Review by LordShibas
"What a sad way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Harvest Moon series"
The year 2008 marked the 10th anniversary for the prolific Harvest Moon series. People like myself have been farming their little hearts out for a decade now, and there is no end in sight. Natsume decided to celebrate the occasion by releasing a few new Harvest Moon games on multiple systems, and one of them was Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness for the DS.
I missed the initial release of the game, but I picked it up a while ago and recently got around to playing it. After girding myself for the potentially epic game, I was ready to see what Natsume had in store for me. Imagine my surprise when I not only found Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness to be a terrible game, but the single, worst Harvest Moon game I have ever played, ever.
Natsume decided to take the series in somewhat of a new direction with Island of Happiness. Instead of the normal, precise d-pad controls, Natsume decided to force the player to use a horribly implemented stylus control system. For most games, imprecise DS stylus controls may get the job done, but when they are put into a game like Harvest Moon, which requires accomplishing tasks against a clock, the system just falls flat and completely ruins the otherwise enjoyable game.
I'll talk about the controls a little more in the gameplay section, but I just felt like I had to get that off of my chest.
Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness has a few little nuances that make it seem fresh. The game now takes place on an island, instead of the usual farm/village location. The game starts as your character is shipwrecked on the island, and is stuck there with the few survivors. They quickly make their peace, and the people decide that in order to help the island thrive, it will be your job to set up a farm on the island. Your farm will provide food for them to eat, and will help make the small island prosper.
The game has a small portion of the island unlocked at first, and you will eventually be able to expand to different locations on the island by getting the funds to have the island's builder construct bridges to the new locations. This gives you access to more areas and increases the population of the island.
While the basic premise of the game is a bit different, the formulaic Harvest Moon style of gaming is just as it always was: Run your farm, get livestock, make friends, etc. The game is incredibly long. There are multiple years to go through, tons of other activities to partake in on the island, and tons of depth.
However, your trip to the Island of Happiness will come to a steadfast cessation once you experience the frustration of the inaccurate DS stylus controls. As much as I wanted to like this game, it was pretty hard to look past the terrible controls, even though I'm a Harvest Moon veteran.
After having recently played Rune Factory and Rune Factory 2, it took me a little while to get reacquainted with the old school style of Harvest Moon gameplay. That is, 100% farming, no dungeon crawling. I never truly felt like these two elements converged well in the Rune Factory games, so I was fine with this once I got adjusted.
Anyway, the overall look of the Rune Factory series is a bit grittier than the Harvest Moon series, so the bright and cheery visuals really caught my attention. Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness has 3D character models in 2D backgrounds, and I found them to be adequate, but still somewhat ugly on the DS. The textures lack any shading, there is not a whole lot of animation in the surrounding environment, and some of the character models and portraits are bizarre. The first guy your run into, Taro, looks like a turnip with a face. Most of the other characters are just bland and boring.
Sounds and Music 6/10
While I must admit, I found the new island style soundtrack to be interesting, but I really didn't find the tracks to be very memorable. Harvest Moon's signature sound effects return, and sound just fine.
Even though you will eventually be running into many unique characters on your island, there is no voice acting to speak of. Even the small bit of voice acting in Rune Factory 2 gave the characters some personality, but there is no voice acting in Island of Happiness. I was pretty disappointed by this.
I really don't remember a Harvest Moon game ever having a good story, and Island of Happiness is no exception. I give Natsume some credit for trying to give the game a fresh feel by organizing everything on an island, but in the end, you are still doing the same farming tasks, like taking goods to your shipping bin, feeding your livestock, and conversing with townspeople. Throwing it into a new context hasn't changed the overall feel of the game one bit.
Oh boy, here we go. To put Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness in simple terms, it's unplayable, and a broken mess. If you have every played a Harvest Moon game before, then you already know that the interface is rather complex. The previous Harvest Moon games on the DS used every single button on the system, and even used the L button + the regular buttons for added functionality. This fast moving, and complex setup simply can not be compensated for with stylus controls alone.
If that wasn't bad enough, the stylus controls just aren't very good to begin with. They are unresponsive, inaccurate, and clumsy. This leads to some frustrating bouts of fumbling around with the controls, just to do simple tasks like equipping items and shipping goods.
Movement is done solely with the stylus too. Your character will follow your stylus and will either run or walk, depending on how close the stylus is to your on screen character. This creates problems since it's hard to judge the distances from your character. You can always make your character auto run by holding the L or R button, but it feels kind of awkward holding one of the buttons down, while controlling the stylus, and holding your DS at the same time.
You gather items in the game by running near them and touching them with the stylus. Your character will automatically grab the item and throw it into his rucksack, but what if you just wanted to hold the item and not put it in your rucksack? Well too bad, you then have to extract the item from a menu screen since there are no shortcuts to do so on the screen. Once you get into the menu screen, things get even more snarky. Splitting items is a pain, combining items is almost impossible, and you have to manually equip items from the menu when you want to ship them. There are no hotkeys to cycle through your items, because the stylus controls do not permit this.
The list of problems with the pejorative stylus controls goes on and on. You will accidentally pick up rocks instead of hammering them, you will water the wrong squares when trying to water your crops, and you will accidentally miss the shipping bin when you are trying to ship your items, effectively throwing them away. It's not even a matter of getting used to the controls either. They are just bad and imprecise.
On top of all this, the quick moving clock of Harvest Moon is in full effect, and your days will disappear before you know it. By the time you wrestle with watering your crops and shipping your goods, it will be time for bed. Forget any social interaction.
I really could go on and on about the awful gameplay in Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness. It's really a shame that the controls alone make the game unplayable.
Longevity and Re-Playability 2/10
I feel bad giving a game that contains so much depth such a low score in this area, but the poor controls kill this game, and the rest of the game simply cannot be reconciled. All of the fun is sucked out of this game long before any enjoyment can be had.
Natsume should be ashamed of themselves for releasing such a sad excuse for a game on the 10th anniversary of the Harvest Moon series. I urge you not to buy this game. It's not worth the frustration and mental anguish. Pick up Rune Factory 2 instead, it's much better.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 01/27/10
Game Release: Harvest Moon DS: Island of Happiness (US, 08/26/08)
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