"Gamer, Meet Boredom, or, As We Call It, HM: AWL"

INTRO

Harvest Moon is a generally well-respected farming game series that has lasted about…oh, probably 6 years or so. The last games (Harvest Moon: Back to Nature was the only one I played, but there was also Harvest Moon 64) were graphically weak, but prided themselves on being so damn addictive that you will often find yourself playing for 6+ hours at a time (believe me, I know). However, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life is a very different beast, and it is not even comparable to HM64 or BtN. Why's that? Well, let me explain it to you.

GRAPHICS

This game's graphics are definitely interesting, to say the least. When you look at them, they actually look…halfway decent! This is a major surprise to me, because BtN had horrific graphics that gradually grew on you. However, from the start, this game actually looks pretty good. Granted, it's not even close to other Gamecube titles (Mario Sunshine being a good example), but hey, this is Harvest Moon we're talking about. The games have almost always been horrible looking, but AWL manages to buck the trend and deliver something that won't sear your retinas. Allow me to go into detail.

The landscape of Forget Me Not Valley is generally attractive, except when you go into the first person view right by some leaves or something. The buildings are well rendered, and the weather effects don't look pathetic as in BtN, so big thumbs up there. However, there's a big of ugliness with the characters that stagger around town: they are very stale feeling, with no cloth movement or stuff like that. Of course, I didn't expect the most amazing graphics ever, but c'mon, Natsume, at least try to make them look good. But that's a minor complaint, and you'll eventually stop noticing and/or caring about that ugly hobo who lives by the bar. Overall, the graphics are quite acceptable.

Graphics Score: 7/10

STORY

If you know the Harvest Moon games, you know that they are notoriously weak story-wise. This game doesn't really try to remedy the problem, but the story that exists is just barely enough. Basically, you (the main character) inherit a farm from your dead father. When you get to good ol' Forget Me Not Valley, you'll find that it's not in horrible shape, as in BtN, and you even get a cow! Granted, you'll need to buy new tools soon, but hey, you're alright with what you've got. Your dad's old pal Takakura isn't dead yet, so he hangs out on the farm and sells your goods. Throughout the game, you will eventually get married, have a kid, and watch your spawn grow up and start a career. While this may sound all well and good, the story is not particularly interesting, with very little character development to push things along. If you plan to rely on the story to make you keep playing…well, let's just say that it's going to be one hell of a dreary ride.

Story Score: 5/10

HANGING WITH THE LADIES

As any Harvest Moon veteran knows, one of the best parts of the game is wooing the assorted single ladies around town so you can eventually get married and make babies on a semi-regular basis (OK, I lied, just one baby for you). The thrill of the chase, as I call it, is one of the best and most inspired parts of the game. However, this is another place where AWL fails. You see, in BtN, there were a total of 5 lovely ladies that you could hit on, but in AWL, there is a pitiable sum of 3 single gals in town. Sadly, pretty much all three of them are irritating in one way or another, and it's nearly impossible to keep track of one of them (she staggers around randomly, so you have to search for her. Lame!), which really makes it a lot harder to enjoy the chase.

However, this isn't the bad part. The bad part is that it's so damned easy to get them in your clutches. All 3 girls will fall head over heels for flowers, which are painfully easy to obtain. And even then, the gals don't do anything once you're actually married. They stand inside the house and…do nothing. Granted, the aforementioned random staggerer will occasionally go outside and prowl around, but it's (of course) random. In short, getting together with the women is boring and adds nothing to the overall experience.

HWTL Score: 5/10

GAMEPLAY

Wow. This is the single best part of the game, but it doesn't really show when you play the game. For example, your character controls well and you finally have camera control (that's a very good thing), but who cares when the game is so uninteresting? (More on that later.) You can hop on your horse at any time once you have one and ride him around, allowing you to move much more efficiently. Actually raising crops has taken a backseat now, as raising “aminals”, as I call them, has been pushed into the forefront. It's actually a pretty effective change, as the crops take too long to grow and are practically worthless at first, and you start off with a moo-juice producing cow right off the bat.

Cows will quickly show themselves to be the most valuable things to buy, as milk fetches an extremely hefty sum. However, the breeding system for the cows is seriously irritating. You need a bull and cow to make a baby (obviously). Then the cow is preggers for about 3 seasons, if memory serves me right, and then the baby pops out. However, after 30 days of toiling on the farm, you'll be pretty ticked off if the baby turns out to be a bull. Indeed, having more than one bull is pointless, since bulls can do nothing but impregnate cows, so what's the point of having another one? Of course, you sell the baby and try again, but the cycle is very tiring, and when you get 2 or 3 bulls in a row (as I have), you will probably feel the urge to stab someone with a spork. I probably would rather have the stupid Miracle Potion system from the previous games, but this is more realistic.

The new selling system matches up with the new focus on animals, as you have a dairy bin to dump milk, cheese, eggs and whatnot into, but you have to sell you crops in town to random people or that goofy-looking vendor who comes to down every so often. This system is actually pretty good and makes sense in general, as Takakura takes the dairy bin to some nearby city to sell. He shows up later in the day with your money, and in the meantime, you can be doing productive things such as selling crops, flowers, or other random crap to the villagers who seem to really have a lot of money stashed away for buying flowers and fish. To cut to the point, the core gameplay of the game is very solid, but you won't notice. You'll be too busy being bored out of your mind, which I'll explain momentarily.

Gameplay Score: 7/10

REPLAY VALUE

Sweet Fancy Moses, the Harvest Moon games have a crapload of replay value. Indeed, they are possibly the most addictive games I've ever played. There's just so much stuff to do in BtN or HM64, and if you get bored with just playing in the dirt, you can always go to fun festivals. However, this is a review for A Wonderful Life, and AWL is easily the least interesting game it has ever been my misfortune to play. To put it nicely, you could compare playing this game past the first in-game year to smashing your head into a wall over and over: It's not fun, but hey, at least you're passing time, right? I do not exaggerate when I say that you will spend more time sleeping in this game than actually being a productive virtual farmer.

Let's make a hypothetical situation here: Let's say that you wake up at 5:30 in the morning. You dash over to your fertile field and water your crops. OK, now it's 6:30. You make a quick foraging run around your farm. Now it's 7:00. OK, time to go take care of the animals. If they're inside the barn (there's a pasture you can ditch them in), you'll have to feed them and take care of them, but if they're outside, you'll just need to brush them and milk them, or whatever you do to them. Alright, so now it's about 8:00. Congratulations! You've got a good 4 hours to do absolutely nothing. Oh sure, you can go fish or go to the mine to dig for treasure or maybe hunt down your lady friend to give her some stuff, but in all actuality, you've done everything you need to. So, 4 hours later, you repeat all this crap and find that, hey, it's about 3:30 when you're done. So now what do you do? Uhh…go fish some more? Wait, no, you already fished for 4 FREAKING HOURS. So you go to bed at 3:30, hoping to pass some time. You wake up at 9:30 and maybe water your plants again, if they need it. Wow, it's 10:00! You have an hour and a half to burn now if you want to get up at 5:30 again, so go fish some more! Then go to bed and prepare to repeat this situation over and over and over and over until your brain turns to cheese and you decide, “Hey, my brain is turning to cheese. Maybe I should stop playing this boring pile and watch SpongeBob. That's actually worth my time!” Then you turn off the game and never come back.

You get it? This game is unexciting, and it becomes even worse once you're married and the aspect of wooing the ladies is gone. The town is empty with nothing to do and actually farming and caring for your animals is over so fast every day, you'll quickly start wondering why Natsume didn't buck up and give us some festivals. Yeah, that's right, there are no festivals. OK, sure, technically there are, but I wouldn't call going to someone's house and triggering a stupid cutscene a festival. So there you go. The sheer lack of fun should drive you away from this game forever.

Replay Value Score: 2/10

RENT OR BUY?

If you still are considering this game, you probably should just rent it. Typically, you need more than 3 days or however long your rental is for to get into an HM game, but you can experience everything AWL has to offer in about 25 minutes.

THE SCORES
Graphics: 7/10
Wooing Women: 5/10
Story: 5/10
Gameplay: 7/10
Replay Value: 2/10
Total Score: 5.2/10 (Baby Jesus Is Crying!)

THE SHORT REVIEW

This game is boring. It's pretty and fun for about an hour, but this can't change the fact that every minute afterwards is mind-numbing drudgery. I realize I'm being harsh, but this game deserves it. Please don't waste your money. Buy a used copy of Back to Nature for 10 bucks.

5/10


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 12/28/04


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