Review by Puddingchan

"Finally, we (almost) have a Harvest Moon worthy of being on the DS and for the DS"

Harvest Moon has been an endearing series of games for me. I grew up with the GB/GBC series which I have fond memories of and also played the GBA series as well.

The Nintendo DS, successors of the older portable consoles, has yet another new addition of Harvest Moon to it, the first two being Harvest Moon DS and DS Cute.

For the newcomers to this series, welcome to a game which has minimal violence, is family-friendly, and allows you to manage your crops, animals, get to know your townsfolk as well as many other things that you can do in it. If you are totally new to the series and own a Nintendo DS, you may want to know that this may be on of the better titles that you will see for the Nintendo DS so far, despite disappointing reviews from places such as on this game. (The 5.8 score was too critical and uninformed for what this game in its entirety has to offer.)

Read on to find out what this game brings.

[Controls - 6.8/10]

A major mention will be that this game uses primarily the stylus, with button controls being limited to tools usage and running in a certain direction your character is facing or being directed to using the stylus.

For the people who are used to the system of buttons in previous Harvest Moon games, you may want to ask yourself if you will be comfortable with using the stylus. Some people may not be so welcoming to a system which relies a lot on the stylus.

There however is an alternative method to run in the game pressing the R button and then using the stylus to guide along.

The tutorials for the controls are quite good and informative. Nonetheless, it takes some time getting used to these new controls.

You may be pleasantly surprised that the use of stylus has made certain things easier for this game. For once, you can now use your stylus to drag items to bins, such as your produce to the shipping bin and the feed to the chicken bins. (Make sure the arrow is above the bin before you drop stuff to the bin though, for safety check.) It is also less easy for you to accidentally drop your items unless you do it the wrong way or on purpose (it means you haven't been following the tutorial with care). It is also now easier to pick up items from the ground once you get the hang of it.

While it is disappointing and a big shame that they did not keep the d-pad directional controls, this system actually works quite well on its own. If you are used to games that use a lot of the stylus, such as Animal Crossing, you will be right at home with this game.

[Graphics - 8.5/10]

A major improvement from HM DS and DS Cute. The graphics are effective. This is a 2-and-a-1/2-D game, but it looks good. The character avatars for Mineral Town characters coming to this game were redone, and I actually liked their new looks here.

[Story and Characters] - 7/10

The story is quite a new one compared to previous Harvest Moon titles on the outside, on the inside, not much has really changed. You start choosing if you want to play as a boy or as a girl, and board a ship telling the sailor your name. You were looking forward to starting a new life on one of the islands off-shore, and by a stroke of opportunity, you were shipwrecked and stranded off one of the islands. Along with you were Taro and his family who are in the merchant trade and a deal was strike with him to work together to make the once abandoned island a bustling place once again and attract the people and former residents back.

This is as far as the story goes, and the rest will unfold as more characters come to your new town. You start out with only Taro and family as your neighbours first, followed by people who start to move in along certain requirements met. It is actually interesting to look forward to these people moving in, although it may bring some frustrations to people if they forget to talk to them at least once every 30 days, as some of these people will move out if you ignore them. If you do not talk to the main villagers regularly, they may stop accepting gifts from you until you talk to them some more for the next few days. Also, they tend to repeat the same things every day, especially the faceless sub-villager characters and it can be quite annoying to hear repeated dialogue.

However, there is an added touch of personality in this game. Instead of having to guess from scratch what each villager likes or dislikes, you have a list in your asset charts to show information on these. This is really neat and useful.

The characters look loveable, and the heart events bring out the personality to each character quite well, and may be quite laughable with certain characters like Pierre and Shea. One may wish that more random events happen in the game, but what is in it works fairly well.

[Gameplay - 8/10]

Although the game retains most of the formula that made the Harvest Moon games what they are, there has been some major changes to the way you play the game. No longer are the days of simplistic, mindless playing and cheating. It is time for players to actually use their heads and calculate a little bit more if they want to earn enough for daily essentials and the upgrades as soon as possible. This is actually a very good sign as a game should be engaging and not boring and mindless.

Firstly, there is the introduction of the stamina and hunger system. Running around uses up a bit of both as time ticks, and using of tools bring down stamina. Being a player who isn't used to such a system, I can say that this was a bit of a challenge to keep up initially, but there are ways to keep up with it. It can be said to be a fair attempt at realistically limiting you to what you do in a day even when you are not bogged down by the time system, which can be already troublesome to keep up with if you are planning to interact with more villagers coming into the game eventually.

Secondly, planting of crops is no simple matter of set days, weather reset and watering now. There is actually a formula to keep crops growing to your expectations. Initially, I hated and am not very convinced on this system, but on reflecting on it, it is actually very reminscient of what real-life farmers do for efficient farming. You have to actually know and control the amount of water and sunlight crops gain to get the best quality available. Although you cannot control the sunlight values until you get a greenhouse, you can do so for water. Resetting the weather for the next day is not possible now as the game generates the weather a number of days in advance, but what is the point of cheating the system? It feels more realistic this way. At the most, you can get the forecast everyday from the ex-farmer-turned-shipping-merchant-cum-super-duper-weatherman Taro. (Wow, I didn't know that old people have the power to calculate weather so accurately.)

Thirdly, you can upgrade your tools using Wonderfuls. They are actually as wonderful as their name goes as they have the ability to upgrade your tools to become super-tools that save your time and energy when you get more of them and the correct ones. For instance, you can upgrade your watering can to water an unprecedented 50 x 16 crop area at one go. However, do not be easily fooled to thinking that these come easily. The requirements for getting these stones may not be that simple, as you have usually go by winning festivals in first position to obtain them colours at random. Different colours, different effects.

Another thing to note is the mining system. In HM DS and DS Cute, you can keep dropping down from the mine floors to get to the bottom easily. In Island of Happiness, this will not work the same. You actually have limited stamina and dropping down onto floors will cost you stamina points, according to how far you have dropped down. This makes it actually harder of a challenge, and you have to depend a lot on grass foraging or cooking to make it through the levels.

Not to forget about Animals and Pet. Previously, you do not need to feed your dog, but now you do. For the animals, you will be pleased to know that the annoying and time-consuming mini-games in HM DS and DS Cute have been reduced and redone to make things easier for players who may wish to focus on the other aspects of the game as well. The petting game, for instance, now does not have a time limit and it does not occur every single day to every chicken or animal you own. It tends to happen at random.

Food is now more important in this game than ever since it restores both stamina and hungry in different degrees depending on the food you get. Unlike previously, where you can try and test out your own recipes, you will have to obtain them by giving ingredients to the cafe and diner owners who will only come in at the later part of the game upon certain requirements met. This may be a disappointment for certain people who loved the trial-and-error method, but I find that this not to bad as there are other things to better focus on if you want to go through your game's year 1 successfully.

You really have to work hard at getting the good stuff out of this game if you want to make your harvesting life easier and fulfilling. This brings a new level of challenge from previous Harvest Moon titles and I love this game for it.

[Sound - 9/10]

For the DS System, the music is pretty good. I love the catchy tunes and it really reminded me a lot of the GBC games which had simplistic, yet memorable music. I actually love the town theme for this game and it really has an upbeat feel. You can hum to this music easily and it catches onto your head easily. The other music are not too shabby either, and they really fit the theme that they are trying to convey, such as spring, summer, or love events in this game.

[Replayability - 8/10]

The many options of wooing candidates for love as well as the complexity of this game will keep you playing this for hours. You will have to know your stuff and spend a lot of time if you want to achieve great scores for ranking system via wifi. Even if you do not, it is a good time-killer to manage the farm as well as the townspeople in this game.

Once you have reached close to 100% completion, there might not be much you can do for this game, but everyone has a life and this is fine. By the time you reach the end of it, it will take quite a while, unless you are using AR codes and I must say that if you do consider to extensively use those, you are going to spoil the fun of your game and the food in the game will be useless as collection.

[Problems of this game]

As a mention worthy of people reading this review to take note, you may share sentiments with me that it will be nice to have the d-pad control back, and it will actually return to the next game sequel. Marvelous, the company that made this game, seems to take the feedback seriously from the Japanese players before we probably have the chance to get to them about this, and I am quite glad for it.

People have been noticing about items not stacking, but it is not a bug or a glitch as the items now have different ranks, quality, size and freshness, giving rise to different price worths for what may seem to be the two same items. Although it is a hassle to group your items now, it is made easier with the stylus being available for you. If you are not so of a fan of this system, you may be pleased to know that the next game have a feature to help you auto-group the items. This may be useful for collecting and grouping ores in great quantity easily, though it may still not be always useful if you want to get the best prices out of all your items by shipping them individually as they are, such as fish and crops.

The mini-map may not be very useful to indicate where the main characters are at any point of time since the positioning of icons are not representative of their actual locations. This problem is also solved with introduction of a real-time map on player's choice (press select) in the next game.

[Overall - 7.5/10]

To make the Harvest Moon fans out there happy, I will like to say that this game is definitely better than Harvest Moon DS and DS Cute.

Even if you feel that you wish to wait for the next game for the better things, I will still recommend you to try this game to get used to the stylus controls. Even when the next game has the directional pad for you, it is actually more time efficient to be depending on the stylus primarily when doing your running around town and talking to people. The only time you may want to find the d-pad useful should be work on the fields and cutting down of branches and stumps.

For a game of this genre (farming simulation), this is by far one of the best so far that people have seen for this console. This game is not to be compared with Rune Factory as it belongs to a slightly different genre along the lines of an "action-fantasy-farming simulation role-playing" title. If you do not enjoy farming simulation and are more into role-playing action fantasy games, this title may not be suitable for your tastes, but if you enjoy casual games with a lot of depth, this is the title for you.

For the newcomers, this game might be slightly challenging. If you ever decide to pick this title up, I will recommend that you try to visit discussion boards (GameFAQs is fine) and related websites for vital game information such as crop growing weather-influenced system, fishing, mining to start off with. Earning in the first year without some knowledge of how the world works here may become a little bit too overwhelming, and a little help to from the fellow Harvest Moon players to help you a little out with understanding how things work will not hurt.

The fans and long-time players of this series may find that this game may be easy if they follow the old routine, but I find that the diversity of this game is very welcoming, such as the customisation of tools to use Wonderfuls as well as the different buildings and accessories you can obtain in this game to make gameplay more fulfilling as you get along.

Also, for the Rune Factory fans, you may want to consider trying out this game with a fresh perspective and not expect too much of the elements present in either Rune Factory or the older Harvest Moon titles. Give this game the chance it deserves to show what it has, because it brings actually more than what meets the eye at first sight.

To buy or rent? I will personally point to rent or borrow first if you can because some people may hate the stylus controls completely. If you like it enough to want to complete the varsity of what this game has to offer, buy it. If you are overwhelmed by the controls, rent it first and get the hang of the stylus use, and wait for the next game, Shining Sun and Friends, which is a remake and an improvement of what Island of Happiness is and incorporates improved features into it.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 09/08/08

Game Release: Harvest Moon DS: Island of Happiness (US, 08/26/08)

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