Review by Gilgamesh1317
My god, what the hell happened here?
Harvest Moon DS (hereafter referred to as "HMDS") is the first instalment of the long-running Harvest Moon franchise on the DS. It is a farm simulator game, first and foremost, with some dating sim elements.
I don't even know where to begin. This game is just a mess. A terrible, terrible mess of glitches, poor graphics, and bad controls. I don't know (nor care) why this game is so broken, all I care about is that someone looked at it, played it and thought "Yep. This is good enough to release."
It boggles the mind. Thing is, the EU publisher isn't even to blame; it's the US one, because apparently they stripped out a lot of stuff and didn't bother fixing the bugs and glitches during localisation. What bothers me is that no-one at Rising Star Games thought to delay it a bit and fix the bugs at the very least.
In terms of graphics, it might as well be a GBA game. Pretty much all of the game's sprites are lifted straight from the GBA Harvest Moons, so much so that the game could probably run on the GBA with minor differences. It just looks poor for a DS game, as there are plenty of 2D games that use sprites that were actually made for the DS, not the GBA. It seems the developer loved cutting corners, because large majorities of items are just recolours of a single sprite. I can forgive recolours, I'm a Final Fantasy fan, it's commonplace in RPGs in general. But it's taken to absurd amounts in this game, to where even the enemies that show up in the mines are just recolours of farm animals and one of them is just a recolour of your character's sprite. This isn't new, but it's a bit aggravating when pretty much everything is a recolour or has a recolour. The game just looks poor, and it's increasingly apparent that the developers did cut corners on the game. As well as the sprites, there are character portraits that appear on the bottom screen when talking to someone. These just look weird and out of place, and some of them are just poorly done (what the hell is up with Nami's hair?).
The music is bland. The generic tunes that play during each season are just songs that are merely seconds in length endlessly looping for the duration of the season. At one point, you can buy new songs to play, all of them coming from different Harvest Moon games. Only one or two are worth listening to (i.e. the Wonderful Life ones), because the rest just sound bad. The cries of the various animals and such are alright, I guess, as stock as they are. As soon as you can, just turn on the Wonderful Life tunes and just keep using those. They never get old, and are actually decent.
And the gameplay. Dear lord, who messed up here? Glitches abound, some even game-breaking in nature. If you turn off the game right after saving, odds are you turned off early enough for the game to glitch and be unable to load your save files, rendering all hard work pointless. If you have the Harvest Sprites work for you (I'll get to that later) during Winter and have them fish at the beach, you'll get hordes of cash to expend on everything. Sometimes animals get stuck on things, and if you've got the carpenter building something for you inside your house and let your cat or dog run around, there's a small chance they'll get stuck in it. I've seen someone get their cat stuck to their kitchen and have it stay there for the rest of the game. Really, these glitches shouldn't even exist. Natsume was just in a rush to get the game out in time that they didn't bother testing it. And they even cut content out, too. You can buy DVDs of the old TV shows from the GBA Harvest Moon: Friends Of Mineral Town (a much better game), but Natsume didn't arse themselves enough to translate these and just left them blank, cutting all the text out. Basically, you waste money that could've been used for something else. In doing this, Natsume renders several items pointless moneysinks. It's aggravating.
Onto the actual game and how it plays. The story of the game is this: a witch and the local Harvest Goddess are having a fight, being complete opposites of each other. The witch gets annoyed by the Harvest Goddess' tendency to teleport around shouting something (I forget, it was stupid) and decides to cast a spell that will stop her from doing that. However, she inadvertly turns the Goddess to stone, and in an attempt to undo that, banishes her to another dimension. In a fit of misguided stupidity, she sends all the Harvest Sprites (magical beings that serve the Goddess or something) after the Goddess, and as a result they're all stuck in this other dimension too. It comes down to you, a local farmer who's regarded as something of a failure by the local townspeople at first, to get his crap together and make the best damn farm in the world in order to get the Harvest Sprites and the Harvest Goddess back. Basic fantasy fare, you might be thinking. Hell, if the people that owned the franchise knew what they were doing, they could base an entire TV show off this premise, and in the hands of more competent developers they could make a fairly decent and even somewhat epic RPG. But no, the plot ultimately means nothing. When you finally get the Harvest Goddess back (done by retrieving 60 Harvest Sprites), she just thanks you in one line and goes away. That's it. No real ending, no credits reel, nothing. Granted, a game such as Harvest Moon doesn't need a story, it relies on gameplay mostly. But it still feels like they wasted a good opportunity here.
Controls are fiddly. The developers tried to make use of the touch screen, and do a poor job of it. Dragging items around in your inventory just feels awkward and slippery. There's even an option to have the buttons and D-Pad represented on the Touch Screen for you to use with the stylus, but it's pointless because the touch controls are poor and you can just use the freaking buttons anyway. Using tools is awkward because you have to be more or less directly in front of them, and the way crops are lined up (each individual plant takes up a square on a grid) makes watering them a bit awkward. Using tools on barn animals (cows and sheep) is simple enough, just get 'em to stand still (walk in front or behind them and push them, it makes 'em stop still for a bit) and then use the tool you want. Make sure you don't smack them with an axe or something, that makes them angry and stressed, and then they get "sick" (I wouldn't call gaping axe wounds "sick"), with a chance to die if you don't give them medicine.
Harvest Moon games all play the same, more or less. Buy seeds, till field, plant seeds, water seeds, harvest plant, repeat. Buy animal, let animal grow, take eggs/milk/wool, repeat last step ad nausea for the rest of animal's life, replace animal when dead. You can build multiple barns and poultry huts for more and more animals (4 to a barn/hut), and pretty much the entire field on your farm is ripe for crop farming. The series rivals Animal Crossing for the sheer amount of stuff to do. Play your cards right and you could be growing mushrooms in a special shed whilst making yogurt, cheese, yarn and even your own seeds. You could go mining, breaking rocks with your hammer for various gems and ores and tilling the ground with your hoe for...actually pretty random stuff (why is there sun lotion buried in the cave that leads to the mines?). You could go fishing, and can even pull up gargantuan fish if you hunt long enough. You can spend your days making friends, and can even woo a local girl and get her to marry you, and even have a child by her. There even seems to be hints of what used to be a more epic game hidden here and there as you can lay your hands on a magical sword (really) that you can use to fight enemies, cut stuff and destroy some rocks blocking off a cave with a small, extra field inside. In the last, overly large (65, 355 floors, I believe it is) mine, you can find nine magical coloured balls that grant wishes. Cursed tools hide in the third mine, and once blessed and purified, they turn out to be the best things in the game. There's a good game buried in there somewhere, it's just that you have to fight your way through unbelievable glitches, poor controls, bad graphics and bland music to find it. It's a Harvest Moon game; if you let it suck you in it'll grip onto you and hold you for months.
But even then, it's a poor Harvest Moon. Poorly made in general and Natsume's butchered localisation (which Rising Star then brought to Europe) makes it worse. I can't recommend this game to anyone, I'm afraid.
Rating: 1.5 - Bad
Product Release: Harvest Moon DS (EU, 04/13/07)
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