Review by Perant
"A great game in the beginning that fails to hold interest for very long."
The latest installment of the popular Harvest Moon series brings it to the GameCube. A Wonderful Life will have you playing an aspiring farmer who inherits a farm in Forget-Me-Not Valley from his father. You'll be planting seeds, tending to your fields, and harvesting your crops. Animals are also available to you, of course. You'll be milking cows, picking up eggs, and cutting wool off sheep. Also, you'll be making friends with your new neighbors, falling in love, and raising a son.
Graphics and Sound
Let's start with the bad first: the sound isn't all that great. There isn't too much music to the game. Only a few houses in Forget-Me-Not Valley have any background music, your house included. Unless you have Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town for Gameboy Advance and a GBA/GC link cable, you'll be listening to either nothing at all, or one or two songs. Other sound samples are nothing special. You'll hear your animals, sounds you'd expect from walking around inside and outside, and short voice clips when talking to your neighbors.
The graphics, however, are a different story. Forget-Me-Not Valley is rendered quite well, but what really catches your eye is the sky. The town itself doesn't seem big, but it takes about fourty in-game minutes to traverse from one side of the town to the other. The character designs are great, sights like the beach and the waterfall are nice, but it's the weather that can really be beautiful to look at. Rain, while of course being a very big help to you, is displayed well. You'll enjoy watching that spring shower, or sitting through that big summer-time thunderstorm. In the winter, you can sit and watch the snow lazily fall to the ground. You can sit and watch the clouds roll in and clear out in the fall, but if it's a clear night, you can sit and stare at the stars in the sky.
You won't find a very gripping story in A Wonderful Life. The game progresses in chapters, and the main storyline is told through your father's friend, Takakura. These narrations, however, are far and few, and in short bursts. You'll find a story in watching your child progressing, but that will also take time to watch, and you might not have the patience. Small stories are told through cutscenes, as well, but they usually don't last very long.
The gameplay in A Wonderful Life is pretty deep. Taking the role of a farmer means taking on a character's entire life, so the first system that you encounter is getting used to time. In the game, one real life second is one in-game minute. So, one day in the game will take twenty-four minutes, though you'll be sleeping for a portion of the day. One in-game year is divided into four seasons, each of which is ten days long. Your character's stamina will drain as the day goes on and as you work, while his appetite grows. The next thing you'll deal with is the crops, of course. When you first turn the game on, fourteen different seeds will be available to you, six of which are tree seeds. Plants grow in certain seasons, which is provided to you in the manual. Tend to them, watch them grow before your eyes, and soon you'll be holding your first fruit or vegetable. A small number of tools - though heavy and stanima-draining - are waiting for you in your tool shed to help you with your crops. Later on, a unique and quite fun hybrid system will present itself, and you'll have the opportunity to create a large number of different and original plants. You have a barn to fill with cows, sheep, goats, and a horse, while your coop is just asking for some poultry. You can sell your produce for money to buy more efficient tools, you can give some of it away to neighbors, or you can use some of it as ingredients to create a wide variety of dishes.
One unique part about this game is that you're required to court a potential bride, and marry her. There are three girls in Forget-Me-Not Valley that are looking for a husband: a "down to earth" girl who is into farming, an attractive and flirty girl who works at the bar, and an intellectual world traveler. Though it's quite easy to woo the first two girls with easy-to-find-items, you'll be rewarded with interesting cutscenes as you earn their affection. After you get married, you'll have a son. His personality and looks will be similar to his mother, but you are his main influence in life. By taking him to places in the Valley, showing him items, giving him toys, and introducing him to neighbors, you can influence his interests, and ultimately, his career. As time goes on, he will age - as will everyone else - from a toddler to an adult.
Everything that I have mentioned so far is mostly in a positive tone, but here is why this game earns an eight, and not higher. You'll find that it's quite easy to get rich in this game, and before you know it, you'll have the best tools, and a pile of money to go along with them. Since it takes so long to play through years to progress the chapters, some people may not have the patience to get very far. After your pockets are full and you've tied the knot, there's not much more to do than to water your crops twice a day, and distrubte food to your animals. Talking to people gets stale as chapters are drawn out. Fishing, digging at the local excavation site, and a few mini-games seem more like distractions than anything else, and aren't even fun enough to waste time. All in all, the game just fails to hold interest long enough to watch your son grow up, or see the ending.
It's a tough call. You definitely won't get very far renting it, that's for sure. But if you do go through a rental, and get yourself hooked onto it, you just might not be playing very long after buying it before you stick it away. Is it worth a buy though? Definitely.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/02/04, Updated 08/05/04
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