|Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life|
Release Date: Out Now
A friend of mine is a Gamekeeper and I have helped him out on the odd occasion, it's actually quite nice to do every now and then - and being able to run around forests with a shotgun is always a bonus - but an occupation I don't think I could do full time. Early starts, late nights, long hours, cold winter mornings, wet days and not great pay, I actually envy him that he enjoys it so much and is very good at it.
Harvest Moon - whilst not allowing you to run around with the gun - does feature all of the above downers but in a farming environment. It's strange that a game that focuses on these lows and all the hard work involved should be so much fun. It's typical Nintendo fare, cute graphics and lots of dialogue, and whilst it looks rather simple it is actually very deep.
Once the game's introduction has played out and you have named your character and a few of your starting animals you find yourself in the land of Forget-Me-Not. Here is your farm, which as explained in the intro has been handed down to you by your father. The game plays out as a life simulation with day turning to night as you go about your business. Your first course of action is to try and make some money. This can be done in many ways and to begin with none of them are particularly lucrative.
HM:AWL tries very hard to simulate the life of a farmer. To get your crops growing you first need to plough the fields, sow the seeds and then make sure they are watered twice a day. There are many, many different types of seeds that can be sown and each take a different amount of time to grow, and all yield different results. Once you have your initial seeds sown there is very little you can do with them until they are fully grown, so to get your first lot of money rolling in you must turn to the dairy industry. You start the game with one cow which can be milked twice a day, this milk can then be sold to bring in money to allow you to buy more seeds etc. The better you look after your cow the better the quality milk it produces and this will bring in more money. As your finances grow you can buy more livestock and even chickens - all of which produce items which can be sold.
As you progress so does time. The game's clock is constantly ticking and as in real life there are only so many hours in the day. The days and months pass and so do the seasons. The game starts in spring, each season obviously affects your farm in many ways. Some crops can only be planted in spring whilst the winter frost can kill off your grass and make your animals ill. Time also affects other things in the game and is also how its "missions" are played out. In all there are about 30 years to play through. The "mission" for the first year is to find a wife and get married.
You see, the land of Forget-Me-Not is full of other people, all of whom can be interacted with. You can talk to them, trade with them and even play games with a few of them. However out of all these people there are three potential brides. Each has her own unique characteristics and it's up to you to choose which one you would like to take as your wife. As in real life this is not easy and to woo the girl of your dreams you have to treat her well, pay attention to her and as with all women lavish them with as many presents as possible. This is on top of keeping the farm going and keeping the money coming in. Harvest Moon is very much a life simulator, and it deals with some very grown up issues. It's a very intelligent game.
The graphics are lovely, very cute in style and rather childlike but they really do add to the feel of the game. Exploring Forget-Me-Not you feel like you are in your own little village, each character has their own unique look and style and as the years move on things around you change. The sound in the game is rather limited, the music is typically Nintendoesque and soon starts to grate but the sound effects fit in well with what is happening on screen.
The tasks of Harvest Moon should feel like a chore, it should feel like work, but after only a few minutes you see that this is not the case. It's surprisingly therapeutic. Walking around in the early hours before everyone else is up, watering your crops or milking the cow just feels very relaxing and as the in game clock ticks by you soon find that the real world one follows suit and you lose yourself in this beautifully rendered virtual world.
I never thought I would like HM - but was intrigued enough by the concept to take the chance and I am glad I have. It's given me the most use out of my Gamecube since launch day. It's also the first game that my girlfriend has enjoyed playing and has seen her actually take an interest in other games as well. Well worth checking out for any of you who fancy something that little bit different. Load it up, relax and experience the country life.
- Relaxing yet engrossing.
- Easy to play.
- May not appeal to everyone.
- "Nintendo" music.