Review by pecofan999
It's obviously not just about farming anymore
Long-time Nintendo fans are sure to at least recognize the Harvest Moon series. You inherit a farm, and it is your responsibility (whether you like it or not) to both (a) manage a successful farm and (b) construct a social network, which includes finding a spouse. Throughout the various installments in the series, players have been given options ranging from farm upgrades to fishing logs, new livestock to a choice of gender for your playable character. This latest installment has continued the trend of adding various new options, yet still having some old problems.
I have to start with the worst aspect of the game. Sure, at first, you might be impressed by the catchy background music or the fun animal sounds, but, in time, you are very likely to absolutely detest the sound and music in this game. Harvest Moon fans are likely used to this aspect. The problem is not so much the actual sounds. In fact, the sounds are interesting, character voicing is a nice effect, and the music is entertaining. The problem is the monotony of the sounds over time. Since this game follows a day-in-day-out structure, you will hear the same music and sounds again and again, ultimately leading to a sense of disgust every time your character picks up an animal.
Moving up from sound, I come to the average graphics. The game is primarily viewed as an overhead perspective focused on your playable character. It makes sense for the gameplay's sake, and the camera angles generally work well with your character's actions. That said, the graphics are nothing to be amazed with. The game's appearance is an improvement over past installations in the series (except arguably HM: A Wonderful Life), and it does the job. Harvest Moon games are not exactly known for their graphics.
They are also not typically known for their storylines. Yet, Tree of Tranquility manages to make the story worthwhile. There is an overarching storyline involving the mysterious Harvest Goddess, which I am not going to spoil whatsoever, but it provides an additional goal outside of merely acquiring money and friends. This is a nice addition, but replay value (mentioned later) does not look favorably on this new story. Rather, what earns a 7.5/10 in storyline is the surprising amount of character depth revealed in your character's various interactions. There are dozens of characters (and wild animals) to interact with in this game, and they stray a bit away from merely stereotypical roles. Granted, the character depth is nowhere near an Elder Scrolls game or a 40+ hour RPG, but it is a necessary amount in order to keep you interested in the social aspects of the game. This is a huge improvement from prior installments.
If it did not look so silly, I would give gameplay a 12/10. Gameplay is the meat of any Harvest Moon game, and this addition takes gameplay to a level I absolutely love! As mentioned, there are more choices for social interactions, and this is the first console Harvest Moon game to include a full six spouse choices for both male and female characters. The only improvement I would perhaps like to see here would be the option to fall in love with whomever I so please, be they male or female, but mainstream games have yet to take that controversial leap. (This is neither here nor there, really.)
Anyways, Tree of Tranquility succeeds at all of the farming basics. There is a large(r) variety of crops and livestock, including mixed seed bags, a particular favorite of mine for just having fun. The game has introduced a new farm mount in addition to the traditional horse. Tools upgrade easily to allow the player more time in the necessarily limited day. Farm layouts are generally sensible, not too spacious nor too cramped. Also, players are given the option of different plots of land to set up their new farms, allowing for varied gameplay right from the start.
Alternative methods of earning a living outside of the farm include mining and fishing, which make a glorious, upgraded return from prior installments. Something new (or revamped, at least) is the part-time job option. Your character can work for other villagers in various tasks to gain both money and friendship. I find this to be a useful and more realistic addition to the game's social network.
The only major flaw worth mentioning is, once again, the monotony of some tasks. As soon as you get into a profitable routine, you get bored with it. Thankfully, the game has enough optional activities to keep things varied. But, I should warn you that if you want the most money and the best social life and the fastest success all around, you will need to get into a boring routine of money making and gift-giving. However, as long as you take some time now and then to do something different for a change, maybe fish today instead of mine, gameplay remains interesting.
The game can go on and on, but you are bound to get bored with the same old farm over time. However, as mentioned above, the game has many options, more than any previous Harvest Moon game. So, in spite of the doomed monotony of any game as open-ended as this (I am looking at you, Animal Crossing), Tree of Tranquility offers variety. To illustrate this, I would like to explain my family's save files.
My mother is currently in her first Winter. She chose a seaside plot for her farm, and she (naturally) chose a female character. She is currently a bit of a social outcast in the village, but her income is steady. She chose cows and chickens as livestock, and she earns most of her money from her livestock and fishing.
My first younger brother is currently in his first summer. He chose a male character and a farm near town. Since he is near town, his social life is booming, but he spends little time fishing or mining. Rather, he chose to fill his field with crops and his barn and coop with silkworms and sheep.
My youngest brother is currently in his first fall. He chose a male character and (surprise) the farm in the hills. Of my family, he has the least money, but his social life is fine. He lives a balanced life, complete with mining, farming, fishing, and socializing. He chose chickens and silkworms as livestock.
My point with this illustration is that my microcosmic family has managed to play for a similar period of time each, only to end up with very different games. This is the gold standard of replay value for a game, being able to do things differently in as many aspects as possible. If the game did not have such a repetitive tendency, I could certainly replay it again and again non-stop. However, the repetition and overarching goals have kept me from jumping back in for round three without first taking a break from the game.
If you simply glanced at my categories and scores, a 9/10 probably does not make sense. Like I said earlier, the gameplay is where this game is. There are enough options to keep you playing again and again, and the depth of gameplay allows for you to customize your character's lifestyle to fit your wants. Some flaws in graphics, sound, and repetition are really what hold this game back from being a true gem in simulation games.
If you are new to the Harvest Moon series, I suggest that you rent this game first to make sure this genre is something that interests you. If you are a returning fan of the series, I am certain you will be as pleased as I am with this latest installment.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility (US, 09/30/08)
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