Review by Dorfl_2

"Give it a shot, you might like it."

Introduction
Earlier this year I played Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness, the sister game to Sunshine Islands so I'm going to be writing this review largely from the perspective of someone who has already seen much of what is going on in this game. If you want to know which game is better right off the bat, I'll tell you: this one. The controls are better, there's more motivation to do the things you do, easy money plays less of a role and there are two new characters in the game. So now you know, on to the review.

Story
The game works off a twist of the premise of its predecessor, Island of Happiness. In that game the protagonist is a would-be emigrant who gets shipwrecked and winds up on an uninhabited island that he must develop. Sunshine Islands takes the other angle, where the protagonist arrives safely on group of islands, ready to begin his new life. In keeping with this “what if” scenario, all the characters and relationships in the previous game are exactly the same as in this one. I don't mean similar, I mean the exact same names and personalities, although they did change the likes and dislikes of some of the characters.

After staying on the farm for a few days, you learn that the islands you are on are part of a whole system of islands that sunk into the sea during a storm many years ago. By collecting and trading in “Sun Stones” from the islands and other villagers, you can raise those islands up one by one and restore the archipelago to its former glory. How do you collect Sun Stones? A harvest sprite on one island tells you where to find a few, but the majority of them are earned by raising your friendship rate with all the people on the island, including the faceless NPCs. Once they like you enough they will aid in your search by gifting you with stones…amazing how often someone is “just walking along” and finds a stone and how come it never happens to you, huh? Raising the islands magically causes more people to move onto to those islands and you can befriend them for even more stones.

Anyway, it's pretty cool that this happens because this makes it pretty much the first Harvest Moon game ever where there's a good reason to befriend every single person you meet. Usually I just gun for the prettiest lady on the island and ignore everyone else until I woo her, but now you have to pay attention to everyone's likes and dislikes as well as their schedules in order to befriend them. Additionally you also get Sun stones by shipping crops and animal products, so there's extra motivation to keep working on your farm apart from the money-making aspect. And that's basically it for the story portion.

I mentioned the two new marriage candidates earlier. Will is a pudgy (it must be said) blond blue-eyed wealthy guy who rides on a white horse and lives in a yacht and Suiren is a treasure hunter in a Chinese-style dress with very expensive tastes. Personally I'd never pick Suiren over any of the other ladies but I think Will gives the other male candidates a run for their money. I wish they had introduced even more new characters into the game, but we'll take what we can get.

Gameplay/Controls
I guess I wasn't the only player annoyed past all heck by the touchscreen-only control system of Island of Happiness. Thank goodness they finally did something right and made the control system touchscreen-optional. It's a choice instead of an imposition now, and a welcome one at that. To use tools, you set them to one of the 4 buttons ABXY and either press the corresponding button or tap the screen. This game keeps the extremely useful option of talking to people or giving them presents by tapping them with the stylus no matter where they are on the screen, preventing that all too painful situation (HM fans will know what I mean) where you throw valuable items onto the ground because your target moved away at the last minute.

The tool upgrade system from the previous game is back, as well as the chance to earn materia fragments (okay it's not called materia but I forget the real name… thingy… something… coloured stones that fit into slots just like materia) from being a runner up in festivals and contests. You insert these coloured stones into your tools to power them, giving them the ability to, say, cut wood stumps as well as logs, smash boulders as well as stones, etc. Getting stones is even easier than in the previous game: I had my axe, hammer and watering can just the way I wanted them by the end of the first year without really breaking a sweat. However making money off gems and mining is not as easy as it was before. You have to work a lot harder to make the same amount of money, but you don't need that much money anyway so it all works out.

The rice island makes a reappearance, as well as the greenhouse (island) and an island for growing fruits. There's yet another island where you can befriend wild animals like rabbits and monkeys by feeding them their favourite items. I presume they give you Sun stones if you get enough of them to like you, but I always kept forgetting to go over there. The day passes surprisingly fast in this game, and what with having to go from island to island gathering stuff and befriending people you might find some things slipping through the cracks from time to time.

A note on farming, btw. Just like in the previous game, Sunshine Islands has 5 different types of weather during the growing seasons: bright sun, moderate sun, cloudy, light rain and heavy rain. Different crops need different amounts of light and water to prosper and it was hell in IoH to gets some of them to grow right. You'd have a few days of bright sun, then three straight days of heavy rain and then every single crop would wither and die, urrrgh. In SI your crops seem to be much hardier, and Mother Nature seems a lot less malevolent. You can actually get just about every type of crop to grow without too much stress, all the more reason why I recommend this over IoH. Oh yeah, you also get the occasional typhoon in summer and fall, but they barely do any damage at all to your crops.

New addition: You can new play games with your pets: a Frisbee game with your dog, a cat-calling game for your obnoxious little cat and a carriage-pulling game to play with your horse. You can enter contests for materia, and also get Sun stones from your pets once they love you, all by training in these rather tedious activities every single day. Incidentally it may be just me, but the horse game is very buggy in this game. It freezes up whenever I attempt to even access the explanation, plus it's a dumb game that makes you shout into the microphone to play (don't you just hate that?) so save before you attempt it.

New addition 2: The No Sprite Left Behind Program! Everybody's favorite harvest sprites are back again and this time they actually make themselves useful…sorta. You can hire them from Sprite Island to slave for you (euphemistically termed “homestay”) on your farm, in your mines, in town, doing stuff from watering your crops to casting charms on the townspeople to make them love you more. The service is free, but there are 2 catches. One, after each deployment the sprites need to rest for up to 10 days. Two, initially they do a rather shoddy job of whatever they're set up to. For example you can't tell them which squares to water and which to leave so they'll just water at random and walk away. As you have the sprites do more and more homestays, more and more of them move onto Sprite Island. Theoretically once you have enough of them they will actually start being a real help to your activities, but I've been playing for 2 years and I haven't gotten to that point yet. Still the idea is good and the animal-feeding sprites can save you a lot of time in busy seasons.

Graphics/Sound
Exactly the same as in Island of Happiness. This must have been the easiest game ever for Marvelous to develop. The two new characters, Will and Suiren, are the only ones they might have had to put a bit of effort into. I think fans will like the brightness and cartooniness of the character design and colour scheme. Even at night the game always feels upbeat and cheery, which is always a good thing for Harvest Moon games.

The sound effects are the usual inoffensive bleeps and blarps HM fans must be used by now. The background theme changes depending on the season and I seem to remember liking the autumn theme. Nothing too noteworthy.

Final
I liked it. I liked it a lot. I stopped playing after Year 2 but that was because I was having problems with my DS in general and not because there was anything wrong with the game. Having played the previous game I was rather disappointed that I had to live with the same characters all over again, but the main objective of the game was different enough to make it worth playing. Even if you've played Island of Happiness I can still recommend Sunshine Islands, but if you're torn between that game and this one then I wholeheartedly urge you to pick this up.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/23/08, Updated 06/10/09

Game Release: Bokujou Monogatari: Kira Kira Taiyou to Nakama Tachi (JP, 02/21/08)


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