Review by arcaneja
"Everything old is new again. Luckily, everything new is new again, too."
Tree of Tranquility, the first Harvest Moon offering for the Wii, combines many tried and true features with some new, for a combination that's sure to be a hit for many fans of the series. It seems to be most closely related to Harvest Moon : Magical Melody for the GameCube. Albeit a much more grown-up and graphically shiny relative.
There's a story. It isn't much, but it is there, and it is mildly entertaining. Your character is traveling to a new home, and a new "Ranch Story", when suddenly a storm comes up as you're nearing your destination, Waffle Island. Very soon, through cheesy dreams, the objective of the game is revealed : Save the Harvest Goddess! A pretty typical theme of recent Harvest Moon games, so if you're tired of that being the goal, you might want to skip this installation or wait until you can pick it up on the cheap. I'm going to omit any specific details of the story so as to not spoil it, but know that there are Harvest Sprites. They are both cute and hilarious, as they should be.
To get you started, there's a very interactive tutorial phase that keeps you from moving ahead on your own until you provide three days of work for the Souffle Farm. Yes, the naming scheme is pretty sweet, pun intended. In the tutorial, you learn the most basic methods of caring for crops, and earn your starting funds. It is a kind of limited idea, and it doesn't really teach you very much if you're a veteran to the series. I was ready to rip my hair out in frustration by the time the Mayor finally showed up and gave me my own farm.
Crops are pretty typical, and anyone that's ever played a HM title before will find this feature standard fare. Clear the land, till the soil, plant your seeds. Water them every day and get rid of any surrounding weeds, and you'll soon be rolling in money, presents, and cooking ingredients. Not to mention that you can also use crops to upgrade certain shops and to advance the story of the game. Every farmer will want to have as many crops as their stamina can bear growing during every season.
For those that dread having to spend every last drop of stamina every single day to even earn enough to buy a new bag of seeds, not to mention a Barn or a Coop, there's a new system which can be abused to earn more money in the beginning of the game : the Part Time Job. Simply go to any business (including the Town Hall) in the game during their hours of operation (up to 1 hour before the business closes), and get paid for each hour of work that you do. It consumes no stamina, but it takes your time - your character will work through a series of cut scenes until the store's closing time. Not only does this pay in cold, hard cash, but it increases your friendship with every resident involved in the business as well. This is an excellent way to start wooing potential spouses before you have any sort of presents to give. Not only that, but the more you work for one particular store, the more you get paid each time you work there. In short, your character gets a raise every day he or she works. Don't you wish your job worked that way?
The ability to raise many different kinds of livestock is a huge improvement over past games, where you could only raise Chickens, Cows, and Sheep. In ToT, your Coop can house Chickens, Ducks, and Giant Squiggly... Silkworms, which are a very viable cash making machine once you have a Yarn Maker and Dye Pot. In your Barn, you can house and raise the typical Cows and Sheep along with Horses, which are used as transportation, Goats, and the very expensive Ostriches, which you can use as a mount as well as harvesting their eggs. In addition to livestock, your character can also befriend and make pets of many varied animals found in the game world, which is probably the most popular new feature of Tree of Tranquility.
Other staple ways of making money and upgrading your buildings and tools are still present, such as foraging, fishing, and mining, all of which are sure to make many long time fans happy. However, there are a few new ways to spend every last dime, including a Tailor Shop which seems tailor made (haha) to drain your coffers if you're vain about your character's appearance. Also look for special Festival Days where the primary objective is shopping, a source of special items, furniture, and outfits that you can't get anywhere else.
The cast of this game is very well done. There are many residents of Waffle Island, all graphically unique. Most of them are original characters, debuting in this game, although there are a couple of familiar faces as well. Each character has very defined likes and dislikes. They all have lines of dialogue depending on your relationship with them or current events also. To top it all off, they each have two distinct outfits, one for Spring/Summer and another for Fall/Winter, so their appearance doesn't get too boring during the year. Courting and raising friendships is much easier with the addition of the Part Time Job in this game, however feel free to talk to villagers and give them presents (especially on their birthdays) to raise their affection even more swiftly.
Let's talk mechanics now. The controls are very intuitive using the Wii-remote and nunchuck, and you can choose to either "swing" the remote to perform tasks or simply press the A Button instead. There's also full support for the Wii's Classic Controller, and a very easily accessible menu to see what each button does. I find the controls to be top notch, however I wish the auto targeting system was a little bit more precise.
Graphically, the game seems to be going in the next logical direction after other three dimensional installments of the series, such as Save the Homeland or any of the many incarnations of A Wonderful Life. More advanced, but not pushing any envelopes for graphical presentation. It is a very pretty game, with a lot of cute animals and people to interact with. The backgrounds and town environments are very well done. It is a bright and cheerful world.
Unfortunately, the sound is horrible. The little voice acting in the game is wretched, and every single sound is distorted and tinny. This is a shame, considering that the Harvest Moon series is well known to have lively and catchy music. The sound in Tree of Tranquility is easily the worst part of the game, and it might turn anyone off of what is otherwise an excellent addition to the Harvest Moon family and the ever-growing Wii library.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/06/08
Game Release: Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility (US, 09/30/08)
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