Review by bluej33

"The moon shines brightly again!"

Since the dawn of civilization, agriculture has been the most important item necessary for survival. Without food, one cannot stay alive. Once agriculture grew enough to produce excess food, civilizations expanded tremendously. Now, fast forward to the present day, and farming is still a big business. But a farming video game? Sounds a bit iffy, I'm sure, but the Harvest Moon franchise has been very popular since its huge cult classic, Harvest Moon 64. Now, developer Natsume bestows upon the GameCube another installment of the fan-favorite franchise–Harvest Moon: Magical Melody.

What you'll likely notice first upon powering on Magical Melody is the strong graphical style. If you've played past GameCube Harvest Moon games, you'll know that there is more a trend toward more realistic graphics. Well, they've received a complete overhaul for Magical Melody, and are now very anime-inspired. Characters don't look so realistic any more, but the game still looks nice. Environments, from surrounding trees and grass to your house itself, have a very charming, colorful style. Graphically, Magical Melody certainly isn't groundbreaking, but it does complement the game's overall atmosphere very well.

Underneath the childlike graphics, though, Magical Melody hides an incredibly fun, deep game play mechanic. The premise in Magical Melody is nearly identical to that in every other Harvest Moon game: run a farm, get married, improve the town, and live happily ever after. To do so, you need to start from the ground up; when the game begins, you own only a small piece of land. However, this little land is the basis for your agricultural empire! By utilizing the land as best you can, you earn money to buy more land and materials. Slowly, your farmland will grow, as will your bank account.

Of course, simply owning land isn't going to net you any income; you've got to do something with it, and that's when Magical Melody really shines. Essentially, you've got two main options for utilizing land: build a barn and raise animals, or plant some seeds and farm your crops. The attention to detail in Magical Melody is wonderful, and subtle additions to the game play mechanic overall make farm life such a blast.

The game play isn't the type that's going to make you giddy with excitement -- but it will keep you coming back and playing for a very long time. Magical Melody features a very addictive game play mechanic, and it's hard to really put a finger on it without having the game in front of you to really show you what I mean. Sure, hitting the X button several times over the course of a few minutes to water your plants might not seem like much fun. But Magical Melody derives its entertainment over the long term, not the short run. Because while repetitive tasks may not seem like much of a game, saving up cash and expanding your farming empire certainly is.

Part of that "farming empire" is likely going to involve livestock, but they're an expensive investment for first-year farmers. In addition to merely purchasing the animals, which are fairly pricey especially compared to seeds, you're going to have to hire the carpenter to build some shelter for them. You might start out with some chickens to yield you a few eggs to sell, and then over time build up to sheep and cattle (you can even get a horse to get you around the village quicker!). Sheep yield wool and cattle milk, but both can be turned into more cash-gathering items with a little extra investment.

There are a few different accessories that you can buy to turn your animal products into more useable items -- and as a result, ensure that they net you more income. For example, butter-making and cheese-making machines can be bought to turn your cows' milk into butter and cheese, obviously. Also, you can buy a dye machine for your sheep's wool, which allows you to color it and thereby gain a bit extra cash from it.

Of course, you could always sell the butter, milk, and cheese that you get from your cows, but you can also use it to cook. Cooking actually becomes rather important as you progress in the game, because your energy meter will deplete quickly when you've got a huge farm to look after, and cooking is the only (good) way to replenish it. You can use a huge variety of food items, from fish you catch in the river and pond to your own farm-fresh vegetables to the dairy products that come from your barn. It's not necessarily an exciting aspect of Magical Melody, but the recipe system is a necessity and also serves to be a bit interesting.

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, as some unnamed entity once said. Well, that's certainly the case in Magical Melody–if you simply spend all your time with your work, your Harvest Moon life will be noticeably unsatisfying. When you're not working, you have a huge town to explore. There are dozens of townspeople, all of whom are just yankering to chat it up with you. And trust me, you're going to want to get to know everybody, because one special burg member is going to become your spouse!

The idea behind socialization in Magical Melody is for you to develop a relationship with every character in the game. Exchange gifts and talk often with people in order to increase the heart count between you–the more hearts, the better you two will get along. While this implementation isn't the most interesting, it does provide another avenue of fun for people who get a bit bored doing the same routine every day. In this way, Magical Melody really manages to appeal to many different types of gamers.

Overall, the addictive game play not only ensures that you'll have a blast, but also gives Magical Melody an immense amount of replay value. In past games, your life on the farm has been divided into chapters, or ends once you get married. However, that is not the case in Magical Melody; instead, the game goes on indefinitely. Much like Animal Crossing, there's just no shortage of things to do in town. Water your crops, care for your animals, go visit town members, or go fishing. You truly will never get bored!

Magical Melody may be a blast to play, but it is by no means perfect. One of the more disappointing aspects of the game was the audio quality–or rather, dearth of it. There are only a few tunes that are played throughout the game, and while they are sort of catchy, they also get very old. Music is seldom a critical aspect of any game, but it would have been nice to see Natsume but a bit more effort into the accompanying music in Magical Melody. Sound effects are bad bordering on downright hilarious, and you'll get extremely sick of the main game tune, because you'll hear it just about everywhere that you go.

In an attempt to extend the fun offered by this game even more, Natsume also decided to include a multiplayer mode. You might enjoy it the first time, but after that, you'll immediately see through it and recognize that it's obviously tacked on. In fact, there's not even anything new about this mode–it simply takes activities like tilling ground and catching fish, and makes them playable by up to four people. If, however, you think it would be fun to see who can press the A button the most times in 60 seconds, then you might possibly enjoy the multiplayer present in Magical Melody.

Yet, despite its minor blemishes, Magical Melody still manages to offer an amazingly fun, immersive, and difficult Harvest Moon experience. Certain aspects of the game may not be up to scratch, but if you can look by the small problems, then you're guaranteed to have a blast with this game. Long-time fans of the series owe it to themselves to purchase this game. If you've never played a Harvest Moon title in your life, this would be a great place to jump in, because you can still lose yourself in the addictive, exciting, wonderful world of farming. Harvest Moon: Magical Melody definitely deserves a purchase from anybody looking to extend the life of their precious GameCube.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/29/07, Updated 01/22/08

Game Release: Harvest Moon: Magical Melody (US, 03/28/06)


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