Review: Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life

Harvest Moon A Wonderful Life US Box Art

Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life US Box Art

In 2004 Natsume released one of the most popular games in their series of potato farming simulators, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. It was developed by Marvelous Interactive Inc for the Nintendo Gamecube and remains one of the few reasons to utilize a Wii for those who are lacking in the Gamecube department. The game revolves around a young, unnamed-until-the-player-names-him boy who comes to help manage a farm. No specific backstory is given, leaving the player free to pull one from the depths of their likely long-neglected imagination. The young protagonist is met by Takakura, his father’s best friend, who indicates that he brought the hero to the farm because he thought the lad would be happy there. Takakura takes the boy on the standard Harvest Moon tour, showing him the facilities on the farm, local landmarks, and introducing him to key townspeople. Everyone is, of course, cheerful, cute as a bug’s nose, and eager to become the hero’s best friend for life.

Although the game is a potato farming sim, there are other aspects of the game to be explored, should one be so inclined. If by chance the wonders of both potatoes and sweet potatoes are insufficient amusements, the player can focus on other aspects of farm life. There are other less potato-ish crops to grow or livestock to maintain. Off of the farm there is abundant fishing opportunities, as well as an archaeological site to dig through. However the main focus of the game, and the only way to actually progress beyond Chapter 1 is by building relationships with the townsfolk.

The game is divided into six chapters. As previously alluded to, chapter 1 revolves around building relationships, specifically relationships with girls. In order to progress in the game beyond chapter 1, the hero must charm and marry one of three possibe wives. They consist of the ditzy bubbly blonde girl, the emo redhead, and the nice and normal brunette. If the hero can successfully woo one of these ladies and marry her, the next chapter begins, with the addition of a baby. The remaining five chapters will occur automatically, without any prerequisites. As each chapter advances, the hero and his family will age, as will the townsfolk. New townspeople may move in, while some may move away or even pass away. The purpose of the game is to raise the child and to see what he grows up to be. His future is determined by a combination of natural predispositions based upon who his mother is, and the hero’s influence. Influence can occur through either exposing the child to certain toys, or by building friendships with certain townsfolk who will in turn influence the child to favour one field of study or another.

Harvest Moon Wonderful Life Blue Bar

Harvest Moon: Teaching gamers how to pick up girls in bars since 2004

Unlike many other games in the series, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life is not particularly concerned with how much money one makes, or how many potatoes one can grow. Instead it encourages the player to give anything and everything away as gifts in order to buy friends, and to spend more time running hither and thither to socialize. If desired, though, there is significant room for expansion on the farm, with options to order new buildings and landscaping features for significant sums, so it is certainly possible and even reasonable to focus on things such as breeding livestock and growing acres of produce. So long as the hero selects a wife by the end of chapter 1, the game will continue and cannot truly be “lost”. The inability to truly lose may be a negative aspect to some gamers who enjoy striving for simulated perfection, or a bonus to those who dislike games that seem like more work than, well, their real work.

Visually the game is pleasant enough with its superdeformed characters, bright cheerful environments and 3D detailing that is quite good for the console. In fact it is on par with many Wii games, making it a reasonable addition to a gamer’s Wii library thanks to that console’s backwards compatibility. All in all it is a game that stands the test of time well, and is an enjoyable mind-numbing experience for those who enjoy potato simulators but want an easy carefree game that does not require careful planning and execution in order to be successful.

16 comments on “Review: Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life”

  1. I thought a Wonderful Life was too slow paced, and I didn’t like some of the more realistic features that they added to the game(like having to get a cow knocked up inorder to have it produce milk), it also didn’t have very much things to do after like the 2nd chapter. If I had to compare this game to others in the series I’d say this is the second worst game in the series (the first being Save the Homelands). I wouldn’t really recommend it to Wii owners; if you didn’t play it back in the day then you’re not really missing out on much, if you really want a Harvest Moon game for the gamecube/wii you’re better off picking up Magical Melody.

    @Lusipurr The best Harvest Moon game is the one that came out for N64, the rest of the series fails in comparison to that game, so if you’re ever looking to try the series out, that is the one you should play.

  2. I actually agree with RBK about the pacing and the epicness of HM64. :)
    But I’m one of those people who like to strive for perfection and meticulously plan out my little HM dude’s life for optimal monetary gain and/or social standing (depending on the game) The “take your time, everyone wins anyway” thing isn’t really my thing most of the time.

  3. What’s so great about HM64? Why is it so much better than all other HM games?

  4. It’s kinda hard to say what makes HM64 so great, it’s just got a special something about it that makes it perfect, and no other Harvest Moon game really has come close to it(besides Back to Nature, and *maybe* Magical Melody). If I’d have to put into words what makes HM64 so great, I’d have to say that it’s probably because it doesn’t try to be more than it needs to be. It’s not bogged down by gimmicky shit like the newer Harvest Moon games are, also the game in my opinion has the best pacing in the series; at first it may seem like the days go by too quickly, but once you get into the rhythm of things you’ll find that you always have enough time to do everything you need to do in a day, where in most Harvest Moon games now a days you’ll get everything done and there will still be a bunch of time left in the day but nothing to do to fill that time so you just end up going to bed. Harvest Moon 64 had a ton of things to do, lots of festivals and events, places to explore, interesting people to interact with and get to know, lots of little things to find and unlock. The game was so simple yet so grand! Shit, now I wanna go turn my N64 on and play that game, but that would require playing on my crappy CRT TV… I really wish Natsume would put the game out on Virtual Console…

  5. Magical Melody was excellent, but on the Gamecube. Taking out a female character option just to add stupid waggle gimmicks? Please. I think my favourite is the Island of Happiness for DS. There’s stupid animal mini-games, sure, and mining is a bitch, but otherwise, a real time sink.

  6. @Kenjujuu Yeah, Island of Happiness was another great one. I played the hell out of that game. Quite a few of the DS games are good, actually…It’s just when it comes to the recent console games that the series tends to shit the bed…

  7. @evilpaul: I concur.
    @rbk: It’s typical Nintendo syndrome – they should know by now that adding waggle gimmicks does not make something more fun.

  8. @Kenju: Wow! Nice to see you around here still! I thought you had given us over for better different sites.

    I get the feeling that the HM games are kind of like a sort of… SimFarm. With some dating sim elements. Yes/no?

  9. Correction, HM: Back to Nature on the PS1 is the best out of the series, followed closely by HM64 as they are practically the same game. HM:BtN Has a little more content. For a good comparison check out this…

    http://www.hmfarm.com/page.php?file=64vsbtn

    @Lusi – Pretty much, but the blending of the two elements work so damn well to create that certain addictive formula.

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