to explore and find these seeds, thus enabling [them] to grow these crops.
That being said, that kind of fundamentally ties into this One World game, in that it’s bigger than all of the rest of the Harvest Moon series. There’s multiple places to visit. There’s a variety of different towns, each with their own sort of different ability to grow different crops, their own different weather systems, people that live there, culture. So it allows the player to explore. That being said, another new item to this game is the fact that you’re able to move your farm- your farm is portable.
One of the characters in the game designed this new invention that grows and shrinks your farm and allows you to carry it to a new location and put it down. So then you’re able to, as you explore, take your farm with you. The overall encompassing [theme] is exploration. Not only are you, obviously, going to meet and make friends and do a variety of their side [quests] that you would in a Harvest Moon, such as the odd job, mining, fishing, cooking, crafting- but at the same time, you’re going to be able to explore, find these harvest wisps, relocate your farm, and discover new towns throughout this One World.
Three, there is a fast travel system, which will allow you to teleport to places you’ve already been- very much like in other games. So it will save you a lot of time as a player to just go where you want to go. So if you want to go to Halo Halo, which is a summer sort of town, and grow watermelons- which grows in a summer environment- you can just teleport to there since you’ve already visited there. You can then put your farm [down], and start growing watermelon seeds.
OR: What platforms is Harvest Moon: One World coming out for?
GM: Switch and PS4 will launch on March 2nd, Xbox One will be coming a little bit later.
“…because of the way that technology is today, [these classic releases are] pretty much the exact same games that were released back in the early ’90s and it didn’t take long at all to make these games available to Limited Run Games.”
OR: Limited Run Games recently closed preorders for the release of both Shadow of the Ninja for the NES and Return of the Ninja on the GameBoy Color. Were y’all at all worried about opening up this partnership with a franchise that people have not seen since the 1990s?
GM: No, and the reason was, once again, Shadow of the Ninja has been available on Virtual Console. What we wanted to do was, in essence, was to give the ability for the next gen gamers- the new gamers- to play one of these classic NES titles that we produced many, many moons ago.
Both Shadow and Return of the Ninja are really good games. So basically, we just wanted to get them in the hands of gamers that might not have ever, or even known about, the franchise.
OR: Are all of these games identical to their original releases? If so, what was it like to dig up these decades-old source codes? Are there any stories behind locating the original files, even if they’re for the Virtual Console release?
GM: You know, that’s a great question, and it probably would have been pertinent maybe ten years ago. But because of the way that technology is today, they’re pretty much the exact same games that were released back in the early ’90s and it didn’t take long at all to make these games available to Limited Run Games. That being said, the games were easier today than they were maybe ten years ago to make available for Limited Run Games.
OR: Can we expect more classic games from the Natsume vault to make an appearance with Limited Run Games? Are there any hints on what we can look forward to?
GM: So, the short answer is ‘yes’. I don’t want to ruin any surprises, but I guess I can drop a hint of ‘retro’ and [that it] has the same feeling as S.C.A.T. and Shadow of the Ninja.
OR: That’s awesome. Now I would be remiss if I let you go without asking about the latest with the Natsume Indie Program. Does Natsume have any other games actively in the works as part of their indie program?
GM: Yes, we have a third in the Natsume Indie Program, and it’s called ConnecTank. I believe we roughly announced it towards the end of last year, and a lot more information about this title will be coming out in the near future.
OR: I believe you also did Legends of Ethernal?
GM: Correct. We did Cosmic Defenders with Fiery Squirrel, Legends of Ethernal with Lucid Dreams Studio, and we’re doing ConnecTank with YummyYummyTummy. And Legends of Ethernal has been released. It was released late October of last year , and it is a fantastic game. It’s got beautiful art, wonderful music, and a compelling story. It’s fun to play, offers a variety of difficulties- it’s a real good purchase and a game we’re truly excited about.
OR: Are there any plans to release the Natsume Indie Program titles through Limited Run Games?
GM: There’s nothing we can announce at this time; however, if something makes sense, then by all means, we would discuss it with Limited Run Games to see if they were interested and how their fanbase would jump at the opportunity. It’s nothing we would definitely turn down. Once again, it’s just case-by-case, depending on if it makes sense.
OR: Last question: aside from Harvest Moon: One World, your partnership with Limited Run Games, and the Natsume Indie Program, is there anything else we can expect to see from Natsume as 2021 rolls on?
GM: Another title that Natsume announced is Pocky & Rocky, [which] will be released later this year. The official title is Pocky & Rocky: Reshrined, which will be available for Switch and PS4, and that should be coming third-quarter 2021.
OR: Thank you very much.
What do you think of Natsume’s partnership with Limited Run Games? What games would you like to see them re-release through this partnership?
Let us know in the comments below!
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