Review by DDJ

"Arguably the Best in the Series; or, The Devil's in the Details"

Review in Brief
Game: The standard Harvest Moon: you're a farmer tasked with reviving a dead farm by raising crops and keeping animals. Along the way, you can meet potential spouses, woo them, marry and start a family. You'll also complete a plotline in order to help the island. Fishing, mining and cooking also play prominent roles.
Good: Same strong Harvest Moon foundation; numerous improvements, including a thorough clothing system, better pets system, and a much-improved family system with two truly unique kids; the largest, deepest game world in a Harvest Moon game to date; many subtle but critical underlying improvements and enhancements.
Bad: Silly problems with frame rate that significantly impact the gameplay experience; outdated graphics and a stationary camera that should have been left in the last gaming generation; numerous small issues and oversights for a slight feeling of incompleteness.
Verdict: Arguably the best Harvest Moon game ever, but could have been unarguably the best ever without the surprising minor oversights and problems.
Rating: 6/10
Recommendation: A must-play for fans of the series; a great game to play if you've ever liked any Harvest Moon game; a good introduction to the series if you've ever wanted to try it out; not recommended if you've disliked (or just haven't liked) Harvest Moon or similar simulation/tycoon/RPG-hybrid games in the past.

"Arguably the Best in the Series; or, The Devil's in the Details"

I was about ready to crown Harvest Moon: Animal Parade solely from the information that was available pre-release. I really was -- I was going to label it the Harvest Moon that fans of the series have been waiting for for years, the best one since Back to Nature and Harvest Moon 64, and a worthy successor to the unrefined Tree of Tranquility.

And with good reason: every single complaint we've had about recent Harvest Moon games was alleviated. Festivals were expanded to include multiple contests and lots of shops. Relationship development was given much more depth. There are dozens and dozens of cutscenes to enhance character interaction. The plot actually feels like something more than just a way to limit the world size early on. Cooking is deeper, fishing is deeper, mining is deeper -- really, everything's been expanded.

So what went wrong? Like the review title says, the devil's in the details. The game itself is really great, but there are seemingly minor problems that severely detract from the gameplay experience.

In the face of things like an interesting plot, great farming and ranching systems, deeper characters, you wouldn't think that little things like the camera angle, the sound effects, and the minor lagginess would matter. But boy, do they. They really impact the playability of the game as a whole.

As a result, while the game is very fun, there are definite times when it becomes a chore to keep playing. That's the mortal sin for any video game. The player should be challenged -- and Animal Parade is definitely more challenging than any other Harvest Moon -- without being aggravating. And even if it's going to be aggravating, it should be aggravating because the player hasn't mastered a certain skill yet -- not just because of something annoying in the game.

Animal Parade is still arguably the best Harvest Moon since Back to Nature and Harvest Moon 64. But it could have been unarguably, hands-down, far-and-away the best of the series, but misses the mark because of minor drawbacks.

Game Description

This is the impartial, unbiased part; a description of what the game, at a very basic level, is. If you're familiar with the Harvest Moon series, skip to the last paragraph of this section, as the first couple paragraphs are largely true of any Harvest Moon game.

In Animal Parade, you play a farmer who's moved to a new land and is charged with reviving a decrepit ranch. As part of your quest, you'll plant and grow crops, buy and take care of animals, fish, mine, forage for goods, cook, and do a wide variety of other tasks.

But what are largely the most popular parts of the game are the areas around the plot and relationships. As part of the game, you'll search for items around the game world and complete tasks to help return the land to its former glory. You'll meet over 50 villagers, make friends, and even get married and start a family.

You can play as both a boy and a girl, with ten marriage candidates for each gender. The game is largely single-player, though it does let a second person use a second WiiMote to point at villagers as you walk by, increasing their friendship with you.

The Good

As stated, I was about ready to crown Animal Parade as the greatest Harvest Moon game of all time. If you simply look at the pure content of the game, you'd agree -- it's deeper than any previous Harvest Moon game has been, but still manages to tap into the series' classic charm in a way that recent iterations haven't been able to.

This review has a fairly negative overall feel to it, but don't misunderstand: Animal Parade still a really great game, and arguably the best Harvest Moon game ever. And there are a great many reasons why.

Strong Foundation
Fans of the Harvest Moon series always dread reviews by larger outlets because they invariably say the same thing: "The same old Harvest Moon." Frankly speaking, every series rehashes the same old concepts and gameplay with only minor changes, and then markets it as an all-new product. But for some reason it's always held more against the Harvest Moon series than other games.

Fans of the series understand that the day-to-day routine, dating and marriage sequence, and general farming atmosphere are what makes the series appealing in the first place. Yes, the series has more of a niche appeal than many series appear to, but similarities with past games should be held in the same regard as they are in other series.

That said, Animal Parade remains true to the series' fundamentals. It retains all the innate appeal of past Harvest Moon games. While the game's focus is on farming and raising animals, the dating and marriage element is still very prominent. Farming and ranching are still as complex yet understandable as ever, and the variety of tasks to perform keeps the game varied.

Harvest Moon has gone through a dozen iterations within the "main" series, and each iteration has solidified a certain core of "Harvest Moon" features. Animal Parade retains all these elements, giving it a firm foundation to build on, and guaranteeing it will appeal to fans of this series.

But unfortunately, Harvest Moon's popularity has waned in recent years, and thus it was certainly not enough to create another game within the normal framework. It needed to be improved: and it has been, in both subtle and tangible ways.

Fan Service
The most tangible way that Animal Parade improves on past Harvest Moon games can be somewhat described as fan service. Fan service is not always a good thing: adding in elements solely because they'll amuse the player can destroy the immersion of the game. But fortunately, I'm using fan service in a looser sense here, and its result is decidedly positive.

When I talk about fan service here, I'm referring to the developers specifically focusing on elements that would appeal to the Harvest Moon audience. There are numerous ways that Animal Parade could have improved on past Harvest Moon games, but the ones that were chosen fall squarely on the types of developments that the existing fanbase appreciates.

One of the simplest but most beneficial ones is the enhanced clothing system. If you're playing a game that lets you take on the day-to-day life of an individual in a game, then you'll want to control as much of that character's life as possible in a way that mirrors your own. One of those ways is to customize your character's appearance.

Animal Parade's deep clothing system almost makes the in-game character a virtual avatar for the player. They haven't advanced to the point of allowing the player to actually customize the main character's facial appearance (which is almost inexcusable considering the Wii's Mii framework), but the deep and thorough clothing system allows so much customization that the player can really make the main character their own.

The Pets system was introduced in Tree of Tranquility, and despite being borderline broken altogether it became extremely popular. Here also, the developers understood the player's appreciation of the system, and thus expanded it. There are now more pets to be adopted; adoption is more straightforward; and owning a pet is more interesting, as you can now teach them tricks and enter them in a yearly contest.

For years, Harvest Moon fans have been requesting a deeper family system. Marriage and a child has long been a fundamental part of the series, but this has only made players want more: why only one child? Why does the child never grow past a toddler stage? Why can't the child actually take after its parents?

Here also, Animal Parade expands greatly. You can now have two children instead of one. They grow up beyond the toddler stage (though stopping short of becoming teenagers), and are able to talk and help you out on the farm. They take after your spouse, so their appearance is dictated by who you marry. And, perhaps most importantly, they have varying personalities depending on who you married and how you bring them up. And you can even dress them in your own outfits. That alone is enough to make the typical Harvest Moon fan go "squeee!"

These are but three examples of the fan service efforts of the developers. What's so good about these improvements isn't how much they improve the game itself, but it's how much they appeal to the game's typical fanbase. Yes, alternatively the developers could have simply deepened the crop system (as they have done in the portable Harvest Moon games), created a significantly deeper plot (as in Save the Homeland), or made far more drastic changes (as in Rune Factory), but those changes don't hold as much appeal to Harvest Moon fans as these changes do. It's for these reasons that Animal Parade is definitely a great game for series fans to pick up.

Game World
By 'Game World', I don't just mean the physical area that the game takes place in. I mean the entire fabric of it, from the physical territory to the back-story to the town shop structure to the in-game plotline. All the elements blend together to create a very cohesive and notably deeper game world.

First, the actual physical game world. Every Harvest Moon game gets bigger, and Animal Parade is no exception. Here, it's divided into four main districts -- that's fewer than past games, but these districts are huge. They're separated by a decent hike, making the drastic changes in terrain more believable. As the game goes on, they also become increasingly interlocked, forcing the player to get to know the world before they can shortcut around it.

Another thing that's interesting about Animal Parade is also that it makes no attempts to crowd the game world in together. It's perfectly content to leave the world very stretched out, which adds an extra element of realism to the game, as well as a bit of difficulty in forcing the player to actually pre-plan their errands for a day. Overall, the physical game world is the best so far in the series.

But beyond just the very visible world, the game world's general structure goes deeper. Every Harvest Moon plotline starts with the player taking over a run-down old farm, but Animal Parade puts more value in the player's quest by more directly tying the fates of the townspeople and the other shops to the success of the player. Most Harvest Moon games imply it, but Animal Parade actually states it, then backs it up with some cleverly multi-purpose game mechanics (mentioned more in the Scaffolding section). The player not only feels like their efforts are actively reviving the town, but also that their farm plays a real role in the economic goings-on among the shops.

The broader back-story is excellent, too. The game weaves in the supernatural twists of a Harvest Goddess and magical Harvest Sprites in a way that actually remains believable. Although the game world is reasonably realistic, it retains just enough of that light-hearted aloofness to allow this magical back-story to fit.

That back-story leads brilliantly into the game's plotline, which positions the player as responsible for rescuing the town -- but not the standard save-the-world RPG-style rescue, but rather hard work and a bit of detective duty on the side. The overall plotline blends perfectly into the back-story, making the plot feel much more significant than the handful of scenes that are seen in the game.

All these parts work together to create a truly singular game world. Every Harvest Moon game has made strides in this direction, but it's only in light of Animal Parade's cohesiveness that the disjointedness of past games becomes evident.

But aside from those tangible, obvious improvements, there are several far more subtle improvements to the game that once again take Animal Parade to the next level of Harvest Moon games.

Once problem Harvest Moon has often lacked is a balance problem. Balance means a lot of things. For one, it means that the various elements of the game command relatively comparable amounts of attention. For another, it means that there is no strategy that absolutely blows everything else out of the water. For another, it means that the different game elements are complex enough to be entertaining, but simple enough to be manageable.

Balanced means a lot of things, but in a very general sense, a balanced game is one that just plain works. There's nothing "cheap" about it, it doesn't feel like you're neglecting part of the game, it doesn't feel like anything is inordinately challenging or absurdly easy, and it doesn't feel like you're ever given too much or too little information.

As I stated, Harvest Moon games often suffer from a balance problem. Take the series' most recent incarnation, Tree of Tranquility, for example. Pets were inordinately difficult to befriend and adopt. The plot was largely driven by individual items that could only be obtained seasonally, so that rather than pursuing the plot in some consistent fashion, it only appeared in spurts. And while profit is usually initially a little hard to come by, there always comes along that one item (Pineapples in Back to Nature, seeds in A Wonderful Life, Blue Yarn in Tree of Tranquility) that is so valuable and easy to come by that it destroys any future need to work for money.

Animal Parade breaks from these trends. The various different systems (relationships, pets, animals, farming, fishing, mining, cooking and more) are each very balanced within themselves. None of them are too difficult, but none of them are too easy. The plot plays a larger role (but not too big a role) now as well. There is no single item or strategy that grants blow-away profits. And most importantly, all the different systems are balanced among each other as well -- to succeed in the game, you'll need to farm, ranch, fish, mine, forage, cook and socialize. You can't neglect any feature, which guarantees a complete game experience.

Increased Difficulty
I alluded to this in the previous section. One problem with Harvest Moon games is that they do have a tendency to be a bit too easy. There's not always a lot of challenge to it, but rather very mechanical limitations on what you can and can't do. Put more simply, usually there's just no way to make a certain amount of money or get a certain item until later.

Animal Parade changes this as well. Any Harvest Moon can arguably be broken up into three huge areas: plot, socializing and money-making. All three elements have increased in difficulty. For the first time, the plot really represents something more than completing random tasks or gathering random items -- it actually has a decent narrative structure to it that must be followed.

But it's the other two major elements that have expanded in difficulty. You'll find that unlike in past Harvest Moon games, you'll have to do more than just talk to a person every day to adequately befriend them. And for finding a spouse, you'll really have to pay attention to what gifts they like in order to woo them in a fair amount of time. It's really been made more time-consuming to make friends, and as a result it comes across substantially more realistic.

The other is money-making. Money-making encompasses the majority of gameplay time, between farming, ranching, fishing, mining, foraging and cooking. In the past, money wasn't terribly hard to come by once you progressed a bit in the game. But in Animal Parade, it's become substantially more difficult. Items generally sell for less and are more difficult to come by. This is exacerbated by products being more expensive, and there being flat-out more things to buy. More furniture and more clothing alone provide plenty of incentive to make money, and big investments like home expansions and tool upgrades require some real saving.

What's remarkable, though, is that the difficulty level has been increased without actually making the game any harder. Yes, I know, that sounds like an absolute oxymoron, so let me explain. The game is more difficult in that it takes more time to accomplish the same things that were simple in other games. In other games, you could make a ton of money with little effort in a season and woo a spouse in barely over a month. In Animal Parade, you'll do the same day-by-day routine (thus, no harder), but it will simply take more time within that routine to accomplish the same thing (more difficult).

But despite that difficulty increase, the efforts you put into the game still don't feel like a chore by any means. To the contrary, the game feels more realistic because of the enhanced difficulty, and it will keep you playing longer as you continue to have stuff to accomplish. And there are still ways to achieve the same level of success in the limited amount of time, but they're simply harder to find and execute.

'Scaffolding' is an educational technology buzzword, so let me explain. Scaffolding basically means there are contextual elements within the game that help guide the player along and teach them to play. These techniques go beyond a tutorial; they're elements of the game that are automatically opened up as the player becomes better at the game.

Animal Parade supplies some truly impressive scaffolding considering that it's not a feature that's usually considered by game developers. When the game first opens up, the player is presented with a somewhat limited world. There are areas that have to be opened up, and people that have to be met before shops will open.

In order to become acquainted with this world, the game actually brings the player along with it in the plotline. As part of the plot, the player is required to meet all the villagers, visit certain areas, and learn about certain systems. For example, before any shop opens and anything can really be done, the player has to meet all the townspeople. To open up some of the other shops, the player has to visit a certain area. And to take care of the first few plot steps, the player must mine, fish, cook and forage.

Another element of scaffolding is in the shop systems. Almost every shop has multiple 'levels' that control what the player can purchase. This is a de-facto control over what the player can do in the rest of the game, as different crops, animals and other items aren't available until later. The levels are controlled by how much the player has shipped in those categories, so effectively the player has to demonstrate they understand the crops system with only a few crops available before they can buy more. The same applies to animals: the player has to show they understand cows, sheep and chickens before they can go for goats, ostriches, horses, ducks and silkworms. And what's more, they even wrote this game mechanic into the plot, letting shops' increased inventory reflect a more successful shop as a result of your own efforts. Amazing.

Animal Parade is a huge game, and to just throw the player in would be overwhelming. But no one likes completing an absurdly long tutorial mode. Animal Parade's scaffolding effectively teaches the player how to play, without ever putting the player in the "learner's seat". The player is always playing, and the game intelligently opens up more elements as the player demonstrates they can handle them.

The Bad

That's some pretty glowing praise I've showered on Animal Parade above. In fact, I don't think I've had anything more positive to say about any video game I've ever written about. But yet, I'm giving it... well, still a high score, but a lower score than you might expect considering that glowing praise (and especially considering I gave Tree of Tranquility, its predecessor, a one-point-higher score).

While the developers really nailed the overall game structure and balance, they completely missed out on some really basic little elements of the game. These are things so simple that it's absolutely ridiculous that a modern-generation game has any problem with them whatsoever.

Lagginess & Day Length
These two go hand-in-hand, so let me explain them together.

In the game, the basic flow of time is 1 game-minute for 1 real-second. One real-minute is one game-hour, and a day should take about 20 minutes to play. When you add in time spent indoors (when time stops), loading times between areas, and the time spent using tools (when time momentarily delays), a day takes about 30 to 35 minutes. That's a perfectly fine pace -- it's a bit slower than Tree of Tranquility and other past games, but that's a change people were asking for.

There is, however, a frame rate problem in many areas of the game. In fact, in the majority of the game. Depending on various elements like your TV setup and your own perceptiveness, you may not notice it. The frame rate drops from the standard 30 frames per second to around 20 -- so it's noticeable, but not terribly obnoxious. It's made worse by the fact that it occurs in over half the game's outdoor space, but it's not hard to adjust to.

The problem is the impact of the lag on the game's actual structure, and it's a pretty ridiculous oversight on the part of the developers. The developers wrote the game to partially account for the drop in frame rate: you'll notice that it takes the same amount of real-time to take 10 steps in a laggy area that it takes to take 10 steps in a non-laggy area. In the laggy area, it just appears a little jittery and jumpy, but you're still running the same speed. That's usually the worst part about lag -- slowing down the actual game speed.

But somehow, the developers didn't manage to account for the drop in frame rate when it came to the passage of time. What you'll inevitably find is that while your character moves at a normal pace when running around your farm (or around town, or around the mining area, or in half the rest of the game's outdoor spaces), time passes 50% slower. Instead of one game-hour per minute, it becomes one game-hour per 90 seconds.

This is pretty ridiculous on three different levels. First of all, it's just a crazy oversight on the part of the developers. Console gaming has reached a point where there's little excuse for frame rate issues in a single-player game, especially one as visually non-intense as Harvest Moon. Secondly, it's even more ridiculous considering that the developers clearly acknowledged the frame rate issues when they accounted for it in terms of the player's movements -- they were aware of the problem and accounted for it in one way, but not another equally important way? Seriously?

But those are idle complaints if it doesn't impact the gameplay experience. They're things to whine about, but nothing more. The lag itself is not something to complain about, except that it has a real negative impact on the game. Rather than playing a game in about a half hour, it can take as much as 50 minutes to an hour depending on what you're doing. That's an hour per game day instead of half an hour; that's 28 hours for a season instead of 14; and 112 hours instead of 56 per game year. The way they game's structured, it's quite long -- odds are it'll keep you entertained for around 3 years, what with stuff to buy and children to raise. This simple lag problem takes the game's overall play time from 150 hours to over 300 hours, without actually adding any content.

No matter how you slice it, that's a major problem. I'm no graphics expert (although I do have a bit more experience than most), but the nature of the problem suggests that the developers were just very lazy in the way they implemented the camera. It's as if the game renders things that aren't even visible, so that whenever the camera is zoomed out at all, the frame rate drops as if it's rendering an entire 180 degree view of the scene. But that's speculation.

The point is, there's a frame rate drop that slows down the flow of time without slowing down the character. If it had slowed down the character, it would have basically destroyed the game -- but even slowing down time has a significantly detrimental impact. And at the risk of being over dramatic, this actually flat-out ruined the game for me. Maybe I'm just impatient, but I simply could enjoy play a game that slow. I'm hesitant to dwell on this too severely because the majority of people seem to be just fine with it, but really, this problem rendered the game almost unplayable for me. As it is it's lowering my score for the game by at least around 2.5 points, and if I weren't aware that other people are not as annoyed by it, I'd probably lower it even more. It's that bad, to me at least.

Outdated Graphics and Camera
Harvest Moon has never been the most graphically advanced game, and it doesn't really have a need to be. Part of the game's charm is its slightly cartoon-y appearance and feel. But there comes a time when enough is enough.

The game doesn't do anything graphically that wasn't seen on a GameCube game. Actually, most of the GameCube's library is graphically more impressive than Animal Parade. And while to a large extent it's a conscious decision by the developers to stick with this older graphical style, it's starting to detract from the game as the graphics simply don't even come close to stacking up with other Wii games.

Perhaps the main reason the graphics come across so outdated is because this very series blew away the latest games graphically in one of the series' GameCube incarnations, A Wonderful Life. A Wonderful Life was the most beautiful game on the GameCube, with realistic environments and a full-motion camera. The developers have demonstrated an ability and willingness to go all-out graphically, and it's time for them to step up and do it again in these newer games.

One of the elements in that paragraph deserves extra mention: the camera. Tree of Tranquility and Animal Parade are the only games of their kind that I know of in the modern generation with a stationary camera. It moves a little depending on your location, but for a game like Animal Parade, there's no reason to not have a full-motion camera.

That issue is compounded by the camera's incredibly stupid behavior sometimes. For example, while running around a very picturesque trail overlooking the ocean, the camera zooms in on the player's head as if it was checking for head lice. You don't see the scenery, you don't see what you're going -- all you see is a helicopter view of your character on a blank path. Why?

And this issue is made even worse by the fact that the game's framework would clearly support a free-motion camera because one is essentially provided in the in-game 'photo camera' tool. It lets you enter a first-person view to look around your surroundings, so clearly every element of the environment is actually rendered -- so why is the camera put on a pre-set track? There's no reason for it.

It's these kind of issues that are quickly separating Harvest Moon from the rest of the mainstream gaming industry. In the past, Harvest Moon games were played by a much higher proportion of gamers than today. The reason for the decline is partly natural and unavoidable without really tinkering with the base Harvest Moon formula, but it's partially because the developers continue to make only minor changes to the game appearance when major ones are warranted.

Harvest Moon 64 and GoldenEye 007 debuted within a couple years of each other. Compare the improvement from Harvest Moon 64 to Animal Parade with the improvement from GoldenEye 007 to Halo 3 and you'll find that one has completely slacked off in the visual element. It's not quite as important for Harvest Moon games, but their adherence to this old style is definitely starting to take its toll on the game's overall quality relative to the other games one can buy for the same $50.

Bad or Absent Finishing Touches
Finishing touches are usually little elements that are added in to complete the game experience. They're usually not game-changers, but they just make the game feel a little more complete.

Unfortunately in Animal Parade, there are no real finishing touches. There are some attempts that turn out badly, and some obvious places where a missing feature (sometimes a feature from Tree of Tranquility, so still well within feasibility) detracts from the game experience.

The first easy example is in dialogue. When talking to the villagers, a note will play in the background with each letter, supposedly to pseudo-simulate their voice tone. It's really just something to make female characters have higher "voices" and male characters have lower ones. Except, the high voices are nearly ear-splitting. When talking to some of the female characters, you find yourself mashing the A button to skip through the dialogue as fast as possible and get away from that blasted noise. It's not a bad feature, but the implementation is just terrible.

Another is the game's clock. Now, I know, the rest of the world uses what we Americans call "military time". But here in the United States, we use the AM/PM system. But the game's clock is in military time. Now again, it's not a major problem, but it does have an impact. Whenever trying to figure out the time for something, the player has to mentally pause, take themselves out of the game, figure out the time in their terms, and get back into the game. It's only a second lost, but anything that requires the player to take themselves mentally out of the game diminishes the game's immersiveness by a bit. And really, it's just silly. It would have taken all of 30 minutes to fix.

Lastly, there's a new feature in Animal Parade called "rubbing". Rubbing, at its best, is a way to get a friend or family member in on the Harvest Moon action. With a second WiiMote, they can point at villagers and animals as you pass by to "rub" them and gain extra heart levels. But there's two problems with this: first of all, not enough of the game is spent passing these characters, so it's really not feasible for a second player to actually do this. They'll end up just sitting there for 90% of the gameplay time, and no one wants to do that. But the friendship boost you get from "rubbing" is big enough that single-players will want to do it too -- but that becomes really more of a chore, which is once again the worst thing a video game can do.

There's other minor things, too. For example, in Tree of Tranquility, characters would walk all the way from one place to another -- in Animal Parade, unless you're standing right nearby, they teleport. And not like some awesome story-backed Goddess-enabled teleportation -- they just are suddenly somewhere else. The developers have gotten rid of any tricks to change the weather, but in the process they included far too many major storms. Players will be aggravated by how often typhoons and blizzards come and destroy their crops, and there's no longer anything that can be done to prevent three or four typhoons in a single season. And while the plot is deeper now, there's also a tendency for it to rush along then stall for an extended portion of time.

Overall, despite the game's high points, there remains that slight air of unfinishedness that pervades through many Harvest Moon games.

The Verdict

The overall design of Harvest Moon: Animal Parade is the best the series has to offer. It's bigger and deeper than any previous Harvest Moon game, and yet at the same time retains that simple appeal and entertainment of past games in the series. It has both huge improvements and minor tweaks, and has some subtle changes that most gamers won't notice, but definitely enhance the gaming experience. At a high level, it's the best the series has to offer.

But the game is nearly undone by the details. There's a persistent frame rate problem that notably detracts from the gameplay experience, and the dedication to older-style graphics and camera functionality is starting to get very tiresome. The game also lacks many final tweaks or finishing touches (and fails at the ones it attempts), lead the game to have a slight edge of incompleteness, as if it were rushed to market (when realistically, it wasn't).

The high-level game had the potential to be unarguably the best Harvest Moon game of all time. Unfortunately, with the problems, it's reduced to "only" arguably the best Harvest Moon game of all time.

My Recommendation

Despite the drawbacks, Animal Parade remains arguably among the best Harvest Moon games the series has to offer.

If you're a big or moderately big fan of the series (or simply have enjoyed the latest games in the series), Animal Parade is almost a must-play.

If you enjoyed earlier Harvest Moon games and are eager to to give the series another try after a long hiatus, Animal Parade is a great game to choose to jump back in.

If you were lukewarm to Harvest Moon games in the past (or only like A Wonderful Life -- that always comes up), Animal Parade probably won't draw you in more than past games have, though. It's an improvement, but the basic appeal is still the same.

If you've never tried a Harvest Moon game before, Animal Parade is a great place to start -- but only if RPGs or simulation games are at least somewhat appealing. If you're only a fan of other game genres, you're probably safe bypassing it.

But here's the thing. The lag and slow game speed in the game area absolutely killer for me. I know that others don't mind it as much, so I'm hesitant to dwell on it, or even given a rating that truly reflects my enjoyment of the game. But it's significant enough that it could easily be a waste of $50 if you find your experience with it is as bad as mine. So while it's impossible to get a full Harvest Moon experience out of a rental, I'd actually recommend renting it first. It's worth the extra $8 to make sure you're not wasting $50.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 12/02/09, Updated 01/19/10

Game Release: Harvest Moon: Animal Parade (US, 11/12/09)

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