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Developer:
Marvelous
Publisher: Natsume
Platform: Gamecube
Release Date: March 2004

by Nicholas Bale




Well, Natsume has once again released a game that defies logic. Despite all odds and expectations, itís fun in it's own quaint, meditative way.


It's unnerving. I read the back of the Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life box, and it seems like the dullest game in existence. "Care for cows, sheep, chickens, and more!" Does that sound like a fun game for you? Not to me! Then explain why I felt compelled to buy this game on the release date.


The Harvest Moon series, despite a lack of marketing and any niche to fall into, has developed quite a strong following. An addictive series of games where you bring up a farm from a small, run-down patch of land to a money-making paradise, Harvest Moon has been made for the SNES, Game Boy, GB Advance, PS2, and now the Gamecube.


Wonderful Life seems to have recreated the adorable 2D sprites from previous games, and turned them 3D, keeping the definite feel of the previous games. In addition to that, the environments that exist around your farm, whether it's the beach, the forest, or the farm itself, all have been created splendidly with vibrant colors and good detail.


Natsume has gone with the old saying: If it's not broken, don't fix it. Your character still harvests crops, milks cows, and tries to romance a wife. However, there are a few changes to this version of the popular series that definitely stand out.


For one, the emphasis is less on the crops in this game. Each seed bag, instead of seeding a 3x3 patch of land, now seeds only 1, which means you'll be buying anywhere from five to ten at a time. The money-making emphasis is now on your cattle, cows, sheep, and the like. The cattle portion of the game has been deepened greatly. For example, cows will not give milk until they give birth. In addition, they will only give milk forty days after giving birth. And for a while, you need to feed this nutrient-filled milk to the newborn calf. Also, there are now different kinds of cows you can raise, ranging in price and quality of milk. That's definitely improved from the normal system in the other games.


In addition to the free range with your cattle, the crop system has also changed. First and foremost, gone is the water-once-then-leave system of previous games. Now you will have to monitor the water levels in the soil to make sure that your plants don't dry up. This means watering them sometimes twice a day! Don't water them, and the plants shrivel into nothing, and you've just lost some cash. Later in the game, you can also blend your seeds together, creating cross-breeds that sell for more and get you rakin' in the cash.


But farming is not all in Harvest Moon, as many fans of the series know. In the area surrounding your farm (there is no definite 'town' area or 'forest' area, just a wide open area filled with houses and people), you'll meet three potential brides. Throughout the first portion of the game, you'll be wooing the women, trying to get one of them to marry you by the end of the year. And that's when child-bearing begins.


Unlike the previous Harvest Moons, your child is more than just some extra points in the game. Your child will, as the years pass, be influenced by neighbors, you, your mother, and even will choose a career. Or he might grow to be unruly. It depends on what you do and who your friends are, including what your wife is like.


Okay, now here is the biggest change to the series, in my humble opinion. Harvest Moon has never been touted as a fast-paced game. But A Wonderful Life...well, this game is exceedingly slow. Exceedingly. At first glance, the fact that there are ten days to a season makes you think that the years will whiz by. Well, they don't, to say the least. Each second in real-time is a minute in game-time. That means it will take twenty-four minutes for one day to pass. That's 240 minutes for one season. That's four hours. Four hours!


Now, of course, you can sleep. But no longer do you wake up at 6 AM every day, refreshed and ready. In A Wonderful Life, you sleep six hours, give or take half an hour. If you doze at 5 PM, you wake up at 11 PM. Oh, and as an aside, if you don't have a good, filled belly when you fall asleep, you're going to wake up with a whole lot less energy.


But don't get me wrong. It's slow, yes, but that's just what some people look for in a game. And even four hours tend to zoom by pretty quickly (that's 16 hours for a full year, by the way). Despite it's meditative pace, the game offers lots of fun for any fans of the rest of the series.


The game places you into a sort of clockwork routine. Me, my routine is to wake up at six or so, water crops, comb, talk, hug the livestock, check up on the chickens, then ride out into town for the day, returning to repeat it again. As you play the game, you will develop a routine as well. It's that kind of game. And as you do this, the hours will just begin to leak past, and you'll look up at the clock and realize it's the next day.


The town does not stay static, just like you. As the years pass, people will arrive, leave, die, and be born. New opportunities will arise, as will new relationships. It's quite unfortunate that more personality was not injected into the town. While the townspeople are unique (especially the town doctor, who looks like a cyborg!), they generally say bland and useless comments that don't really have any pertinence at all.


For owners of Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, there is a link option between the two games. I'm not quite sure of how it works (the instruction manual is sadly inadequate), but basically you get the chance to connect to FOMT and play a bit in that as well. If you connect enough, you can actually earn a beach-front house on the GBA game, which I found was definitely an added attraction. Of course, it's not much more than an aside, but it's fun nonetheless.


It's tough to talk about all the things possible in Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, for to do so would take up pages of type. Suffice to day, there's a lot of options for you to choose to do. With everything from animal husbandry to archeological work to cooking, this game can give you so much to do that sometimes, even a half-hour per day isn't enough.


What this game lacks in action-packed adventure and evil villains, it more than makes up in addictive gameplay, vibrant graphics, and longevity. While it's not for everyone, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life will quickly eat up any time that you are willing to give to it, and it will be hard not to have a good time while doing it.


Final Grade: 86%




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