Review by TwilightLink008

"Everything you always loved about Harvest Moon and more"

In the world we live in, very few of us know what it is like to grow crops, raise livestock, or even milk a cow. Harvest Moon has always allowed gamers to see what that type of life is like. Some people loathe the rural lifestyle while others simply love its laid back and easy going feeling. In the latest Harvest Moon iteration, Magical Melody, you live the bucolic lifestyle of a boy (or girl) while on a mission to save the Harvest Goddess.

Your mission is simple: Collect special notes within the game, at least 50, and use them to bring back the lifeless Harvest Goddess. You obtain these 'notes' by reaching simple milestones, including some complex ones. One note requires you to plant a single tree, while a more intricate note requires you to raise a certain character's affection for you by three hearts (hearts determine how much a character likes you). On your journey, you will gain most of your notes by receiving them as you progress in the adventure.

The core gameplay stays true to previous Harvest Moon games. You start out with a house, and a few basic tools (all of which can be upgraded for efficiency). Your job is to make for a prosperous life. Along the way you'll buy a barn, some extra land, more tools, and many other items. All of these items help you make a better income one way or another. For example, a barn will allow you to get a cow. This will allow you to get milk that you can sell. While collecting notes to complete your primary mission, you'll be working on your farming life simultaneously.

The meat of your income will come from shipping. You'll send all of the fruit and vegetables you grow in a shipping box which nets you money the next day. Of course, there are other items that you may ship as well. If you feel like spending the day fishing, you can reap the rewards by shipping the bulk of fish you caught. Staying near the lake waiting for that rare fish to come too boring for you? You also have the choice of digging for ore in the mines. There are two mines, both of which consist of 100 floors. You'll have to fall through a crack in the ground to get lower, and at the bottom lays a very pleasant prize. On your way down, you have the option to use your hammer to smash up rocks and obtain ores. Ores vary in rarity and are mandatory for upgrading your tools. The plethora of ways to make money is brilliant, but some of the more effective ways of making money, such as growing crops, may become a tedious task if done too many times.

Much like you would in a real life, you'll have the opportunity to get married as a long term goal. One of Magical Melody's stronger points is the fact that there are plenty of wives (or husbands, if you play the female character) to choose from. Each distinctive potential spouse has their own interests as well as items that they simply will die for. If you want to shoot for a spouse, then you will be required to attend to your mate almost everyday that you can. In comparison to real life, you will have to please that significant other in order to get them to fall head over heals for you. Bring them flowers, talk to them regularly, be consistent, and you will successfully be able to propose to your desired spouse. The whole marriage idea is very interesting as you will need to experiment on which items your future spouse likes (or dislikes). The concept - as proven by previous Harvest Moon games - works out very well and only gives you another reason to continue playing the game for hours on end. The only real flaw is that some people may find giving your other the same items everyday and talking to them everyday a tad bit repetitive.

Positive points aside, there are a few inconveniences that affect the overall enjoyment of the game. You will often times find yourself waking up to each new day, already knowing what's going to happen. The typical day consists you of getting out of bed, attending to your crops, feeding livestock, and taking care of extra business until it's time to rest. When you wake up, you will come to expect the same thing. Although your day's schedule won't be exactly like the previous day, you will definitely feel some repetition. However, one can't expect a new formula of fun everyday in a game such as Harvest Moon, especially considering the emphasis of the game is on farming.

To add to the realism, you have a stamina meter. If you're working hard on the farm all day, naturally you'll get tired. With the stamina meter, you must strategize how you will use up your day's energy. Sure, you can focus on watering your plants that day, but you also want to dig up some ores. That's when strategy comes in. Though the stamina meter may sound like a great way to prioritize your daily duties, it is a big nuisance in the early days of your farming life. The meter is upgradeable and can be expanded, but it is annoyingly small at first. To limit what you can do in a single day, you are forced to use iron tools at first. These tools are very heavy and drain a lot of your already little stamina. If that wasn't enough, you will have trouble replenishing stamina with food as rations are somewhat hard to find initially. Even Harvest Moon vets will struggle to prosper in ever so difficult times of the early life.

By far outweighing its predecessors, Magical Melody offers some pleasant eye candy. In the summer days, you will see gorgeous heat waves, and in the winter you'll see crystal clear snow. Each season offers different scenery for you to gaze at while watering your crops or simply running around. The quality of detail in your surroundings is absolutely fabulous. Each unique character has his/her own fully detailed and well designed models. The cast in Magical Melody is a big one, and each individual character looks veryy polished and lively. Natsume definitely made sure that the graphics would leave a grand impression.

To match the simplicity of farming, controls were made to be straightforward. They are as simple as using the A button as the usual 'interaction' button. None of the controls should be confusing, as each button is mapped to one main control. (a la Legend of Zelda) Generally, the learning curve for the controls is very low. Truthfully, Harvest Moon is made for a somewhat older audience as the dialogue plays a vital role in enjoyment of the game, but the controls can easily be handled by anyone.

If you are watering crops all day, or just laying back and burning the day away fishing, some music definitely helps from the game becoming monotonous. The thing with Magical Melody is that the music is great, but there isn't much to it. For one whole season, you will usually be listening to the same song every day. For what it does have, generally one song per season, it gets the job done in terms of matching the environment. In the summer, you'll hear a desert-like tune to match the feel of the season. Winter has a charming “snowy” song feeling. The music does change at night everyday, but again, you hear the same thing over and over. Other events, such as a festival, will feature unique music (which is also the same for each festival) but it really doesn't help the game from becoming droning in terms of sound.

Once you pick up Magical Melody – or any other Harvest Moon title – you will either put it down right away (in spite of the game's formula), or you will play it to the core. Farming isn't the most popular activity out there, so the former is expected upon some people. However if you fall in love with the concept – fishing, digging, land tilting, harvesting – everything farming is about, you will likely find yourself hopelessly addicted. Everyday the list of things to do is refreshed; yes, some of those activities are repeated, but there is always something new to the table. Let it be a festival or a newcomer into your town. As time goes on, you will definitely find some more unique things to do. Yes, the formula may get tedious, but it really shouldn't be much of a problem. Overall, there is plenty of replay value.

Offering you an incentive to keep on playing, you can potentially collect 100 of the notes. Though only 50 are mandatory for beating the game, it sure helps when it comes to finding things to do after saving the Harvest Goddess. To the few that find obtaining notes boring, there is an excess amount of other goals to accomplish. As an example, you can experiment with different ingredients to make new recipes or you can work on catching all of the fish. The beauty of it all is that every day goes by rather fast. Because of this, you will need to plan out what you will do, let that be your favorite activity or doing hard work all day. This only gives you an incentive to play for another day in hopes of progressing further in many areas of work (or playtime) that just aren't possible all in one day. The list of things to do is very pleasing. This game can keep you busy for a long time.

If you have never played a Harvest Moon game before, Magical Melody is a great way to start. The gameplay is solid for the most part. Repetition presides, but the amount of things you can do keep you coming back. The controls are very simple and they only encourage you to play more because it is so easy to handle. Graphics are on par with current generation titles, so hideous graphics don't cause a disturbance at all. Finally, repetition of sound can get annoying, but the good definitely outweighs the bad. So if you're looking for a completely new concept, or just want to play another great Harvest Moon iteration, then Magical Melody is perfect for you.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 05/07/06

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