Review by PrinceMallow
Reviewed: 06/09/05 | Updated: 03/03/08
It's no Harvest Moon 64, but still a worthwhile addition to the series
Someone who has never played a Harvest Moon game before most likely fails to see what it is that keeps the fans coming back for more. "A farming sim?" they say, "Are you serious?" Many of them turn down Harvest Moon as soon as they hear the words "farming sim." You can't really blame them, can? After all, farming doesn't sound like the most exciting thing in the world, does it? And certainly not the most exciting concept for a video game. When most gamers play an RPG, they're expecting to battle hordes of monsters in Final Fantasy. They're expecting to battle the evil Ganon to save Princess Zelda. They aren't expecting to water crops and milk cows.
But for anyone who has actually taken the time to pick up a Harvest Moon game and really give it a chance, it's easy to see what it is that keeps people coming back and why the series has a such a strong fanbase. To put it simply: the games are fun.
My first Harvest Moon encounter was the cult classic Harvest Moon 64. I'm not quite sure what it was that influenced me to get this game. Maybe it was the cute characters or maybe it was because it seemed so different from your normal video game. Regardless, Harvest Moon 64 took over my life. I would spend hours upon hours growing crops, feeding animals, making friends, wooing potential brides-- it's one of the most addictive games I have ever played.
From that day forward I became a Harvest Moon fan. Years later the Nintendo GameCube was released and the announcement of a new Harvest Moon game soon followed. I was ecstatic. I could not wait for this game to come out. I counted down the months, weeks and days-- only to find out the game had been delayed time and time and time again. It must have been delayed at least four times.
But it finally came out. I purchased it as soon as I had the chance, eager to play it and relive the same feeling I had when I played Harvest Moon 64. Unfortunately, it failed to meet my expectations, but that's not to say it's a bad game. Just not everything it could have been.
Harvest Moon games tend to usually follow the same basic storyline. A family member of yours usually ends up dying (in most cases, it's the grandfather) and he leaves you his run-down farm that you're expected to bring back into tip-top shape.
In A Wonderful Life you inherit the farm from your father, who passed away before he even got a chance to work on it with his best friend, Takakura, in the small town of Forget-Me-Not Valley. Takakura serves as your partner and mentor for the game, helping you on the farm by shipping your crops and selling your animals. For a little twist on things, Takakura serves as the story's narrator, as he tells the spirit of your father how you did on the farm. This makes it sort of seem like the game you're playing is something that has already happened and Takakura is simply telling the story.
It's not all that different from previous games in the series, but it's a pretty creative change of pace.
The game is broken up into different chapters, each ranging from one year to three years long (only one chapter is three years long and, trust me, this is a good thing). In the first chapter of the game, you need to find a wife, something I will go into greater detail later, and start a family in order to continue throughout the game. Come chapter two, you will have a son and will guide him through the career path of his choice.
As you probably already know, this is a farming simulator and, being such, you're probably expecting to farm at some point in the game. Surprisingly, I found growing crops to be a very minor part of the game--or I just didn't bother that much with it. The reason? Growing crops is much more of a hassle in this Harvest Moon. In order to plant crops you must first cultivate the land with your hoe--just like every Harvest Moon before it--however, while in previous Harvest Moons you were able to plant the seeds six squares at a time, in A Wonderful Life, you can only plant them one square at a time. This makes it more tedious than it needs to be.
But having a farm isn't all about growing crops. Let's not forget that you can raise animals too! A Wonderful Life offers a variety of animals to raise. There are cows (which come in a wide variety of breeds), chickens, your horse, sheep, and a goat. There's an added challenge in making money off your animals in this Harvest Moon. In previous Harvest Moon games, cows were able to give milk at anytime. In A Wonderful Life, however, they can only give milk for 40 days after they've given birth.
When you start the game you're given a cow who has just recently given birth, so you'll be getting milk from her for the first 40 days. But once those days are over, you're out of luck. If you want more milk, you're going to have to have her and a male cow get their freak on, so you're going to need a male cow for that. And when the cow does get pregnant, you need to wait an additional 40 days before the cow gives birth. It makes earning money more challenging than it's been in past games but, thankfully, there isn't as much of a demand for money in this Harvest Moon.
Feeding your cattle and other livestock, on the other hand, has never been easier. When you start the game your farm already has a full field of grass, ready to be cut down and used as fodder. Or, when the weather is nice, you can let your livestock stay outside and they can eat the grass themselves.
And, of course, there are chickens. Chickens are the easiest animals to care for and the easiest to make money off of. You only really need to buy two chickens (one male, one female). You need at least one male because, without him, none of the eggs your chicken lays will be fertilized. You can place the fertilized eggs in the incubator to hatch a chick without having to buy another chicken. The chickens eat birdfeed, which is fairly inexpensive, or, you can put them outside when the weather is nice and they can find food themselves. You can also get ducks, which work practically the same way.
You can find out about the other animals on your own but, let me warn you, think twice before getting the goat. The goat only gives milk for 40 days and once those are up, you're stuck with it. You cannot sell the goat. The only way you can get rid of it is to kill it. Yes, you'll have to kill your own goat. In the girl version of the game, Another Wonderful Life, and the PS2 port, A Wonderful Life: Special Edition, I believe they fixed this. But if you have the original on the GameCube, you'll need to do away with the goat yourself.
Now, like any Harvest Moon game, there's more to do aside from farming! Perhaps you care to do a bit of fishing? How about help out at the archeology site and dig around in the mine? And what's probably the most important feature of all: starting a family.
The first chapter in the game is one year long. A span of four seasons, each ten days, each day about 24 minutes long. In this year you are expected to find and woo one of the three potential brides for marriage. Some are a little disappointed that there are only three brides to choose from (though the PS2 version has four), but one of the three girls, each with a varying personality, should be able to suit you. Your choices include Ceilia, the "down-to-earth" girl who lives at the nearby farm, Muffy, the bubbly blond who works at the bar, and Nami, the shy and quiet loner who plans to leave Forget-Me-Not Valley eventually.
You're free to not marry if you really don't want to but if you don't find a wife, the game will end after chapter one. If you haven't proposed to a girl by the end of the chapter, the girl that likes you the most will come to you and ask you to marry her. If you turn her down, again, the game will end. So if you want to play the game to it's full potential, you better get out there and find a wife! Marriage has always been a big part of Harvest Moon, so what's stopping you?
After marriage you will soon be raising a son, whose personality reflects the mother. Time will pass in the game and, depending on who you are close friends with in town, your son will be influenced to follow a career-- there are up to six possible choices for him to follow.
So yes, there is a lot to do in this game. And you never know if you're going to stumble upon a new surprise.
The graphics in Harvest Moon, dating back to the SNES game, were never state of the art. They're supposed to look quirky and cute, so don't go into this game expecting it to look as good as Resident Evil 4.
A Wonderful Life doesn't have the greatest graphics in the world, but you must realize they don't aspire for the greatest graphics in the world. What they wanted to do was bring the cute look from Harvest Moon games of the past and bring it into full 3-D, which they do a fantastic job at.
The characters are cute, as expected. The environments, even if they were going for a simplistic look, are quite impressive. A Wonderful Life is easily the best looking Harvest Moon game to date.
The music in the game is pretty repetitive and, unless you link up with the Game Boy Advance game Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town to buy new music, the music theme of your farm can become initiating. I had Fortunately, you can turn the music off whenever you please which you probably will because the music that plays on your farm won't take long to drive you insane.
In the town of Forget-Me-Not Valley, different music tracks play depending on which building you're in. These cannot be turned off but they don't really need to be as you probably won't be there long enough for the music to irritate you.
The game's soundtrack isn't awful, but it isn't great either. It's just kind of... there. Like I said before, you can link A Wonderful Life up to Friends of Mineral Town for the Game Boy Advance. Doing so allows you to purchase new music to play at your farm, most of which are classic themes from previous Harvest Moon games such as the original for the SNES, Harvest Moon 64, and Harvest Moon: Back to Nature. However, linking the two games is such a pain in the ass and rarely gives you what you want, it's hardly worth it.
There is no speech in the game, it's all text. The characters will occasionally make a grunt, giggle, laugh etc. but it's nothing spectacular. Your animals makes animal noises. Nothing spectacular, but it's decent enough.
This is where the game starts to fall apart. When you first start to play your going to have lots of fun. This fun lasts for a while. But at the third chapter the fun starts to drop drastically. Chapter 3 happens to be the longest chapter in the game-- and the most boring. As much as you want to get to Chapter 4 and beyond it may not happen for awhile since Chapter 3 just seems to take so long to play through. Eventually you'll find yourself sleeping through the majority of Chapter 3 just to speed things up.
Characters also repeat themselves a lot. This is normal for any Harvest Moon game, but it wasn't as much as a problem in previous Harvest Moon games because the days didn't drag on. The days in A Wonderful Life are long. Too long. You'll be able to take care of your animals, water your crops, and talk to everyone and still have plenty of time to spare.
Like I said, to get through the most boring parts of the game, your best option is to just sleep. A lot.
Rent or Buy?
If you're a Harvest Moon fan, you probably already have this. If you don't have this? Give it a try. It wouldn't hurt. The game sells for dirt cheap now so even if it isn't your thing, it's not like you spent $50 on it. Or you might want to try out Another Wonderful Life (if you want to play as a girl) for the GameCube or A Wonderful Life: Special Edition for the PS2. Many flaws from this game have been fixed in those versions, such as each chapter only being one year long and the ability to sell your goat so you don't have to kill it and feel like a jerk.
I'd be lying if a said I wasn't a bit disappointed with this game. It didn't quite live up to my expectations after playing Harvest Moon 64. But, all things considered, it's still an enjoyable games. It has it's flaws, at times can be a living hell to get through, and has several translation errors (a normal thing in the world of Harvest Moon), but, at it's core, it's an enjoyable game and worth giving a shot.
+ best looking Harvest Moon game to date
+ lovable cast of characters
+ it's great to see your child grow up and see what career path he chooses
+ I actually like that the game has an ending and that you actually live out your "wonderful life"
+ it has Nami, who has become my favorite Harvest Moon girl ever
- it can easily get booooooring
- characters repeat themselves a lot
- growing crops is more of a pain than it should be
- the music is annoying as hell
- the days are way too long
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life (US, 03/16/04)
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