Review by Tails 64
"A Non-Biased Opinion from a Dissapointed Harvest Moon Lover"
Since I love Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town to death, I was insanely excited for Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life to be released. As the first Harvest Moon for the Nintendo GameCube, it was promising to be the best Harvest Moon ever created. But is this truly a wonderful life?
The game begins as you have gone to a farm to pay last respects to your father. Takakura, your father's colleague, tells you about your father's dream. You decide to fulfill your father's dream and make a great farm! The game is located in Forget-Me-Not Valley, which is near Mineral Town. The two games can connect, but the effects are quite minimal. The farm you work at (which can be named yourself), is already cleared of rocks and weeds, so the game is very easy to begin.
Actually, rocks, weeds, and wild animals never appear at your farm. This makes the game rather easy, and the satisfaction of bringing a dead farm back to life is completely lost. To make things even easier, you can carry hundreds of items at once, compared to eight in the other games.
Harvest Moon games are made fun through progress. You start with nothing, end with everything. Here, you are given most of the tools right off the bat. Better versions of these tools can be bought, but they have very minimal effect. They use up slightly less energy, but barely speed things up. Luckily, the crop system is deeper than in previous games. Soil can now be fertilized, which adds some strategy to the game. Though it costs plenty of money to fertilize it all, it may pay off in the long run. Luckily, there are crops that grow in winter, so no more boredom than usual in the snowy months. Also worth mentioning is the Hybrid Crop system. Though the idea of mixing crops together sounds great, the process is rather generic. Most would think it relates to how crops are positioned in the field, but it is actually way too simple. Just give two crops to a talking plant and they will be combined. Yipee. An "option" to raising individual crops is to plant trees. They require no work at all, just shake and get tons of crops. However, one individual crop needs to be watered twice a day. Trees are not very expensive, so why bother with crops when trees can grow themselves? Overall, the farming aspect of the game is very unbalanced.
The livestock aspect improved in some ways, but not others. To start off, there are variations of each animal. Though most are merely male or female differences, there are many types of cows. There are even new animals such as ducks, goats, and a cat. Cows can be milked more than once a day, and the amount they produce changes with how well they are treated and the season. Nice touch, if I do say so myself. Though the new animals are not drastically effecting the game, it is always good for some variety. The animals are no longer ranked on a one-to-ten scale on happiness, which adds some realism. Also, you can ride your horse anywhere you want! However, the animal system is nearly killed with one fatal flaw: pitiful control. Almost everything is done with the A Button, much like Zelda. However, too much is done with this single button. For example, it is used to pet, push, and milk a cow. In order to get these different actions, you must be in the PERFECT position. It becomes very frustrating to do the simplest of tasks. You will pick up a sleeping chicken across the room when there is an egg by your feet countless times. These are stupid flaws that should have been ironed out in the first months of the game's development.
Out of the farm, there is a community to join. However, there is not all that much to do. Since Takakura is in charge of buying most items (tell him to pick up ordered items), there are almost no shops in Forget-Me-Not Valley. There are homes for the residents and two places used for work. There is a farm from which you can buy new seeds, and a digging site for finding fossils. Van, a traveling salesman, will buy things from you on certain days. Why not just use a shipping bin like in the other Harvest Moon games? Not sure. He has a few things to sell, but they are not very useful.
One of the most fun parts of the Harvest Moon series is getting a wife. There were six lovely ladies to choose from in Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town. Here, there are three. Before you scream, consider that quality can overshadow quantity. The girls here are named Celia, Muffy, and Nami. Celia is a girl that likes to farm. She directly says that she likes to watch crops grow. Muffy is a flirt who is actually a bit nice once you become friends with her. However, she has no knowledge of farming. Nami looks almost male and is a jerk unless you marry her. Compare these girls with the ones of Mineral Town... Yes, A Wonderful Life has a pitiful set of wives. Plus, they are far too easy to woo. A flower once a day has Celia and Muffy in your arms in a week.
The game's main new feature is the fact that time passes and people grow older. Though the idea of going through life sounds great, there are plenty of flaws. For one thing, to see an ending, you have to play for ten years in Harvest Moon time. When the days last WAY too long at 20-25 minutes, most will be bored before Fall of Year One. I like the idea of villagers coming and leaving as time passes. It would have spiced things up if the characters were not so poorly designed. The idea of growing older is also great, but how do you make people look older? Children grow into adults, and in realistic steps. However, everyone else just gets gray hair. Very unrealistic, especially with characters your age. The one part of the time system I can appreciate is that there IS an ending. In Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, the ending is whenever you get bored of the game. Here, who you talk to can change your son's career path. However, I would have preferred a ranking system then having the option to continue.
Which brings me to the game's ultimate flaw: What the heck am I working for? Why earn any money? There's not all that much to buy. The game's endings are only triggered upon relationships. The days last so long that most will not know what to do in the given time. I usually have my work finished and everyone talked to before noon. When most events are just triggered by time, there is nothing stopping you from making your character sleep most of the time away. There is no goal to work for in this game, which makes it almost completely pointless. It is also worth mentioning that there are no festivals, which truly makes the town feel completely worthless. The only goal you have to achieve is to get a wife, a simple task. After that, you can either sleep your life away or earn money that you will not spend. There are no house upgrades, and there is no way to increase your total health. There is nothing to do but make time pass. The townsfolk usually have nothing to talk about except the weather. However, some of them talk about how hard it is to find something fun to do. Here, here!
The graphics are the best ever seen on a console version of Harvest Moon. Though that is like picking out the nicest demon in hell, the visuals here are pretty good. The character models look like they belong on Dreamcast, but everything else is actually realistic. The water effects are pretty, so is the lighting. The rest of the environments get the job done.
The sound department of this game is quite pitiful. The music is very repetitive. It can be changed with in-game records, but these records take too long to find to be worth the trouble. Sound effects are minimal, as you will mostly just be hearing the sound of your character's walking. There are a few voice samples, and they are usually decent. Most characters only have one sample, which seems very lazy on Natsume's part.
Why does this game completely miss the mark? The way I see it, the game was treating the Harvest Moon series like an uncolored picture book. It colored it in with more animals, more crops, and aging. However, it lost the staples of rewards from work, good wives, good control, and reasonable day lengths. In the end, you just get one, sloppy mess of papers on the floor that only the most patient can bear to look at. This is simply a very boring game. Play Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town instead, it's great. It pulls together everything great in the Harvest Moon name. Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life is an embarrassment to the series that I hope Natsume will never repeat. This is certainly a nominee for "Biggest Disappointment of 2004". Like it if you want, but I feel this game just does not know what made us all love the past Harvest Moon games.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 06/20/04
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