You might be aware that this was originally released in Japan just a few short months after the DS itself. The lengthy delay for its Euro appearance is due to a couple of things – the publisher being one; it’s gone from being handled by Ubisoft, to upstart outfit Rising Star and has ended up as a joint effort between Rising Star and Nintendo. The other reason, and one we can actually excuse, is that some poor sods were put in charge of sorting out the numerous glitches and translation slip-ups that were in the US version.
It’s still as rough as a brick hen house in places though. The controls are initially very unfriendly, especially when first learning how to swap items, and the menus are ugly and bland. Most of the animation and a majority of artwork have been lifted straight from Friends of Mineral Town on the Game Boy Advance too, and let’s just say that the animation wasn’t spectacular back then. On a more pleasing note, some of the characters from A Wonderful Life on the GameCube have made the jump, including punk Cody and Mori the skanky tramp. They look a bit out of place with the other townsfolk, but it does provide a better variety of people to talk to as you go about trying to set up a farm while wooing a potential female playmate.
Previous Harvest Moons have been nicely balanced, giving you time to tend to your crops and animals, a spot of manual labour (fishing, tree cutting, mining, etc) and a stroll around town before bed. This time round there’s less of a focus on farming with more ways to earn money, like the casino on the edge of town and a gem mine, and a bigger town to explore. Oddly, there aren’t any shops – everything has to be ordered via the phone. It’s an easier way of doing things, but it does spoil the sense of community.
The plot provides a change of pace as well – an evil witch has transformed the harvest Goddess to stone and you need to find 101 magical hidden pixies to turn her back. They’re hidden in water wells, fireplaces and such and when found they’ll help with the housework. Slaves! One sly twist may also surprise: it’s possible to woo the evil witch by giving people horrid presents (like weeds and rocks) and generally being nasty. It’s more beneficial to be good, however, as you only get the fishing rod if you’re a kind gent.
With no real pressures or worries it’s a relaxing game to play and one that you can really get into, whipping your DS out now and then to tend to your cattle. At the same time there’s no denying that this is a lost opportunity for the franchise. Ideally the stylus would have been used for fishing, digging holes and milking cows, but there’s none of that presumably because – and as mentioned in the opening paragraph – it’s essentially a rushed out two-year old Japanese launch title. Next to Animal Crossing, or even Lost in Blue, it looks positively passé.