Review by doktorsquidd
"The Game Where You Do Nothing."
It could have been a variety of factors: a reduced budget due to the bad economy, a lack of inspiration, difficulty in moving from 2D to 3D (I know the PS2 version was 3D, but it takes some companies a couple tries to get it right), but whatever the case, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life is sadly devoid of anything I'd call fun. It evokes pleasant memories of the hours I gleefully dumped into Harvest Moon 64, but beyond the nostalgia factor I simply couldn't have any fun with it.
The story, as always, is that you're some guy in bib overalls who inherited his family plot and now gets to live his own fantasy life as a guy who gets up at 5am and milks cows. This worked for previous games in the franchise, I don't see why it should change, but as the story goes, you live in a tiny town, you fall in love, and you get to live out your life in an idyllic manner.
Where the game deviates from HM64 is that farming no longer feels like a game. It feels like WORK. There simply isn't enough to do in the game. In terms of gameplay, my chief complaint is that the seasons are way too short and fruits and veggies take way too long to harvest. I mean, this is realistic, but let's face it, it was more interesting when you could harvest multiple times per season. Furthermore, you only plant one seed at a time (instead of nine at a time with HM64) and you have to water, plant, and hoe everything individually. This is mind-numbing. You basically endure a day of manual labor when you play this game. You can go fishing, but it's really hard and takes up hours of in-game time. You could milk the cows, but the more you milk them, the less they produce. You could raise chickens, but then you'd go poor. Unless you care to invest a profane amount of time and money into upgrading your crops (crops have letter grades, A, B, C, and so on, related to their quality) you make virtually nothing when you sell them, and the most annoying part, you can't just sell crops whenever you want. Oh yes. Lots of waiting there.
Also, in a breach of this newfound 'realism', you can just grow crops all through the winter, and keep your cattle out in the snow if you want, even if you're theoretically not supposed to. You can fish in the winter (to be fair, you could in Animal Crossing too) and basically all the seasons feel alike now. The feeling of impending urgency as you scrimp and save enough to last you through the winter is gone now, and although there are a few upgrades to the farm, you can get them all rather quickly.
The social life aspect of AWL is a disappointment too. While you're waiting for your crops to grow, you can head into the smallest town I have ever seen in an RPG. I mean, smaller than the original Dragon Warrior. It's tiny. Nothing to do. Very few people. You can basically see the whole place standing from one location. And the people there are to talk to aren't exactly thrilling. In a shocking development, evidently gaming technology hasn't advanced AT ALL in 20 years, because talking to the NPCs is just as boring now as it was in Dragon Warrior, too. Very few dialogue trees, no quests or anything of consequence, and most of the characters just say the same three things about the weather every day. I'm not expecting neural-net AI with a complete mastery of the english language, but maybe I should start demanding it. The fact is that character interaction has made absolutely NO changes in the past few decades--perhaps even regressing, if you consider the number of typos in Natsume's absourutery abhorrent translation job.
On the subject of social life, marriage sucks on ice too. There are only three brides in the game, and in a development that should shock those of you who have never heard of "Japan" before, all of your prospective mates look like eight-year-olds. This makes it extraordinarily hard to develop an emotional investment in them. And the method of wooing them is stupid too. Instead of learning about them as individuals, or saving them from a dastardly villain, or taking the time to really talk about their feelings or something, you just figure out what their favorite thing is (usually flowers or money), and give it to them a few times a day. They'll go on to say the same three things about the weather every day until at long last you gain the ability to marry them. You propose to them, and they react in a stunning display of emotion not seen outside of people ordering lunch, and after all's said and done they just go back to saying the same three things about the weather.
The notion of the game progressing in calendar years is kinda neat, but the game doesn't change radically from one year to the next. I mean, okay, everyones' hair gets progressively more gray-ish, but that's it. I mean, you don't have characters dealing with their life's conflicts over the course of decades. It's as predictably shallow as the rest of the game. All interactions are scripted. You can't just marry whoever you want, and you can't have best friends/worst enemies. It's pointless.
Breaking it down into the requisite categories, HM:AWL isn't exactly stellar either. gameplay and camera control are just barely adequate, although it seems like, for certain aspects of the menu and play control, there are no absolute 'back' and 'forward' buttons. Sometimes a button you press to cancel a certain menu would be used to talk to somebody, or agree with them, or disagree with them, or open the options menu, or take off your underpants or put them on your head, or it just feels inconsistent is what I'm trying to say. The graphics are bearable and there are some nice particle effects for weather, the dynamic day/night cycle is convincing, but that's it. The sound is pretty much nonexistent. Ambient chirping and maybe two town themes for the entire game. Wooo.
I'll say this though: the game is ridiculously long. Some people have clocked between 80 and 100 hours playing it, me, I couldn't hack it past 30. And I think that's a fair assumption: If you can't glean any sort of enjoyment out of a game in that amount of time, and you enjoyed the other games in the series, I think it's fair to say that it's not a good game. I shouldn't have to play through 100 hours of a bad game when I've made up my mind in the first 30. In my opinion (which seems to be in the minority) there isn't anything good to say about Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. Parts of it are adequate and just barely what I would qualify as a 'game', but the rest of it is prehistoric by today's standards. In the end, you may have more fun getting a real job.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 09/29/04
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