Review by Alceriniel
A Refreshing Take on a Classic Series
This my Review of the Newest DS installment of the Harvest Moon Series: Island of Happiness. Throughout this review I will address the pro's and con's of the controls, and general gameplay, the storyline, graphics and sound quality, and re-playability.
Controls - Island of Happiness is the first game in the Harvest Moon series to be controlled solely by a touch screen menu. Truthfully, the only use for the buttons in game is to alternate between tools, and to auto run by pressing either the L or R shoulder buttons. Pros of this system is that you don't have to constantly take out and put away your Stylus, or juggle it from hand to hand; however, when one first starts playing the game, the controls can be quite tricky, and having your hand cramped over your DS can become uncomfortable after hours of gameplay.
Thankfully though, the controls do not take that long to master, and it is very easy for the player to find a "groove" that makes using tools and gathering items a bit easier on themselves. As far as hand cramping goes, using an average mechanical pencil with no lead makes handling and playing the game for longer periods of time much easier, and also helps assist with the first problem with accustoming yourself to the controls.
Menus - The in game menus are (of course) controlled through the touch screen, access to the Diary, and Rucksack are controlled by a pop up menu that can be accessed by tapping on its icon at the bottom corner of the screen, the menu can also alternate between the left and right, which is very handy for if the person playing is left handed.
The Menus are easy to navigate and very tastefully done, the only problem that I ever have with them is the fact that when a choice box comes up, the options zoom in from the left and right instead of simply popping up in the middle, which I view as a slight waste of time, but does not cause any serious problems with overall gameplay.
Crops - The crop system has been rehauled in this installment of Harvest Moon, which can lead to a major bit of confusion in the beginning. This is the first game where the amount of sun required for a crop to grow to the next stage must be met. I understand completely that this was done to make the game more realistic, but the weather system makes it nearly impossible to turn a profit growing crops in your first year (or at least until you build a greenhouse).
Island of Happiness does greet us with a amazing variety of new vegetables and things to grow. Your farmer can now cultivate rice, wheat, and soybeans as well as a plethora of vegetables and fruit trees on his or her farm. All of which can be used in the new and masterworked in game cooking system.
Animal Husbandry - The care and raising of animals has remained almost exactly the same with the exception that now you must feed your horse and dog, and that there are mini games where you can milk and shear you cow and sheep. Depending on how well you play at said games, you will be able to gain better quality products before the required heart level is met. There is also a petting game that occasionally appears above any one of your animals, which also increases their heart level and reduces stress.
STORY - 7/10
Main Storyline - I find the main storyline for Island of Happiness quite a stray from the past settings of Harvest Moon games, but also quite fun. You have more to do as far as befriending people and getting them to upgrade their shops, as well as much more to create and build on your farm. Not only are you given the opportunity to build your farm from the ground up, but also the village surrounding it as well.
Characters - I was a little disappointed on the lack of of background story given for even the main characters. In past Harvest Moon games every character had a story that you unlocked bit by bit as you befriended them. Most of the characters are simply on the Island to set up a shop, or because they crash landed there, and that's all the information given. I'm curious as to what happened to Marabelle's Husband as well as Gannon and Chen's wives. Why is Vaughn so glum all the time? We are given no insight or reason to actually take the time to befriend these people except to unlock items and pets, which seems somewhat dull to me, at this point the friendship list has become nothing more than a to-do list, which (in my point of view) took a bit of the flavor out of the game.
Graphics - I (personally) find the graphics to be beautiful for a handheld version of the Harvest Moon series. They are a wonderful mix between Harvest Moon DS and Magical Melody for the gamecube, and appear both clean and crisp. The sprites are nicely detailed, and even the sub villagers of each specific group can be recognized individually by a simple change in wardrobe color.
Sound - The music that you hear in game alternates between five things. The seasonal music which is looped endlessly on your farm, the village music (which you will hear all the time), cut-scene music (which is quite cute), and the music in the mine (which eerily reminds me of Zelda for some reason), and festival music. With the exception of the cut-scene music which you do not hear very often, the background music can get very repetitive over time.
Truthfully I was hoping that they would bring the record system back from the DS and DS Cute series so that you could alternate as you see fit, if only to break the tedium of the repetitiveness. But normally I play with my sound off to save power so the sound does not phase me to much. If the music gets repetitive, simply switch off your sound and turn on the TV for background noise.
PLAY TIME/RE-PLAYABLITY 10/10
The play time of the game is uncountable, simply because the game never ends. As stated above in the Gameplay section, you will probably find yourself engrossed in this game for hours at a time. It is certainly re-playable, but with so much to do, you may find that it will take you a very long time to want to start over again from scratch.
This game was certainly worth the wait. Despite a few things that might slightly irk die hard fans who have been playing the game through the years, I would strongly suggest picking the game up at your local game store.
Keep in mind that the first year might be a bit tricky, and that if you do not have easy access to the internet you might want to shell out the extra $18 for the strategy guide to help you along in the beginning, as some things might be a tad confusing when you start out.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Harvest Moon DS: Island of Happiness (US, 08/26/08)
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