Review by Lance Rocket
"Honest Review for huge HM fans by a huge HM fan."
I was very excited to hear about a new Harvest Moon coming out for the Gamecube after being disappointed by A Wonderful Life. From the previews, it appeared as if Magical Melody was going to bring out all the great elements that were with us back in the days of Harvest Moon 64. Swing and a miss.
Storyline (6/10) - You can never expect much out of Harvest Moon in terms of storyline, and this is no exception. You hear of an offer to take over a farm in Flower Bud Village and decide to move in. This is standard HM material. The new addition is that the Harvest Goddess has turned herself to stone out of disgust with the village people. Her Harvest Sprites come and ask you to help turn her back by collecting music notes over time. These notes will automatically be given to you when you complete certain tasks (tasks you'll come across as you proceed normally with the game). Other than that, you write your own story. The game is open-ended as soon as you begin, which is of course, the appeal of the game.
Visuals (7/10) - Not impressed, overall. After the aesthetically pleasing graphics of the last installment (and even the cel shading of the PS2 version), we have reverted to a more polygonal, kiddy style. The graphics aren't BAD, necessarily, they just don't show off the power of the Gamecube. They look more reminiscent of the Playstation 1 and N64 versions, which may have been a design choice by Natsume, I don't know. What bothers me the most, however, is that even though the graphics have seen a downgrade, we now have framerate issues. Especially when a lot of people or animals are on the screen. This is an issue that hasn't been around since the original Super Nintendo version. It lags you when you're moving about, which isn't fun. One thing I will say for the graphics, is that you have a much better idea of what the townspeople look like. The camera zooms in to someone you're talking to, which is nice.
Sound (6/10) - I've always liked Harvest Moon music. Each season has one single melody that plays when you're outside, and most buildings have a melody as well. There are also background sounds (bird/cricket chirps) that add to the atmosphere as you play through. While I always found these themes catchy, Magical Melody's seem like filler music. Nothing too special, though I haven't gotten annoyed with them yet. One thing that is grating however, is the festival music. When you go to a festival, look out for a point in the music where it sounds like the game has frozen (old school Nintendo style). Very bizarre. While we're on the subject, to add personality to the townspeople, everyone has a voice. By voice, I mean that they have a few sounds they make when you talk to them. While this adds flavor and personality, most of their voices are extremely annoying, making you want to not talk to them, ever. (Especially Martha. Ick.)
Controls (5/10) - This is where we start to fall. The controls for this game I thought were pretty much flawless in the days of Harvest Moon Back to Nature (PSX version). They've messed with the controls in a bad way. Your character runs fairly quickly in general. However, if you are carrying ANYTHING, even something as small as a potato, your character moves significantly more slowly. This is possibly the most aggravating thing about the game. You can't carry anything in your hands, so you can no longer visit the mine, fill your rucksack and then grab an extra item in your hands to bring home. It will take you forever to go home. Cycling through items in your rucksack has become the job of the "C" stick. I don't know about anyone else, but EVERY gamecube controller in my house has a C stick that gets stuck. So I very often find that I can't STOP the items from cycling once I start. This may be a personal issue. I never really had a problem targeting specific crops when I was doing things like watering in other Harvest Moon games. I find I very often have problems targeting specific crops in this game, however. They tried to fix this problem by making the "R" button highlight whichever square you were facing. This is a nice addition, but I can think of better ways the R button would be used. Also, your menu is an absolute mess. There are about 9 or 10 different menus when you press the Y button. Worse yet, some of these menus have 3 or 4 submenus. Normally this wouldn't bother me, but it's annoying when you have to cycle through a ton of menus to see what's in your rucksack, or worse yet, to find the map. There is one nice addition to this game. If you're far from home, but done for the day, you can open up your menu and press "Z" at any time to head home and go to bed automatically. One thing that's quite aggravating is that you now have to actually pull your tools out of your bag and have them in your hands when you use them. This wouldn't be such a big deal, except the "slow down when walking" rule applies to when you're holding one of these tools.
Gameplay (6/10) - Where to even start. The creators have reverted back to the ways of the old Harvest Moon games, and some of this was well executed, but more of it was poorly executed.
A great thing for this game is that they've added much more "choice" into the game. One of the big choices is whether you'll play as a male or female. It's about time they made one game with the option to play as either gender (negating the game boy versions). Another choice is that you have three properties to choose from for starting. The problem is, they all suck. The biggest problem is that you have no space. I don't understand why a mayor would make an advertisement begging people to come farm in his town and then not provide them with adequate farm land. It just doesn't make sense. In two of the properties especially, you'll find you barely have room for a building other than your house. (You have to buy all the bells and whistles in this game, you don't start with so much as a chicken coop). And if you do want buildings, you have to give up crop space.
The game provides two solutions for this:
1. You can go plant crops on unowned properties.
2. You can buy properties for your buildings.
While a cute idea, they could have provided you with adequate space to at least get started. I had to start buying properties before the first season was out in my game. You also never solve the problem of having to run to one property to take care of your animals, and another area to take care of your crops. Not fun.
Crop care has been enhanced, including different soil qualities (fertilizer as an option), lower prices, and bigger profits. You do have to replant grass every single year, though. Not many complaints here.
Animals have returned, with all of the old traditional animals and a few new ones. Animal care is as expected, though they are difficult to move around, and 9 out of 10 times it's not worth it to put them outside at all. Animals are also much more difficult to please in this version. Picking them up won't make them happy anymore. For example, to please your dog, you're going to have to feed him by hand. A new option is that you can hand feed your animals, which doesnt take a lot of time and which they like. Your profit from your animals is usually minimal, but they will provide you with several music notes and great gifts, so they are worth keeping.
There are of course other ways to make money. You can go mining, which will help you make money, upgrade your tools, and bring new characters to town. You can go fishing, though the fishing system in this game is really elementary and pretty boring. You can also run around to find things on the ground, though this is usually a difficult task.
From what I'm saying, it sounds like the world of Harvest Moon is an endless day of energy. This is not the case. In every Harvest Moon game to date, your character has had a limited amount of energy. This is nothing new. However, your character has an abysmal amount of stamina in this game. By the time you finish watering your crops in the morning (I had 32), your character will not have the energy to do much of anything else. This is RIDICULOUS. They have tried to justify this by putting power berries in the game, though as opposed to the usual 10, there are only 5. This will increase your stamina permanently, though I doubt it will make a huge difference. You can also eat something to replenish some of your stamina, but unlike in most prior HM games, there are not set locations to find food, and they do not regrow everyday. This makes it incredibly difficult to get the energy you need to make the most out of your day (especially at the beginning) and is incredibly limiting. I imagine those who have never played a Harvest Moon game before would have a very difficult time with this. Also, it's not just using tools that depletes your stamina. One day I worked myself very low and then walked around town. I tried to pick up a mushroom, and apparently the energy it took to pick up the mushroom was too much, and my character collapsed. Point in case: Your character is a pansy and it's not cool.
Now on to the social aspect. First of all, marriage is back with a vengeance. There are 10 males for the girl to marry, and 10 females for the boy to marry. You have seen ALL of the females in prior games before, and veterans will be happy to see some very "classic" faces. You've seen a lot of the males before, but some of them are new. There is also one extra choice for marriage, which is the person who serves as your rival. I say "person" because "Jamie" is a little androgenous, and is always the opposite gender of your character. Jamie also serves as your rival, and you can check to see who has made more money in a certain week.
There are not many people in town when you arrive. You have to "make" them appear by attending festivals, talking to them, and shipping things. For example, ship some good clay from the mine and you will have a new character in town the very next day. They will also leave if you ignore them for too long, which is why you must make friends.
Which brings me to my next point. In previous games you had to guess and figure out whether you were making friends with people. This time, you're provided with a "chart" to see how well ANYONE in town likes you. A little lame, if you ask me. It's easy to makes friends though, and I suggest bringing villagers up to at least 3 hearts so that they don't end up leaving town.
The only downfall for the social aspect of the game is that the programmers made the townspeople boring. They all say the same thing day in - day out until you become better friends with them. They have also DRASTICALLY cut the number of cutscenes out of the game. Luckily, it's easy to make friends.
One last thing. In all prior HM games, the townspeople walked from place to place. In this game, they will stay in the same spot until you enter a different screen. Then they will "warp" to where they have to be. The mayor spends most of his day both in his house AND walking around town, which is quite a feat if you ask me. If you don't constantly switch screens, nothing will ever progress in the town. Annoying. To counter this, however, the programmers added a nice bonus. You can check your map at any time to see where any villager is on the current screen (there's also radar).
Replay Value (8/10) - I have only touched the basics, and you can see that this review is too long already. The best thing about Harvest Moon games is that there's a lot of room for exploration. You can restart and marry someone new each time, play as the opposite gender for kicks, try a new property, make new friends, or set different goals for yourself. You'll be surprised at how many new things you discover each time with these games.
Rent/Buy - If you like open-ended games, definitely buy it. If you're not sure what I mean by that, or if this review doesn't sound appealing, rent it.
Final Word (6.5/10) - If you have never played a Harvest Moon game before (or if you've only played A Wonderful Life) you will like this game a lot. I am a bit of a nerd for this game series, and have played every one ever released. This game has tried to go back to what my fellow nerds call "the good days" of Harvest Moon 64 and Back to Nature. I know I seem to be against the game in this review, but I feel as if every problem I have with the game was avoidable. This is written with the hope that Natsume will add the finishing touches and make the next game golden for HM fans everywhere. I would also like to note that I only touched the main parts of the game. There is so much to discover in this game, including buying new houses, building new buildings, buying and arranging furniture in your house, planting trees, making friends with wild animals, and going on dates. There is much more than I could add in a (reasonably sized) review and I urge you to give the game a chance and decide for yourself. In any event, I hope this helped.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 06/15/06
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