Review by ravaggle
"A worthy, but flawed entry to the Harvest Moon library."
Harvest Moon games have always enjoyed a depth and breadth that almost no other games can even come close to. On the surface the concept sounds downright boring, but for people that enjoy the life simulation genre of games they find that there is just something special about Harvest Moon. Now, honestly to review a game such as this objectively there needs to really be two scores; one for people that are accustomed to Harvest Moon and one for those who are not. For all intents and purposes this review (and the score given) will be for people that are fans of Harvest Moon however I will also score the game as best as an outsider looking in.
Harvest Moon Tree of Tranquility at its core is indeed a Harvest Moon game. Not too many things have been added to the overall mix of the game so the mechanics stay more or less the same from previous installments. The new animal additions and things such as new clothing for your character add a little more depth, but do not drastically change the mechanics of the game. You will still find yourself farming, making friends with the people in town, and doing other various activities such as mining, fishing, etc. Nothing is really "fresh" but to Harvest Moon fans it will likely not seem "dull" either.
One nice thing about the game is that you are more or less free to progress however fast or slow you wish. It is possible to plow through most of the story elements in one game year, but at the same time you can also take your time if you so wish. There is no benefit or punishment for either choice so it really boils down to a matter of player preference. This is also not to say that once the story elements of the game are completed that the game is over because this is not the case. Once the story is over you are free to continue the same game forever. Another addition is that if you choose to get married and have a child you will be able to start a new game as your child if you complete certain story elements. Do not expect a brand new experience though because the characters and story will all be the same, you just get to start a new game with your money and items.
In speaking of the game's story, do not expect anything groundbreaking here either because its the tried and true Harvest Moon story of saving the goddess in peril. The story is charming though rather cliche. The biggest gripe to be had with the story besides its lack of originality is the manner in which it is progressed. Gathering seemingly random items of a certain color has no real ties back into the game. Advancing the story is generally easy though as the items required can normally be purchased or are easily made. Note that if you are not planning on reading a guide or F.A.Q. while playing you will likely have to wait a year to know exactly what items are needed. The rewards for completing story segments are new areas of the island unlocked as well as new characters coming to town. All in all the story is mediocre but charming.
Taking a look at some of the technical aspects of Harvest Moon Tree of Tranquility the first thing you will likely notice is the terrible sound, especially on any of the game's (thankfully) very few voice over sections. It sounds like the voices were recorded on a worn out cassette from 1982. Voice "acting" aside, the rest of the game's sounds are also sub par. The music is decent, but nothing special. The recording quality of the music is much better than that of the voices but still is sub par compared to other offerings. The other various sounds made by walking/tools/animals are all decent, but nothing to write home about.
Graphically speaking the game has the look and feel of a Harvest Moon game. The characters and animals generally have a cute style about them. The game has style, but strictly graphically speaking the game is rather ugly. Do not expect high polygons, bloom effects, or anything of the likes (though if you are a fan of Harvest Moon you already know this is the case). Textures are generally muddy and the game as a whole looks dated, even for a Wii offering. Despite the graphical shortcomings the game still manages to have a charm about it. The game also suffers from rare bouts of slowdown which is not understandable at all since the game is in no way taxing to the system.
Lastly there are the game's controls and of all the gripes with the game herein lies the biggest. While the Wii motion controls generally work, they feel more like a gimmick than actually immersing the player in the game. Thankfully the Classic Controller works fairly well with the game, though its functionality leaves much to be desired. It is understandable that using the Wii Mote setting that there would be no camera controls, however with the dual analog set up of the Classic Controller this was a large oversight. Instead of rotating the camera with the right analog stick the game goes into some kind of cinematic mode that serves no real function other than to annoy when the stick is accidentally bumped. But for the most part the controls work well enough to get the job done. The game also has a collection of mini-games that feel like tacked on shovelware. What is more annoying though is that when playing a mini-game at a festival the player is required to hook up the Nunchuk to the Wii Mote regardless if it is really needed or not. For people playing with a classic controller this is very annoying. The mini-games themselves are broken with little explanation on what is to be done and terrible controls, especially with the pointer inspired games. The only game that was even playable was the mole attack game and even then it was not exactly fun.
So why such a high score with all the negative comments? Because at the core it is still a good addition the the Harvest Moon line of games. A fan of Harvest Moon will likely find this game to be enjoyable while anyone not familiar with games of this genre will probably be left scratching their head as to what all the fuss is about. In the end it will boil down to what you are looking for in a game. If you are looking for a life sim with a good amount of depth and charm then Harvest Moon Tree on Tranquility will likely be right up your alley. On the flip side if you are looking for a game with the best controls, the tightest action, and pretty graphics leave this one on the shelf.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/06/08
Game Release: Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility (US, 09/30/08)
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