Not Quite Retro Review: Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life
One of my favorite games is Natsume and Marvelous Entertainment’s 2004 game, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. And I don’t really know why. The principle sounds like the most boring thing ever, yet it is insanely addictive and enjoyable.
I don’t know why I actually got this game, as the premise of it seemed utterly boring. You play as a man (fan-named Jack) who moves to a small country town (Forget-Me-NotValley) after your father passes away, leaving his farm in your care. Your father’s friend, Takakura, introduces you to life on the farm during your first day, and shows you around the valley, introducing you to the locals, and, more importantly, your potential brides. Takakura finishes your introduction by getting you started on your journey by leaving you with a cow.
When you wake up on your second morning in the valley, you are essentially alone. You have a dog which you found the day before, a cow that will only give you milk for 40 days, and an old man living on your property. Te primary “goal” of the game is to: a) Turn the farm into a profitable business, and b) Find yourself a wife and have a family.
The only way to turn the farm into a profitable business, is to plant and harvest crops, and buy animals. There is a moderate selection of different animal species to choose from, with your character being able to purchase cows (for milk), bulls (for mating with cows to produce more milk and more cows), sheep (to shear for wool), chickens (for eggs and breeding) and ducks (also eggs and breeding). Within these species, there is some variation in what you can buy, with higher graded animals producing a higher grade product, which will yield a higher profit (eg. Marble cow’s milk sells for more than Brown cow’s milk). Throughout the course of the game, special animals become available, mainly a horse (which serves no other means beside transport, but is perhaps the most useful animal in the game) and a goat. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES BUY THE GOAT. It stops producing milk after 40 days (1 year) and you are unable to get it pregnant to produce more milk, therefore, after 1 year, it just takes up space in your barn, and the only way to get rid of it is to kill it. Yes, you can kill animals in a game like this, although it is by no means encouraged.
The crops system works slightly different to other Harvest Moon games (eg. Friends of Mineral Town and Magical Melody), in that instead of planting crops in a 3×3 square, you plant them one at a time. This may cause some confusion for veterans of the series, but as this was my first Harvest Moon game, this caused me confusion transferring to other games in the series. Plants will be your secondary source of income, as they require a lot more work than animals with less payoff.
The presentation of the game is wonderful, and takes full advantage of the technology contained within the Gamecube. The graphics look lovely, with lots of bright, pastel collies crying out at you from the surrounding countryside. Despite only having a small-ish area to roam around in, the game changes from year to year (every 40 game days), with the local merchant having a greater variety of products available the further into the game you are, and the local ruins expanding at the beginning of every chapter
The characters are wonderfully designed, and, despite some translation issues, are quite enjoyable to converse with, and I often found myself taking some time off while my crops grew and my animals ate to go and chat to the people around the village. There are a few “side quests” to go about, mainly playing a mini game or two, or collecting recipes. This nets you the favour of the people, and, in return, they occasionally bring you gifts, most of which are merely just for exhibition, but are sometimes (if you befriend the right person) incredibly useful, and almost impossible to obtain any other way.
Despite the seemingly boring nature of this game (taking care of your livestock and plants) and the repetitive nature of the game, it is actually a very enjoyable time. I found myself spending a lot of time playing this game when I was younger (4 or 5 years ago) and every now and then I pop it back into the Gamecube (the only reason I still have the thing) and play through a season or two. I highly recommend this for anyone who likes simulation games, and anyone who ever found themselves addicted to Farmville (which, surprisingly, I can’t tolerate) This is by far my favourite entry in the Harvest Moon series.