Score Rundown


Overall: 7 (Swoll)

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Life Sim

Farming. Itís excitement personified. The task of growing crops, milking cows, shearing sheep, and gathering eggs have never been as much fun as in Harvest Moon. The seminal farm simulation game has been around since the days of the SNES and paved the way of other social interaction games like Animal Crossing ever since. While Animal Crossing enjoyed mainstream success, the Harvest Moon series has continued to lurk in the shadows for most gamers. For those who think that there isnít much fun in a game that simulates farm life you donít know what youíre missing.

The latest installment of the series continues the tried-and-true formula of its predecessors, only this time with a twist! While male lead characters have been prominent in the series, Natsume and Marvelous have decided to get in touch with their feminine sides this time around. While the graphics and gameplay remain very similar to the last installment, A Wonderful Life, Another Wonderful Life presents a great way to get females into gaming. It's not too prissy and not too manly.

Another Wonderful Life starts off like any of the other games in the series; your nameless character inherits a farm from her father and decides to take care of it, though with a little doubt coming from the farmís groundskeeper. After a tour of the farm and introductions to the people around town, itís time to get to work.

Your farm has two fields with varying qualities of soil to grow crops in. Youíll start with a lean selection of seeds, but you can always buy more from the neighboring farm. Youíll have to keep an eye on the quirks of certain types of seeds since certain crops can only be planted and grow during certain seasons or depend on different types of soil in which to thrive. Most of the crops will need to be watered every day in order to eventually bloom, though itís a tad complicated to accomplish the task. While the gameís controls are great overall, they become clunky once you step into a field and start choosing squares to plant or water your crops. It feels as if your movement speed is halved and the square right next of you is always skipped in favor of another square one row over. Youíll find yourself having to back up and approach squares again frequently. Once crops bloom, ripen, or die, they can be only be harvested once. Once a crop has been harvested, youíll have to clear out their dried up husks and replant them. In addition to the crops, you can also plant trees which take longer to grow, but yield more fruit and are much more permanent.

Your inherited farm also comes with a cow right off the bat which you milk up to twice a day. Depending on the cowís mood and living conditions, itíll churn out different qualities of milk. You can get your bovine into good spirits by showing it some love, buying it good fodder to eat, and letting it out into pasture on nice days. Itíll also spit out different quantities of milk depending on the season, so youíre sure to get more during the spring than in the fall and winter. You can always purchase more cows and even bulls in which to make baby cows, thus making the bull pay for himself in the end.

The same kind of attention can be applied to chickens and roosters for eggs and even more chickens as well as sheep for your woolen needs. You can also get your hands on a horse which you can ride around town to get places faster instead of hoofing it on foot for the entire game.

Of course, all of these perks cost money which can be easily be gained in a couple of ways. You can put any crops into shipping bins to be shipped to the far off big city and gain profit back in a matter of a few days or you can pack everything into your rucksack and set up a shop in town. This is where the game becomes very true to life in the sense that youíll find yourself standing and waiting for passing customers nearly all day with little movement possible and very little to entertain yourself. If there were ever a moment in gaming to promote smoking in the house, this is it. The townspeople quickly become very predictable since they will only buy three items a day and will almost always buy the same things, which theyíll stuff into their pockets no matter what the size of the item is.

Once you have money to burn, you can buy new additions to your farm such as buildings or you can buy a number of odd items such as a fishing rod from Van the merchant who comes into town twice a month. Once you get a hold of a fishing rod, you can fish in the stream or the town spring and catch different varieties of fish in varying sizes for you to consume yourself or sell for a pretty penny when you set up shop in town where the townspeople will begin to stuff fish into their pockets and walk off at the end of their transactions. Fishing is represented by a simple mini game where you cast out, sit and wait for a nibble, and then hold the A button as soon as the bobber goes under. If youíre wondering, yes thereís a lot of waiting in this game.

When youíre not out to make money or plant crops for your aspiring farming empire, thereís still plenty to do. You can volunteer your time to the local archeology dig site to find some odd and rare items or pick random flowers and wild vegetables that youíll find sprouting around town. You could also walk around town and get to know the townspeople better, that is, if they didnít act like dialog repeating robots and actually had something interesting to say. If you wander around town enough, youíll eventually encounter cutscenes where youíll help the townspeople solve problems, though it really doesnít seem to do much in terms of furthering your relationships with anyone.

You wonít be able to work solo for long as the game will eventually start prodding you to work towards wooing a man to become your husband. You can do this by getting into direct communication, dressing up nice, and giving them gifts to soften them up for the kill. This works with varying degrees of success as the men in town will continue to spout the same lines of dialog no matter how immaculate the gifts you give them are. The lack of any kind of relationship meter doesnít make things any easier either. Once youíve got a man in your claws, you can offer them a blue feather which if the accept, the two of you can be married and have babies. Simply put, babies never really grow up and just become anotherÖwell, pet (for the lack of a better word) for you to take care of. From there youíll live happily ever after as you tend to your farm and settle in the valley. The game really offers no end, so you can spend year after year and the game will never stop, though you might not have much more motivation to go on after everything has been accomplished.

The game also supports a link up with the GBA version of Harvest Moon (Friends of Mineral Town) for some extra gameplay time and content.

The gameís visuals are simple and cartoony, which contribute to the light and upbeat mood going on. Characters lack any real detail and all sport what look like flat 2D faces on 3D models with simple expression changes. While this looks all right at a distance, faces and expressions really get muddied up close where they all look like highly compressed jpeg pictures. There is also a fair share of clipping issues as youíll see townspeople clip through signs and each other at times.

The best parts about the visuals lie in the environments. The design of the town really helps to convey the small town atmosphere where everything is set. Wooded areas, while you canít venture off of the beaten path, show that theyíre overrun with vegetation. Even the town spring at night is a great sight with crystals that glow at night and cast nice reflections off of the water. Of course, the same great Gamecube water effects are running rampant here.

If thereís anything to bring down Harvest Moon, it would be the sound. While there are some great dynamic music changes and atmospheric effects, theyíre all played in fairly obvious five second loops. Characters all have trademark grunts to accompany their written dialog, but a lot of them seem badly sampled or so loud that they come out with some distortion. The worst offender in the sound department has to be the sound of footsteps. Not only are they louder than almost everything else, they consist of one sound being played over and over again. Most footsteps donít even correctly match the ground youíre running on as brick walkways sound like someone is pounding a mallet on something or grass sounds like someone cutting with scissors rather than their respective surfaces. In the end, youíre better off turning the sound down all together. The same goes for when youíre riding a horse only that youíll have the same crazy galloping noises no matter what kind of ground youíre on.

Surely, if youíre a fan of games like Animal Crossing, you might get some enjoyment out of Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life. Sure, you may not be able to write letters in this version, but the gift giving and the groundwork of the social interaction is there. Either way, itís an addictive and deliberately slow paced series that really deserves more recognition than it receives.

- Brad Hicks (aka Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media

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