Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Wonderful World of Animal Parade


Animal Parade is the next game in the series that began with Tree of Tranquility, the first Harvest Moon game to be published for the Wii system. Having written the Official Strategy Guide for Tree of Tranquility, I was unable to post freely about that game, but I labour under no restrictions of that nature where Animal Parade is concerned.

Both games have a very detailed main plot and both offer a wealth of choices in terms of prospective spouse. As your choice of spouse will affect the personality of your child, Animal Parade offers many different 'paths' in terms of your ultimate family life.

Both games include stunning graphics. Personally, I feel that the musical themes in Animal Parade are among the most beautiful I ever have heard, with the possible exception of Rune Factory Frontier, another game made for the Wii.

Watermills are nothing new to Harvest Moon. In many old games, including FoMT and MFoMT, you could feed the Corn you grew into the Watermill to create Feed for your Chickens.

Milling has become far more sophisticated in Animal Parade, however, offering wonderful new options of growing your own Coffee Beans and Sugarcane to grind at the local Windmill into Sugar and Ground Coffee.

A Crop that is new to Harvest Moon is the Olive, which can be processed into Olive Oil for Cooking, offering an alternative to the Butter created from the Milk your Livestock produce. Sheep by the way can yield both Milk and Wool in Animal Parade and ALL Livestock can be used for Transport.

The basic system is the same both in Tree of Tranquility and Animal Parade. Any player who enjoyed ToT will be well-equipped to play Animal Parade. As with Island of Happiness and Sunshine Islands, however, the two games are diverse enough to make each unique.

Comparing Island of Happiness with Sunshine Islands

Although players of Island of Happiness will find many of the fundamental principles of Sunshine Islands reassuringly familiar, there are a multitude of exciting new options as well as some changes.

As in Island of Happiness, farming degree points are at the very foundation of the requirements for unlocking new options. The many 'teams' of Subsidiary Characters that corresponded to some extent to these point totals in different areas are not found in Sunshine Islands, however. There are Harvest Sprite teams, but they serve a different function and are unlocked by Friendship Levels with other Sprites.

In terms of what were the 'subsidiary characters' in Island of Happiness, you have only two Fishermen and two Miners as well as the owners of the Diner, Cafe and Inn.

As far as 'Main Characters' are concerned, Sunshine Islands features the same cast of Characters but with a couple of exciting new introductions. Lily and Will are introduced as two new 'Eligible' Characters. Mark or Chelsea remain your 'counterparts' and eligible for marriage. The Mineral Town characters visit Sunshine Islands seasonally much as they did in Island of Happiness.

Farming is very similar in terms of Sunlight and Water requirements. It has been made a little easier, however, in that Rice, Wheat, Soybeans, Buckwheat and all the products derived from them are on sale at Chen's Market from the start of the game. (Yay!) This gives you a nice little exploitation when you can afford to build a Maker Shed and purchase a Seed Maker. Although the Seeds for the various Grains can be unlocked, you can buy the product at the Market and throw it into the Seed Maker to produce a bag of seeds. As the grains all take more than one season to mature and nothing grows in Winter, you can modify your farming strategy to suit the seasons and grow grains even before you have unlocked the Seeds.

Rice, of course, requires paddy fields and you need to raise a special Rice Island in order to be able to have access to the four paddy fields in the game.

This brings me to the fundamental plot of Sunshine Islands. At the start of the game, after meeting your first Harvest Sprite and his companions on Sprite Island, you will be introduced to the reality of the situation in the Sunshine Islands. Sadly, most of the chain of Islands has sunk into the sea. With the aid of magical Sun Stones, a Sprite named Agete COULD raise them again. There are specific Sun Stone totals that must be met for each Island. Here, strategy is important as knowing which Islands to raise first will help you unlock new important characters as early as possible in the game.

Unlike Island of Happiness, where most of the Eligible Girls and Bachelors actually had to arrive on Sunny Island before you could meet them, the majority of Characters are living on one of the two remaining Islands in Sunshine Islands at the start of the game. The exceptions are Shea, Wada, Mark/Chelsea, the Witch Princess, the Witchkin, Nathan, Alisa, the Harvest Goddess, Will and Lily.

Shea's home will be on Mushroom Island, one of the Islands that has to be raised again. When you have raised Mushroom Island, you will be able to meet both Shea and Wada, as well as being able to collect a veritable cornucopeia of Mushroom types in all seasons. (Two of the subsidiary goals in Sunshine Islands is completion of the long list of specific mushroom and fish types.)

Mystic Islands is a small chain of two separate Islands. The Harvest Goddess and her Church, inhabited by Nathan and Alisa are on the western island and the Witch Princess and her delightful niece, the Witchkin, are on the other. These Islands need to be raised before you can meet any of these important Characters.

Animal Island is the Island that provides an option that many players have longed to find in Harvest Moon for many years. This is the option to interact with Wild Animals, first encountered finally in Tree of Tranquility. How many players wanted to interact with the Animals that roamed the landscapes of Mineral Town and Forget-Me-Not Valley. Now, in Sunshine Islands, when you have raised Animal Island, you can journey there to befriend the various types of Wild Animals who live there. Making them your friends has concrete rewards in the form of Gifts of items...

There usually is at least one Mine in any Harvest Moon game and Sunshine Islands is no exception. The Mine is located on Volcano Island, another Island that has sunk beneath the waves. When you raise Volcano Island, your life will be enriched enormously with the opportunity to meet two amazing new Characters in the form of Will and Lily. (I am utterly infatuated with Will myself, but if I were a lad, I'd definitely fancy Lily!)

If you wish to grow Rice, Fruit Trees or build a Greenhouse, you need to raise a number of Islands, beginning with a small barren place called 'Link Island' that simply serves as a hub for all the special farming Islands. Each of the three special farming Islands must be raised separately and bridges must be constructed to them from Link Island before you will be able to travel to them.

As you can see, there are similarities here to Island of Happiness, where access to new areas (and introduction to new Characters living in those areas) was based on the construction of Bridges. The Sun Stones add an entirely new dimension, however.

Sun Stones can be obtained in a number of different ways. When you have given any Main Character five 'Most Favourite' or preferred Gifts, he/she will give you a Sun Stone in return. Taking the boat from Island to Island will result in the gifts of a few Sun Stones from the pilot, Kirk. When you have attained 2 Hearts with the owner of any business or home, he/she will give you a Sun Stone in a little special Event. The Fishermen and Miners can be given 5 'Most Favourites' to persuade them to give you Sun Stones but the Mineral Town characters have none to offer. Oter Sun Stones can be found on the various Islands. Agete gives hints about this. My General Guide, by the way, lists the method by which all Sun Stones are obtained...

When you have raised ALL the Islands in the Sunshine Islands chain, you will not be able to rest on your laurels... for it is at this point that Sunny Island sinks beneath the ocean!... More about that later...

Finally, in terms of Pets and Ranch Animals, Sunshine Islands has expanded the list to include Dog, Cat, Horse and PIG as Pets and rare Ranch Animals such as a Jersey Cow, a Suffolk Sheep and a Silkie Chicken. Youa re able to choose between two Kittens, two Puppies, two Horses and two different Pigs. There are interactive mini-games with all the Pets that are 'practice' sessions for the various Contests. Those of us who missed the old Disc-throwing game with our Dog in FoMT/MFoMT now are able to throw a Disc to the Dog in Sunshine Islands. The Pig is unique, however. He has his own Pen on Mushroom Island and HIS mini-game is hilarious. Throw him into the bushes and he will emerge with a random Mushroom. He will not give it to you meekly, however. You have to chase him and catch him before he eats it! The Pig is amazingly fast and cunning... At very high Friendship Levels, however, you have a chance of obtaining the rare Truffle from him.

These are only a few of the new options in Sunshine Islands. In terms of Courtship, Island of Happiness remains unique, with its alternate 'paths' in Heart Events. In Sunshine Islands, there is only one path for Heart Events to follow. Rival Couples can marry in the fourth year at the very earliest, but there are no children from these marriages. It is here that Harvest Moon as a series once more demonstrates its genius. Despite all the wonderful new innovations in Sunshine Islands, there still are very good reasons to play Island of Happiness!

Both of these games are complex, challenging and fun. Both have their unique strengths and for me, the ever-evolving universe of Harvest Moon continues to fascinate and delight.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Frantic Farming, Harvest Moon Puzzle Sequel to Island of Happiness

'Frantic Farming', a new Harvest Moon puzzle game is due to be released by Natsume in North America shortly. It is a fast-paced harvesting puzzle game that features all the main characters from Island of Happiness. In fact, a player can unlock a dozen different playable characters after beginning the game either as Mark or as Chelsea.

In Story Mode, each puzzle is accompanied by a Chapter in a Story that is unique to the character, although all the Stories have a common foundation on Sunny Island.

The premise of the tale is Nature run amok, with ripening vegetables choking every part of the Island. Your task is twofold: to harvest the excess Crops and 'save' the Island by determining the cause and solving the problem.

On a philosophical level, the idea that too much prosperity can be as harmful as any famine or drought is interesting. For players who in Island of Happiness struggled mightily to harvest their Crops even at subsistence level in the first few seasons, the Cornucopia of ripe Crops from every season is a novel experience indeed.

The puzzles are set on a grid filled with tiny squares. There are Crops on each square in varying stages of growth. You enlist the services of a single Harvest Sprite to harvest the Crops on the grid in order to meet the requirements for each specific puzzle trial. Whenever the Sprite harvests a Crop, he then waters the area that surrounds the square. The number of squares that can be watered depends on different variables. Gold Crops as well as Big Crops are included in Frantic Farming.

There are a number of different Contest Modes, requiring different strategies in order to complete each Chapter of a character's Story. When you complete one character's 'Story', you unlock a new character.

What may surprise some players is the wealth of characterisation and amusing dialogues in the little Stories, although Harvest Moon veterans have learned to expect this sort of detail in any Harvest Moon game. Furthermore, the little Stories actually provide important information about the characters on occasion, such as their 'Most Favourite Gifts', making 'Frantic Farming' a cohesive part of the Harvest Moon universe. It is far more than a 'puzzle' game.

For those players who like the DS Touchscreen/stylus option, Frantic Farming offers opportunities to practice and perfect stylus use. Crop movements within the puzzle grid are entirely controlled by the stylus. It is not mindless action, by any means. Strategy considerations can be quite sophisticated. Each character has a 'Special Skill' that is unique. Knowing when and how to use this Special Skill can be vital. As in Chess, in order to excel, a player must think ahead, paying close attention to Crop types and their stages of growth.

In some respects, Frantic Farming is similar to Princess Debut, another excellent game by Natsume. Princess Debut had a very detailed Story, with variations based on your character's choice of partner. The Story in Princess Debut was punctuated by Ballroom dance trials. In order to succeed, one had to learn all the dances. Although Frantic Farming involves harvesting rather than dancing and offers a choice of playable characters rather than a choice of partners for a single playable character, the rhythm of both games has much in common.

I think that this game will appeal to a number of different groups of players. First and foremost, it should appeal to any Harvest Moon fan and especially those who are familiar with the cast of characters in Island of Happiness. For those who have not played Island of Happiness previously, Frantic Farming will provide an entertaining introduction to these characters and their social interactions.

Any player who likes puzzles will be interested in Frantic Farming even if he/she is unfamiliar with the Harvest Moon series. As previously indicated, the puzzles can be very challenging.

Fans of Princess Debut should enjoy Frantic Farming as well for the reasons I gave earlier.

Finally, Frantic Farming offers a wealth of Multiplayer options for those players who like to connect either via Wi Fi or DS to DS to match their skills with others. I was unable to explore this option as I had an advance copy of the game, but it promises to be great fun.

Here is the second of two little introductory videos I made about Frantic Farming: