Review by Lisanne

"Get women to like you by buying them earrings and plying them with wine. Oh, and run a farm too..."

Having spent a wholesome summer in the country on your grandfather's farm as a young child, singing out of tune with some random girl or other and being chased by chickens, you later inherit this farm in young adulthood and return to the village where you spent that lazy summer. Being welcomed by the Mayor, who makes the ominous statement that the village as a whole has decided that you have three years to return the now run-down farm to its former glory (but without stating what will happen if you do not achieve this... oh the humanity), you set to work on clearing the farm of weeds and breaking open the rocks and branches which now litter the barren farm. Initially wondering how the heck cleaning up could possibly be a fun and exciting subject for a video game, you are surprised to find that this is an incredibly satisfying and relaxing experience. The feeling of achievement when the whole land is free of clutter and there is a stock of lumber in the shed is very calming. "Calming", in fact, is most definitely the primary experience of this game.

Using the selection of tools left for you in the toolbox, and after naming your new pet dog who you must get to love you by picking it up every day and running around the farm with it for a while, you clear the ground and get it ready to receive some new crops. Marvelling at the clarity of the graphics and the extensive attention to detail, you find that after some use you can level up your tools by mining for the relevant kind of ore in the local caves and dropping the tool off at the blacksmith, along with a sum of cash. You earn the cash by mining for more ore and collecting goods in the mountains to get enough to buy some seeds from the village shop. Planting the seeds and tending to the land will allow you to farm these vegetables and make more money this way. For such a wholesome, relaxed game, making money may feel like a bizarre objective to have, but it really is not. The things that you must do to make that money and the sense of achievement at earning enough to make a major improvement or buy some cows is really very satisfying. Naming the cows is even more so. Naming the cows after errant work colleagues and then neglecting to feed them for fun to take out your frustrations after a long day at work is optional.

There are several objectives at stake for you to achieve your goal. Primarily, you must earn money. Money is required to buy livestock and improve your farm by extending your house and out-buildings, as well as to buy presents for your girl of choice and buy yet more seeds for yet more crops. Luckily, you will find that you keep on discovering new ways to earn cash as the game progresses. Your secondary objective is to "get along with the villagers" - namely, to pick a bride. The girls won't just be satisfied by your manly appearance and sparkling wit though - to get them to like you, you must buy them expensive presents. I am not sure what kind of message this is giving to any more impressionable players, but admittedly I do not believe that the technology yet exists for a game to test the player's ability to sustain meaningful conversation; at least not in a medium available to your average gamer.

Wooing a bride is another aspect of the game which will not leave the player feeling cheated. There are a selection of women whom you can choose to impress, and all of them with very different personalities. Impressing them is easy, due to their aforementioned superficiality. To help you know how you're doing in winning their love, they each display a heart at the end of their dialogue. Starting out as black, this heart will change colour at regular intervals (so long as you're not completely nasty to them) and when it reaches red, it's proposal time.

There are regular festivals and days of general celebration in the village, which add to the overall community experience and help you to get to know the other inhabitants. You can take dates to these festivals, so long as you have a girl who likes you enough, and participate in several. Chicken fighting, whilst hardly being very politically correct, is one of the most enjoyable. Kicking your opponent's chicken booty is just about the only violent aspect of this game. Over-protective parents and people who believe everything they read in the tabloids: rejoice! For the ultimate in community-Mom appeasement, there is even a village church. If anyone needs a viable excuse to allow their anxious parents to let them get a video game console, then this is it! ;)

Music is very relaxing and adds to the overall experience by being generally calming and soothing. Although repetitive, it is pleasant and fits the mood of the game well. Sound effects are occasional and dependent on your playing style. Whistling to your animals and talking to your horse (the horse responds to you) yield sound effects, but little else does, other than navigating the menu, which incidentally is very easy to use and simple. The look of the game is detailed without being overly complex and the location is imaginatively designed throughout. It is easy to get a map in your head of where everything is, and it all fits together beautifully.

Overall, this is a very soothing and relaxing game that may sound boring if you just read the back of the box, but which actually provides a very unique playing experience which will not fail to satisfy. An essential part of any collection, Harvest Moon is a game for explorers and will lead you to new discoveries with every passing season. With immense replay value and a superb length (around 40 hours minimum for one play-through), this really is a game that everyone should try.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 05/09/04, Updated 05/23/04

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