|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Marvelous Interactive||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Natsume||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: August 26, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Branden Barrett
February 14, 2008 - Ever since the mid-nineties, Harvest Moon has been a staple in the simulation genre with its unique and unorthodox gameplay approach. Who honestly could predict that a game about manual labor would be so popular with the common gamer? As the old saying goes, "repetition is sometimes good," and this quote applies directly to the majesty that is the quirky little farming sim.
Aware of the cash cow down on their farm, Natsume is getting another fresh serving ready for everybody's favorite handheld, the Nintendo DS. With the touch screen at their disposal, Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness looks to take a nod from the 2006 release of Harvest Moon DS in terms of how it is used. Aside from this, there are definitely a lot of new items to look forward to as well, from characters and items to where it all usually begins: the story.
This time around, the plot revolves around a ship that washes up on a deserted island. Hey, at least it's better than inheriting your grandfather's farm for the fiftieth time. What causes this shipwreck is a ferocious storm that forms while both the main character and a family of four are making their way to a new land. Luckily, all five of the passengers survive, and, to their surprise, they notice that the island they wash up on was once inhabited. With the groundwork in place, your goal will be to work with these four other people in creating a successful farm and town center. As you continue to build your little community, it will grow both aesthetically and commercially, and within no time at all you will begin attracting visitors from across the globe. The system looks to be similar to Animal Crossing, with inhabitants coming and going based on the time and your success rate. Taking this a step further, Island of Happiness will also introduce an online farming rank system, which judges your farm against the thousands of other proverbial farmers. With this feature in place, hard work will be rewarded and will definitely help increase the already abundant replay value.
New to the series for the first time is the control setup, which is similar to the one used in Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. All movement and player actions will be controlled through the touch screen, while the D-Pad will be used for menu selection. This control style has received some mixed reactions from the player community, but if done right, it can be just as solid as a control pad or joystick. In my personal opinion, movement should be left solely to the pad, leaving actions to the bottom screen. Knowing when and how to use the touch screen in innovative ways is definitely one of the toughest jobs for a developer when it comes to developing titles on the DS. Lastly, it seems that the rucksack will once again make an appearance in a Harvest Moon game, with its functionality controlled by the control pad. The accessory system from Harvest Moon DS will also appear in Island of Happiness, though it isn't confirmed whether or not there will be power berries; you win some, you lose some.
Worried about being too lonely while stuck on that deserted island you're destined to call home? Well, not too worry, as it seems that a lot of people are looking to get away. Up to 100 characters can come to your island, with about a third of that amount actually having services and storylines of their own. From a blacksmith and horse tamer to a chef and animal owner, Island of Happiness doesn't disappoint in the interaction department. And for you poor, lonely bachelors out there, there's the option to marry one of several unique guys or gals (depending on the gender you choose at the start of the game). With love comes the system that guides it, and it should be no surprise that the heart point system is again found in Natsume's latest. As you continue to grow in compatibility with your potential spouse, events can be triggered, both impacting festivals or just your average day on the farm. One complaint that that they will hopefully address is the lack of depth your husband or wife has once you get married. It would be nice to be able to take your wife out on the town after a long day of harvesting tomatoes and cleaning up animal waste.
What also shouldn't be wasted is food, and it doesn't look like that will be the case in Island of Happiness, with the depth of the cooking feature this time around. Close to 100 culinary delights can be cooked up, with many being unlocked as you progress through the game. Whether it is sashimi or beef stew, fondue or soba, each delicacy can be used in a variety of ways. From giving a citizen of the island a gift to raise their friendship points to just simply raising your stamina level, the cooking system has always been a trademark of the series, and it is good to see it still around. Another welcomed addition to Island of Happiness is the inclusion of more festivals. Nothing was worse than trudging through those boring musical sessions that Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life called special events. No, what the people want is chicken fighting, egg hunting, swimming events, and horse racing, as well as the always important betting feature. Thankfully, Island of Happiness features up to twenty festivals this time around, which is the most seen in a Harvest Moon game to date. This doesn't include character events, random cutscenes, and individual birthdays. So, as you can surmise, there will be plenty of things to keep your little avatar busy over his or her stay on the formerly deserted island.
With the DS being capable of pushing out stronger visuals than the Game Boy Advance, Natsume has decided to go with 3D models rather than the traditional 2D sprites that fans are used to. Using an artistic style similar to that of Harvest Moon: Magic Melody on the Game Cube, Island of Happiness will feature an open environment. Detailed drawings convey each character as always, though it doesn't look like there will be any voice acting; then again, when has it ever? On the other side of the coin lies the audio, though no sound has really been heard as of yet. No doubt it will probably feature the same seasonal tracks that loop throughout the day, with the ever-transitional silence making its debut at dusk. It would be nice to see more musical bits inserted into different regions of the game. If not, then at least leave an option to buy tracks from previous installments in the Harvest Moon line (which was available in Harvest Moon DS). Regardless, the visual jump Island of Happiness makes is quite revolutionary and a big step forward for the series.
At the end of the day, there isn't a whole lot more to say but, "here comes another Harvest Moon game." Cows, chickens, and sheep will again show their faces in Island of Happiness, as well as many of the vegetables you've come to expect from practically every version in the series. Seasons will most likely be sectioned by 30 days, and the option to have a kid will still be there. So, the one thought that comes to mind is, "just how is this worth picking up if I already own Harvest Moon DS or A Wonderful Life?" Well, fans of the series will snatch up a new installment regardless, and if you are new to the series then there really is no better place to start. The great thing about the Harvest Moon line is that it is very beginner friendly and doesn't require you to have played its past titles to understand what's going on. The online feature is a nice touch and it looks to include all the intricacies that make Harvest Moon one of the best simulation franchises today. So look for Island of Happiness in stores in early June; just don't confuse it with Harvest Moon DS Cute (the female version of Harvest Moon DS) , which will be available March 25.
CCC Freelance Writer