Author Topic: The ratings 'n' reviews thread  (Read 1722 times)

Burning Zeppelin

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Re: The ratings 'n' reviews thread
« Reply #15 on: August 20, 2008, 04:26:23 am »
I quite liked Rune Factory.

Thought

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Re: The ratings 'n' reviews thread
« Reply #16 on: September 02, 2008, 06:56:33 pm »
I liked it too, BZ. I just expect things to live up to their full potential (which, I am sure, is a bit hypocritical of me, but meh).

And for today's offering:

Type: Video Game
Name: Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness
System: Nintendo DS
Genre: Farm Simulator
Score: 8/10

As a warning, this game was just released so my review is based off my first impressions.

Given that, my first impression is impression. Which is to say, I am impressed.

It is a Harvest Moon game, so it should come to no surprise that it is a farming simulator. However, Island of Happiness (abbreviated IoH herein) is one of the better installments in the series.

Ingenuity

The formula hasn’t changed much since the series began on the SNES; you farm and raise animals. Some things have been added over time, such as mining, fishing, and mini-games. In recent years the basic formula has been challenged a little. There was Harvest Moon DS which had crop Levels, then there was Rune Factory which shifted the focus to fighting monsters (it also had crop levels).

But IoH has a fairly significant change to the crop system itself; it used to be that you plant a crop and water it. After x number of days doing so, it would be ripe and ready to sell. IoH has changed that, there are now three different variables that must be met for crops to ripen. Even at that, the crop might be quality or crap if the variables aren’t within specific ranges. A plant now needs a certain number of days to ripen, a certain level of sunlight, and a certain level of water. Too much water or too much sunlight and it will not be a high quality produce. Extreme sunlight or water will even kill the plant.

Personally, I now love this. It adds a level of realism to the game that makes growing crops an intense process. One can’t just mindlessly water crops everyday; one must pay close attention to their needs. There is a certain joy in producing a perfect crop that is only present because there is a danger of having a bad year (or season) in which nothing goes quite right.

In addition to the crops, the tool system gets a bit of a make-over as well. As early as the first game there was the concept that tools could improve to make farm work easier. This has been done generally by just upgrading the tools one already has, most commonly by getting a smith to re-forge it using proper minerals. How using a golden watering can allows one to carry the equivalent of a small pond in a bucket, or to effectively water a few acres in just one swing, I have no idea.

IoH, however, tossed out upgrading tools directly and used “Wonderfuls” instead. Throughout the game one can find little stones/coins that, when put into sockets in the tools, give those tools different abilities, from reducing stamina to doubling the work it performs to even giving the player money each time the tool is used. This adds a beautiful layer of customization; one player might have a watering can that can cover a 3x3 area with 2 units of water (referring back to crop growing patterns and how each needs a certain amount of water to mature) for no stamina cost while another player might have a watering can that can cover a 9x1 area with 1 unit of water for normal stamina, but gives 10 gold with every use.

This system is all the more interesting because obtaining “Wonderfuls” is fairly difficult, when compared to past means of upgrading tools. They can only be won at festivals (which one depends on certain, unseen, number values in the game’s code), bought in winter (when certain, unseen, number values are met), or awarded for reaching lvl 255 in the game’s mine (and even then, only every other time).

Why is “difficult” so interesting? For one, it forces a slow down of tool upgrades. It is hardly unusual for a skilled player in Harvest Moon DS or Harvest Moon 64 to have very high level tools at the end of Spring in the first year. In IoH, tool improvement is forced to be more gradual and thus each improvement is more appreciated.

It also adds a little value to “festivals.” In most competitive festivals, a Wonderful can be rewarded, giving a player a vested interest in actually competing and wining. Past games did provide a benefit for such festivals, but it was usually in increasing the value of the produce of the animal entered into the contest (but by that time, the added value wasn’t particularly needed and so it had a low real-value).

Speaking of Festivals, they get revised a little. Every Harvest Moon game has a few festivals the same but the bulk being different, IoH is no different. However, now the festival site itself must be unlocked (so very few will occur without that happening) and one festival in particular will only be held if the player helps the towns people devise it. These are very small changes, but it helps the festivals to seem like something the player actually has an important part of.

Which brings me to the last great innovation of the game; the town and town’s people.

In most other Harvest Moon games, the player is the one who moves into the town and thus must integrate into an existing society. IoH however has the player starting off as a castaway from a shipwreck. S/he and a few other survivors set up on the island as colonists. The town grows (and shrinks) primarily based on the player’s behavior and interactions, allowing individuals to shape the town itself to a small degree (don’t want so-and-so on the island? Don’t do such-and-such an activity that would attract them in the first place, or get them kicked off the island if they’ve already showed up).

But despite so many “innovations” the game had a lot of faults here. The reason is that every innovation could have been better with a little more work; they were innovative, but not always implemented well.

The crop system was wonderful but an obstacle to new players; after my first spring, I set down the game and didn’t think I’d play again. This was because it rained almost every day, resulting in every crop rotting in the field. After getting established, I like the idea of having good or bad seasons, but to face a bad season right away? It doesn’t let a player get into the game and used to the system. It would have been simple to ensure that the first week, at least, had clear weather for new players. Thus it was ingenuitive, but it lacked a user-friendly introduction.

Wonderful are a fun addition, but the system of getting them punishes players who try to follow their own path. It is quite possible to go several years, in game, and never receive a single one; indeed, a new player might not realize that they exist. To get a few Wonderfuls early, one has to race to certain goals, and even then it isn’t until winter that a dubious player can cheat the system to get enough to begin upgrading several tools. These will be incredibly precious items to an honest player and no matter how wonderful a system is, a player has to be able to experience it.

For Festivals… this is more of a “if only.” Unlocking festivals is fun, but I think the system could have been more interactive. For one, why not let the player set the date for the one festival that the PC helps “create”? Also, why not include more festivals like that? The designers are on the right track with this and I think a little more work would make each festival unique and memorable for players of all sort. Thus, a low score because while innovative, it was a stunted innovation that didn’t reach what I believe could have been its full maturity.

And lastly, the town. It was a good idea, a wonderful idea! But it suffers because it is very static. A player will see the same town on each play through, so the “growth” is highly artificial. Involving the player more in recruiting townsfolk would have been nice. Allowing the player a bit more control over how the town develops would have also been nice. The system was about as imaginative as the Town Building in Soul Blazer, but I think they could give us much better (even if only Terranigma level Town Building).

PC/NPC Interactions

I really don’t know why games have such a problem with dialogue. In Harvest Moon games where the player is encouraged to make friends with the villagers (and marriage candidates), it seems like it would be important to make the NPCs seem like real people. But no, most NPCs only have 2 lines of dialogue that they repeat day in and day out to no end. Why couldn’t the designers have hired a script writer to give them something different to say occasionally? Vary it by season, by weather, by day of the week. Anything! Even if such a thing was only limited to marriage candidates.

Since new NPCs move in occasionally, that helps to break out of the monotony a little, but there is no excuse as far as a I can tell for dialogue to be so flat.

Economics

I’ve complained about this before, but IoH suffers from more economics. Just foraging and fishing is enough to earn 50 or 60 thousand gold each season, easily. Growing crops isn’t very profitable, in that regard. It is curious that a farming simulator would place so little importance on farming.

Well, no one is forcing a player to fish or forage… except the game. Building and upgrading things is quite expensive, far more expensive than one could pay for in a reasonable amount of time just farming and gathering materials. It is like the economy was set with late-game means of making money (and gathering resources) in mind. I commend the game for having so many things to buy and upgrade (giving the player a lot of rewards along the way), but it is nice for people who want to farm to be able to do so and not be at a disadvantage.

Now one might say that a farmer just needs to grow more vegetables. That is all well and good if a farmer could; the PC is limited by Stamina. In old games, this could be augmented by finding Power Berries that increased the limit. Now, no such luck. Certain items can temporarily add stamina, or decrease stamina loss, or some other such, but all those are late game items, available only after a large amount of money has been spent.

In short, everything seems back loaded. Thus, the beginning is so poor as to be almost uninteresting and the end seems to be so rich as to be almost uninteresting. A little economic adjustment could have made everything more enjoyable.

Overall rank: 8/10 A fun game that could have been a lot better.

Though to note, some might wonder why I gave IoH a better grade than Rune Factory. The reason for this is that while both are roughly equally fun (I think I like IoH more), Rune Factory was further from actualizing its potential than IoH was/is. But as I said, my review of IoH was based on first impressions, whereas Rune Factory I had a long time to mull over. My rank might change if I were to redo it in, say, six months.