Review by Dorfl_2
"Too easy and too many flaws, but fans will love it anyway"
Introduction - I had a lot of trouble with bugs in my game. I blame it on the fact that I got tired of waiting till June 2008 and just pirated it. As I write the game has deleted my save not once but twice, forcing me to start all over again. The first time I hadn't gotten very far so it was easy, but the second time I was in my second year, close to marrying my sweetheart Julia and in the middle of a well-planned mining run so I am not amused at all. I also blame my piracy for the bug that prevented a lot of the characters from receiving my gifts. Either they'd take them for a while and then suddenly start to snub me, or they'd just refuse my gifts from the start. [Edit:it's not a bug, it's a feature. You have to talk to characters for a few days before they take your gifts] Okay, alright. Serves me right for being a dirty stinky pirate, I hear you say. Very well then, but without these problems would I still rate this game that low? The answer is an emphatic yes. Read below for why.
Gameplay If I were in a charitable mood, I might call the controls difficult. However I'll come straight out and say it: the idea of making all movements touchscreen-exclusive is a terrible, horrible, abominable one. It's like the game designers at Marvelous got the memo about user-friendly interfaces and immediately decided it was a dirty word they wanted nothing to do with ever again. Instead they made it so that you have to use the stylus to move anywhere or even to use the menu. Yes you can run with the L/R buttons, but you still need the stylus to steer so there's no point.
Using the touchscreen for everything can get very tiring indeed. The directional buttons and the ABXY buttons are only for selecting and using your tools, nothing else, and you can do all that with the touchscreen you're so inclined. You will find yourself making a lot of very frustrating and very annoying mistakes as you adjust to the system.
When you want to use a tool, you assign the tool to a button (a bit like Zelda) and then tap it/press it whenever you want to use it. This isn't too bad on your farm and in the mines because there's a targeting system to make sure you hit the right spot. Unfortunately you have to hit blind everywhere else. In fact, stand too close to the item you're aiming for and you risk missing it completely instead, wasting precious energy. After hours of fiddling around with the touchscreen, frequently pressing the wrong buttons and spilling enough seed to make Onan proud, I finally got used to the controls. "Used to" doesn't mean I like it, it just means I can tolerate it and it works. It's not so terrible while you get used to it, but the whole system was completely unnecessary. Everything could have been done just as well with a mix of button and touchscreen control. The whole thing smacks of "marketing gimmick" and in this case their gimmick stinks.
Stupid controls aside, Island of Happiness has some pretty good aspects to it. For one you can see your energy meter on the top screen so you know exactly how much energy you have left at all times. Unfortunately you also have another meter, a hunger meter that goes down gradually throughout the day. Luckily enough most items that replenish your health also fill up your hunger meter. This means you won't have worry about hunger much, making it another unnecessary addition.
In any case, energy-replenishing items are in extremely plentiful supply in this game, all the more reason why IoH one of the easiest games in the series. From the very beginning there are a lot of heart-shaped grasses scattered around town that refill some of your energy. If you keep your farm reasonably-sized, you'll have no difficulty maintaining your health. Before too long, both a cafe and a diner will open up in town. You can buy cheap, delicious-sounding meals there to refill your health at almost any time of the day. As many as you want, as often as you want. It's too, too easy. And then when you get a kitchen, you can take ingredients to these places and they'll teach you how to prepare your own meals, making the game even easier than it was before, if that is even possible. Now come on, nobody plays Harvest Moon for the "X-TREME CHALLENGE" or anything, but this is just ridiculous.
Oh, but it gets even better. You start off with a few basic tools free, but then you can buy tools with upgradable slots (that look just like materia slots). By winning contests or just outright buying them - big challenge there - you can slot colored stones (that look just like materia) into your tools, making them even better and easier to use! In no time at all I had a hammer that gave me double the amount of jewels in the mine while taking less energy to use and paying me 2 gil for every whack. And that's just the beginning! It's like Marvelous poured all the game challenge into mastering the control system and left none at all for the game itself!
However, although the lack of challenge is rather disappointing, it doesn't completely ruin the game. The rest of IoH plays like every other Harvest Moon. You farm, you rear animals, you fish, you mine and you slowly upgrade your farm and get rich. In my opinion, every HM game since Friends of Mineral Town that has mining in it has always made mining the most lucrative way of earning money. Island of Happiness is not quite as ridiculous as Rune Factory, and to be fair you can't start mining right away. By year 2, though, armed with the right materia-- I mean stones, and enough food, you can easily make over 300K in a single run, without even going all the way down.
Compare that with farming, where the speed of your crops growing depends on the amount of water and the amount of sunlight they get. When you combine 5 types of weather and 2 types of rain that all depend on luck, you realize it can be real pain to grow anything at all. A few days of non-stop rain and your cucumbers will all wither and rot away. Not enough sunshine and your corn will stay as sprouts all season. Not funny in the least, since seeds are not cheap and watering sucks energy. You don't have any harvest sprites to do the work for you either.
Animal rearing works a little better and gives you useful cooking/gift items, but not much money. The animals also force you to play dumb brushing/petting games almost every day to boost their affection. Plus apart from slow-growing grass for livestock, you can't grow any of their feed, meaning you have to spend money on that. As for fishing I never got round to it because the man supposed to give me the fishing rod somehow hates my guts, go figure. Overall the gameplay in Island of Happiness ranges from frustratingly unrewarding to unbelievably easy, depending on your style of play.
Story/Characters In Island of Happiness you start out as an emigrant on your way to a new land. En route you get shipwrecked and wash up on a formerly inhabited island, Hinata Island. Along with some of the other survivors you decide to make the most of it, and that's about it for the story. Typical Harvest Moon fare. As you play the game, you get completion points for developing the island and achieving certain goals. People move onto the island and set up stores or hotels depending on your progress. The main cast is about 30 or so, and then there are a number of other faceless people that can move in as well to run some of the facilities. 4 characters from Mineral Town come to visit as well, but you can't marry them.
There are about 6 marriage candidates to choose from, both male and female the males are all ugly so I'm glad I chose to play as a boy. Wooing and getting married is just like in the previous games: give your girl gifts every day, watch a few events, buff up your farm and then propose. I was this close to marrying Julia, too! Sadly enough Island of Happiness shares a similar flaw with other HM games, in that the characters have only 3 or 4 lines to say, and they just keep saying them over and over again, no matter how much or how little they like you. After a while you just blank out when anyone talks to you because you already know what they're going to say. Bo-o-oring.
Graphics/Sound 2-D! My favorite for Harvest Moons. All the 3-D HMs have been uniformly slow, awkward and clunky so it's good of them to maintain 2-D. I am told the character models and everything are the same as in Magical Melody but I have not played MM so I cannot comment. Be that as it may I liked the models in this game. There's a 3-D close up of the animals in the petting game and the horse looks HIDEOUS so thank goodness for the 2-D ingame.
Sound... Didn't make much of an impression on me. I generally only notice music and sound effects when they are very bad or very good, and IoH stuff was neither.
Play Time/Replayability Most Harvest Moon games are never really over, you know. You can keep play forever if you want. But if you consider the end point of IoH to be when you've achieved 100% development of the island, I'd say it's a very short game. Most of the upgrades can be obtained through money, and lots of money can be made through mining so there's little standing in the way of completion. I was at 60% after 1 and a half years. I can't think of any reason to play this game more than once, unless you get struck by the deleted-save bug before scoring with your girl. Well, I suppose you could try to play as the girl instead of the boy, but I see that as merely a minor cosmetic difference of little consequence.
Final Recommendation In spite of all the moaning and whining I just did above, I remain a dyed-in-the-wool hardcore card-carrying Harvest Moon fan, and I'll be honest and say that I enjoyed this game, shortcomings and all. I also intend to purchase it once it comes out in June, assuming Sunshine and Friends doesn't turn out to be the better game. I wish there was more to do in the game, I wish I hadn't had all these problems and I wish it wasn't quite so piss-easy, but I loved it anyway and I'm glad I played it. Buy if you're an HM fan, rent if you're on the fence.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 03/13/08, Updated 05/19/08
Game Release: Bokujou Monogatari: Kimi to Sodatsu Shima (JP, 02/01/07)
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