Friday, May 4, 2007

Harvest Moon DS

Having been a devoted fan of Harvest Moon for a few years, I was thrilled when Natsume created a Harvest Moon game for the new Nintendo DS system. For those who are not familiar with the DS, it is a revolutionary handheld system with two separate screens. The lower screen is a 'Touchscreen' that allows the player to use a stylus to input information and perform actions. A classical control pad with directional and action buttons is used as well.

Hand-held systems like the Game Boy, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS are windows to miniature worlds that can be taken everywhere. They are small devices that fit in a pocket or handbag and yet the panoramic experience offered by some games is almost overwhelming in its details.

Harvest Moon probably is one of the most incredible, detailed 'worlds' ever created for video games. Natsume is a Japanese company and Harvest Moon does represent Japanese traditional values to some extent. Harvest Moon games are set in small villages and the player usually inherits or purchases a dilapidated farm and then proceeds to make friends with the other people living in the area and sometimes even is able to marry and have a child. In attempting to restore the farm to working condition, the player is able to augment his/her income through fishing and mining while raising crops and animals on the farm.

There are two primarily locations in Harvest Moon games: Forget-Me-Not Valley and Mineral Town. Characters in games set in Forget-Me-Not Valley may allude to Mineral Town from time to time and in the games set in Mineral Town, two characters from Forget-Me-Not Valley actually could visit periodically, but it is only in Harvest Moon for the DS that the two locations really come together in a significant fashion.

In Harvest Moon for the DS, one can order from businesses in Mineral Town by using the telephone and many characters from Mineral Town will visit the Valley on a weekly basis. One actually can court the eligible girls from Mineral Town in this game as well. For Harvest Moon fans, this game is the ultimate fantasy made real.

Apart from this connection, Harvest Moon DS endeavours to combine the best aspects of previous games set in either location. 'A Wonderful Life', a game set in
Forget-Me-Not Valley, allowed the player to create upgraded crops and to grow trees in addition. Moreover, in 'A Wonderful Life', characters aged as time passed. The child one had grew into adulthood as the years passed.

In Mineral Town, one could marry and have a child, but the child never advanced beyond toddler age. Years passed but characters remained the same. On the other hand, Mineral Town had incredibly complex mines and a system for upgrading tools that 'A Wonderful Life' lacked.

In Harvest Moon for the DS, there are four mines containing a multitude of items, rather like the mining system of Mineral Town, but the upgraded crops and trees from 'A Wonderful Life' can be created as well. When one marries and has a child, the child will grow and mature. The child actually can leave the house and form relationships with other villagers, unlike the child in Friends of Mineral Town.

For the individual who never experienced Harvest Moon, however, a basic description of the game may be in order here.

In Harvest Moon games, farming is the central focus. One must clear land, then plant seeds and water them regularly in order to produce a crop. Crops invariably are seasonal and one must be aware of the passage of time in order to be able to harvest crops before they die when the season changes. Animals can be raised, but must be fed and given attention and love if they are to prosper.

There are a number of different ways to travel through the Valley. One can walk, run or ride a horse. If one has been fortunate enough to acquire a 'teleport stone', one can move instantly from one location to another.

Making money is an important part of life in Harvest Moon but it is not as important as making friends. Friendships are maintained through regular contact and gift-giving. One must know one's friends, their likes and dislikes and remember their birthdays with a favourite gift.

Village festivals are an important part of the game. Special items and awards can be obtained only at Festivals.

Most Harvest Moon games are rather 'open-ended' in the sense that one does not 'win or lose' the game. One usually can proceed at one's own pace to achieve goals. It really provides a way to live another life, one that is far from urban pressures and contemporary problems. Technology tends to be quite limited in Harvest Moon. The lifestyle is that of a traditional village. Weather is an important concern, as it would be to any farmer or rancher. Making other people happy brings special rewards.

Harvest Moon games are extremely therapeutic. They allow one to attain worthy goals while being reminded of traditional virtues. Harvesting crops that one has grown and preparing nourishing and tasty meals with the fruit of one's labours is extremely satisfying. Witnessing the birth of an animal and nurturing it is another source of fulfillment. Cows are milked daily and sheep are sheared weekly. Chickens lay eggs daily. In Harvest Moon DS, provided that one has built a pond, one can raise Ducks for eggs as well.

For the individual who never played a Harvest Moon game, Harvest Moon DS will be an incredible adventure. For fans of Harvest Moon games, this game represents the ultimate Harvest Moon experience in many ways.

Nonetheless, all Harvest Moon games are worth exploring and for those who prefer a larger gaming system, there are games that were made for the GameCube and even the Playstation. These games will be discussed in separate posts.

No comments: