Review by Alpha77
"Don't listen to low reviews, this is an overall decent and enjoyable harvest moon."
This is a tiered review; it covers major gameplay features in sections, so if there's a particular gameplay aspect that you are concerned about, feel free to skip to that section.
As far as HM games go, Island Of Happiness offers some of the same while also mixing things up a bit. It definitely has its strong points, but is slightly blundered by its foreign control scheme and inefficient interface. Overall though, it is one of the better HM games released recently, and definitely the most challenging.
The good things about IoH is that compared to other HM games, it is definitely much more difficult in the beginning. If you've found yourself sick of HM games that are too easy thanks to things like ridiculous profits from fields of sweet potatoes, this is the game for you. Many upgrades are relatively expensive in the beginning, and bridges must also be purchased to unlock more parts of the island. When you first start out, you really do start with nothing. The island is empty and your farm is desolate. As you progress, the island progresses with you, villagers move in and places of interest begin to appear as the island grows from a desolate village to a thriving community. This mechanic of progress is rather rewarding, as you are always awaiting and working towards the next expansion of both your farm and the community.
The crop system has been revamped and is now much more realistic. Crops now require a certain amount of both sunlight and water, while too much of either can leave them withering. This creates a dynamic and a strategy to growing crops instead of simply watering them everyday. With careful observation this can be taken advantage of, if you know a crop already has received adequate water you can simply neglect watering it until it has received adequate sunlight, and this in fact is the key to producing the highest quality crops. All goods in the game have rank, and the highest S quality goods are worth about 10x that of a normal item. Part of that rank is freshness, so realistically, you can't have grade A tomatoes forever, they'll eventually go bad. This makes storing things in the fridge more useful, as they will stay fresh longer. It still takes many many days for an item to decrease in quality, so this isn't a hindrance. Overall, plenty of crops are available for planting, and aside from the regulars there are also trees and special field crops such as rice and soybeans which take seasons to grow. Most of these are locked at the start, and will be unlocked as you progress further through the game. Mining and livestock are also valid approaches to making large amounts of money later in the game, probably more so than the crops. Fishing is fairly standard here, and although there are many varieties of fish that can be caught, in terms of utility it still comes down to either being a S, M or L fish. This is disappointing considering Magical Melody offered many species of fish, which all sold for different prices and created unique recipes.
In IoH you will find a stamina system similar to that of Magical Melody. That means that early on you will find yourself quickly running out of energy and constantly having to eat in order to restore it. However, fatigue is now gone and has been replace with hunger, which is totally different. Hunger is basically a measure of how full you are, and when you aren't that will bring about side effects, like in real life. Even if you have full stamina it isn't going to be as useful if you are hungry, because a hungry farmer is going to get tired and go through his/her stamina faster and have a tendency to sleep in more often. This is pretty much eating for the sake of eating, which I can't argue with since that's how it is in real life. The limited stamina does add a lot of strategy because early on you will have more time than stamina, so you must use it wisely. There aren't any power berries in this game, but there is jewelry which will raise your stamina or hunger when equipped. Tools can also be upgraded to use less or even no stamina at all eventually. Finding forageables early on will be crucial to restoring your stamina until you unlock the restaurants and start gathering enough recipes in order to cook.
Recipes must now first be obtained from the local cafe and diner in order to cook them. This makes it more difficult, as you simply can't look up a recipe online to make it. However all you have to do to acquire new recipes is to simply bring an ingredient to the cafe or diner in return for a recipe that uses that ingredient. Its debatable if this is a benefit or not, since it does take the fun away of experimenting with ingredients randomly on your own and making something cool, though it does let you discover recipes more naturally as you acquire new ingredients. Cooking recipes is sorted by dish type and not utensil. In fact, there are no utensils to purchase, once you have a kitchen you can cook anything you have the recipe for.
This again has been totally revamped, and in some ways is a lot more interesting but is more difficult in the beginning. Tools now have slots for Wonderfuls, special colored orbs that imbue particular properties to that tool. For example, some wonderfuls increase the range of the tool vertically or horizontally. This is similar to how old tools like the watering can and hoe increased in range as they were upgraded. However, there are many other interesting wonderfuls to obtain that do things like increasing the amount of item you obtain by using it- this applies to even the milker, as well as the hammer while mining and the axe while chopping wood. Another wonderful decreases stamina used, and one even gives you gold for every item you use that tool. Wonderfuls also stack, so some fairly wicked tools can be created as the game goes on. At first tools only have a couple slots for wonderfuls, but later on better tools with more slots can be purchased, up to around 10. There is also however a wonderful that increases the number of slots, so if you get enough of those you can end up with a tool having upwards of 50 slots. The only problem with this system is how difficult wonderfuls are to obtain early on. Aside from winning festivals which is fairly unlikely during the first few seasons, they can be purchased in Winter somewhat randomly. There is a method to purchase many of these during winter, and whatever one you want, though it requires repeated reloading of your game file. Played naturally, you will probably end up with a couple opportunities to purchase a few random wonderfuls during the winter.
IoH has a fairly standard set of HM characters, nothing too interesting here. Most characters are pretty flat, and events are lacking compared to the robust dram found in older HM games (SNES, N64, BtN/FoMT). There are also even more generic "non-portrait" characters that are really just filler space, though you will want to unlock all of them as they unlock many features/things in the game, including certain crops and new buildings/shops on the island itself. The marriage system is standard HM here, and the option to play as a boy or girl is welcome. The difficulty in befriending villagers as well as raising heart levels has been increased. It takes considerably more "gifting" than past HM games in order to raise heart levels, though its nothing that can't be done within a year to full marriage. Heavy emphasis is place on "favorite" gifts, which give over 2x as many "points" compared to liked gifts, though the list of gifts which characters actually like is much, much longer than in previous HM games.
Visually, this is by no means a bad looking game. Graphics are clean, and to the point. The style is somewhat similar to Magical Melody, though main characters have detailed portraits. The world is a mixture of 3D surroundings along with sprites for characters. It's an improvement over HM DS, though there is definitely more room for tapping the DS hardware. The art direction is fairly lacking when compared to Rune Factory. As far as sound goes, there's nothing to be impressed with here. As with most HM games, there are minimal sound effects a handful of melodies that are played over and over. The interface is somewhat inefficient when compared to past HM games. What this basically comes down to is that you have to pause your game and access a menu item in order to get to your rucksack. You are allowed to have 4 tools or items of any sort equipped at one time, it's just somewhat tedious when you want to switch these out, or say access a food item from your rucksack. You can't cycle through all your tools or items with the press of a button as in past HM games. What is nice, however, is that all items stack now. So if you harvest 30 turnips, you can stack all of them in your inventory to save space, and also ship them all in a single fell swoop. You can also eat items while the game is paused, which you will likely have to do considering how little stamina you have.
Now here is the game's major weak point as many will also tell you. These are touch based controls only. So that means no d-pad for running around, you HAVE to use the stylus. It's definitely less intuitive than d-pad movement, and somewhat awkward unless you have your DS placed on a flat surface. The biggest annoyance is probably the lack of precision when using tools. It is much more difficult coming from being used to simply using the d-pad to move around and pressing a button for the tool. Now you have to move around with the stylus, and use the d-pad to use tools. That being said, the controls are not bad. They aren't something that you won't adapt to over time, it's just that it is a much steeper learning curve compared to the ease of use of classic controls. After a couple days of using the controls, I was able to adapt, and I can say now that I can use them just as well and as easily as classic controls. It just take a little patience and getting used to. Touching things to pick them up does have the advantage of making it much easier to pick things up overall. That is good in some cases, but can be particularly annoying when you are moving about your field and intend to use a tool, it is very easy to accidentally pick up nearby grasses unless you force yourself to hold the stylus out further so you aren't accidentally tapping grasses. Yes, it is annoying at first, but with time, you WILL get used to it, and it will be less of a detraction from the overall game. That being said, the lack of the ability to change to classic controls is absolutely a mistake on the developer's part. The touch controls honestly don't offer any advantage over classic controls, and take much longer to get used to. But once you adapt to the new controls (Which many will say is this game's major flaw) you will find a a system that does work, though is somewhat inconvenient as holding the DS while using the stylus is rather uncomfortable. To be effective with the control system the DS really needs to be placed on a flat surface. If you can get over that, you can enjoy this game.
Overall, I feel that HM: IoH is one of the better Harvest Moon's to be released lately. It is one of the more difficult HM's ever released, and offers a lot more strategy compared to previous HM games. There is an absolute ton of things to do and unlock, and it will take some time to get to some of the real "meat" of the game. What it does have to offer for a harvest moon game is compelling-- there is no shortage of upgrades and advancements to attain. The strategy is much deeper here in terms of making money, as focusing and maximizing a single outlet is absolutely feasible, as huge amounts of money can be made late in the game by focusing on say just mining or livestock. There is a delicate balancing act to be found in terms of choosing what to focus on, as each subset offers its own advantages here- from farming to foraging, to fishing-- all alternatives that have benefits and drawbacks. To fully experience the game you are going to want meddle a little bit in all of these, and find what suits you best. That being said, I'd recommend this Harvest Moon game to any fan of the series who's looking for a bit more of a challenge, a bit more of a strategy-focused harvest moon. This isn't the HM to start playing if you've never played an HM game before. I know many of you will be turned off at the controls, but give them a chance-- they WILL grow on you. I hated them at first too, but it's definitely something that's learnable. Some people simply don't have the patience to become acquainted with them, and it's a shame as that leads to hasty conclusions and inaccurate reviews such as 2/10. if you can get past the controls, you will find a quality Harvest Moon title here. The characters aren't deep, but the level you will find here is comparable to Magical Melody. This is a simulator's harvest moon, and micro-managing your limited time can be very rewarding. I don't mean to turn off the more casual players, but at least give it a try. The game definitely is not forcing you to maximize your time efficiency and profits; you are free to go at your own pace here as in other harvest moons. Just remember that this is one of those games that gets better the more you play it, and the more effort you put into playing it the bigger the town will get and the more interesting and varied things will become available for you to partake in. There are a plethora of things to unlock, and some of them will take a considerable effort to achieve, but they are all worth it in my opinion, with some of the endgame items being truly rewarding for all your hard efforts. As with most Harvest Moon games, Island of Happiness is not without its flaws, but if you are patient enough to overlook them, you'll find a real gem here with many, many hours of enticing gameplay.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 09/15/08
Game Release: Harvest Moon DS: Island of Happiness (US, 08/26/08)
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