Review by clarkisdark

"Only friend I need"

We live in fortunate circumstances which allow us to retreat home after school, kick off our shoes, and zone out in front of the TV until break time (dinner). The quaint farm life is more of a suppressed American memory, though the reality certainly still exists in remote towns. Thanks to the invention of video games, however, now the upper class can enjoy the rigorous escapades of farming without having to get their trousers muddy, knowing full well they can shut it off at any given time. But will you be able to shut it off? Such is the dilemma when it comes to a game like Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town.

Mineral Town looks a lot like Harvest Moon 64, which doesn't seem like any great feat considering Harvest Moon 64 looked like a cheap stop-motion cartoon from the '80s. The characters are all child-like in design, though their close-ups when talking are detailed and expressive. Alas, the Harvest Moon girls are as cute as ever! Environments contain enough texture and natural noise to work well-- even on the tiny GBA screen. But on the tiny GBA screen, it's sometimes hard to differentiate between wet soil and dry soil.

Like the Teletubbies theme song, Harvest Moon's soundtrack is so childishly annoying, it's unfair in its ability to stay in one's mind. The composer(s) at Natsume either need to invest in new equipment or give up music in favor of a less noticeable talent. Harvest Moon has always carried with it bad music, and this GBA incarnation certainly upholds tradition. A little more work went into the sound effects; it pulls off a believable atmosphere within the limits of the Game Boy's audio compression.

Harvest Moon starts off with you arriving at a rundown farm with the encouragement that, one day, it will be a thriving homestead. To do so, you'll have to rely on harvesting crops (by planting seeds and watering them every day) and caring for livestock (talking to, feeding, and brushing them). Yes, it's a boring routine, but it's a necessary one in order to meet later goals. Do you want to build extensions to your home or buy kitchen utensils? Do you want to make friends with the townspeople, take first prize at every annual festival, upgrade your hammer to find out what awaits behind that giant rock wall, and have the best-tasting cheese in the country? When you take care of your animals, their affection for you rises, and their by-products become worth more. Giving [good] presents to people puts them on your side, and they will in turn invite you to take part in events otherwise left out of the game. Amidst the townspeople are five girls you can marry if the right circumstances add up. What initially started as a silly farming sim has now become a deep and enriching experience. The farther in you go, the more each season of each year has to offer.

After about five minutes of play, I was exasperated with all the menu-hunting I had to do just to take an item out of my rucksack. Little did I know that Harvest Moon contains several very intuitive and useful button shortcuts. For instance, holding the L button and pressing B will cycle through all equipped tools (hoe, hammer, sickle, etc.) when pressing B alone uses these tools. These shortcuts aren't always quick and responsive, but the game becomes drastically more playable, because they do exist. There is also an option to have your character automatically run or walk, though his run still isn't fast enough to get you where you want to go in time.

"No, no, no! I didn't want to throw that away!" These are words I find myself saying all too often when playing Harvest Moon. The tap of the A button will use or discard any object your character is currently holding. So if you press the A button, one of those events is going to happen. If you are attempting to give Mary an apple but are positioned just a few pixels too far from her, the apple will be thrown to the ground and disappear forever. It is so frustrating, because it happens all the time! While the quirk is understandable, Natsume could certainly find a way to circumvent this if they really wanted to.

Lasting Appeal:
Harvest Moon takes a life in favor of a new one. Harvest Moon is a life, one that you can freely discuss with your friends and not feel like a total geek (even though you are). I don't even want to tally the hours I've spent milking cows and wooing girls, because the numbers would probably make me sick. That's just going straight through the game and meeting my own personal goals, too. If you're of the breed that has to see and do everything a game has to offer, you will surely be enticed to start a new file. Head on over to the FAQ section and see for yourself just how many specialized nuances are in this game. It's deceivingly huge. It's deceiving, because the main structure of the game starts to get mundanely basic. After Year 2, there is little new stuff to see and do; you will most likely have purchased, built, and befriended everything you had intended to purchase, build, and befriend. Many of you probably won't mind continuing on after this, but I see no reason why I should slave through another two years of routine just so I can have 100,000,000 gold.

Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town is an excellent choice if, for whatever cruel reason, you can only put one game in your pocket. Playing in small increments or sitting down and blowing a whole afternoon leads to the same effect: a sense of dubious accomplishment. Nobody cares if your 16-bit girlfriend has a blue heart, but it feels like something you have to tell everyone. This is what Harvest Moon does to you! The game is ridiculously engrossing, packed with many secrets that make you feel dirty when you look them up on the Internet. The trouble with Mineral Town is that it only extends the basic Harvest Moon formula instead of building on top of it. It's like every Harvest Moon game, which means it suffers from an overly simple routine. Enjoy it while it lasts... because you will enjoy it.

+ Perfect for the handheld
+ Strangely rewarding
+ Rich in secrets
-- Bland routine
-- I did not want to drop that!

Score: 8/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 05/31/05, Updated 06/08/05

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