GC REVIEW: HARVEST MOON: MAGICAL MELODY

Get back to basics with Harvest Moon: Magical Melody. by Colin Thames

April 13, 2006 - The Harvest Moon series could be described as part RPG, part economic sim and part adventure game. However you want to define it, it definitely has taken on a life of its own. There is plenty of micromanagement in your day-to-day activities on the farm but it all has a genuine purpose and never feels like busy-work. There is great satisfaction in exploring this virtual life and watching our whimsical character prosper as a result of his or her efforts.

You learn as you go in Harvest Moon. There are no complex control schemes. It's pure simplicity, but the results can be astounding depending on your selections and virtual work ethic. In a nutshell, you are a farmer. You start from scratch and build your empire up one chicken at a time. You have total freedom in your venture, which may be a little disconcerting for those new to the game. You can talk to some NPCs and get some ideas on what to do or just consult the manual. The gameplay is open to experimentation so have some fun and see what works for you.

For Magic Melody the developers have decided to try to recapture the magic of the original version. This version is less flashy. It's got that wonderful wholesome, relaxing vibe to it that the original game had, with simple but endearing graphics. There is lots of depth to this version so don't let the straightforward presentation fool you. There's plenty of horsepower under the hood. Expect lots of activities, side quests and plenty of character interaction, since you'll be looking to fall in love with someone in the town and eventually get married and raise a family.

You begin the game by choosing your sex -(don't get smart). There are no advantages to playing as either a boy or a girl, just different love interests. No, I don't think there is a Brokeback Mountain mode. Once you roll into town, the mayor offers you any one of three parcels of land. Seems the township wants to promote farming. Choose one section of land and start trying to earn a living on it. You do this by selling things that you produce on your land. You're not restricted to crops and livestock, although they do play an important role later on when you have the cash to buy these things. You can harvest lumber from the forest with the aid of an axe. You can catch fish in the lake and sell them. With a hammer you can crush rocks and extract the ore. You can even go into the woods and collect things such as flowers and honey.

There are plenty of animals in this version and they are every bit as charming as the characters that you'll meet in town. They not only provide companionship but they also help generate revenue for your farm. The sheep are a good source of wool, the cows give milk and the chickens lays eggs, all of which will make you money. Planting seeds is another good business move. By careful tending of the soil and watering, you will likely have a bumper crop to harvest a few months down the line. There are more than 25 different crops to grow. The more money that you raise the more things that you can purchase to make even more money. You can even buy those other parcels of land that the mayor was offering.

The daily chores are taken care of semi-automatically, giving you more time to experiment and just generally have fun. You can have more things on the go than ever before. The time passes by quickly so you'll want to get as much done as possible within the time frame. Of course, your character isn't superhuman. He or she only has so much stamina. There is a stamina meter which will tell you how much energy you've wasted and how much you have left. Every activity will drain the meter, whether it's chopping trees or weeding the garden. You can carry some food around with you to regain some energy but it has to be stored in the inventory sack which means that you can't carry around other useful items such as tools to perform some of the work that you need to do. If you run out of stamina you'll wind up in the hospital. The only penalty will be a day of work lost which can set you back a bit.

The name of this version, Magic Melody, comes from the collecting of musical notes. Early on in the game you are approached by a number of garden gnomes that ask for your help in saving the Harvest Goddess who was turned to stone. To do this you have to collect 100 musical notes. There are many different ways to collect these notes. You can find them, you can earn them or you will just simply be awarded them for going about your daily activity, as long as you continue to grow and try new things.

Don't expect a lot of production values. The game looks like something that was ported from the N64. It's designed this way on purpose, so as to focus solely on the gameplay. I think the game could have used more polish, especially with the background animations. When you go to festivals and other places where there are crowds, the background characters are relegated to one simple animation which makes them look like they're suffering from some compulsive nervous disorder. The other characters are just static. There are no voiceovers and there isn't a lot of music but the quite segments are part of the appeal. When you go into town things become more exciting both visually and aurally.

The appeal of this game lies within the complex results your interactions and decisions generate. There is also a four-player mode where up to four players can take part in mini-games based on some of the gameplay features found in the single-player mode. There is horseracing, mountain climbing and fish catching events that offer a nice diversion. The overwhelming replay value is to be found in the single-player mode. Even though this game may look like it's got Playskool written all over it, it can be very challenging. Don't underestimate it until you've tried it.

Features:

  • Play as either a boy or girl! Each gender has 10 potential spouses!
  • Compete against a rival farmer! Your productivity will be judged on a daily basis against that of your rival's...you will also compete against your rival in the festivals!
  • Cultivate a wide variety of crops and trees!
  • Raise cows, sheep, horses and chickens!
  • Harvest Moon: Magical Melody also offers mini-games in which 4 players can participate!
  • Purchase different plots of land and expand your farm by building various extensions!

By Colin Thames
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
Harvest Moon: Magical Melody (GC)
3.4
Graphics
The graphics look dated but they were done that way on purpose, in an effort to recapture the magic of the original game. Could have used more polish.
4.4
Control
There is so much to do in this game. Virtually everything you do will result in some new development. The menus make navigating this game a pleasure.
3.3
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Generally the mood is subdued. There are no voiceovers and not a lot of background music.
4.5
Play Value
espite the multi-player mode, it's the single-player mode where you'll get all your replay value.
4.3
Overall Rating - Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: PS2, GC, X (shown)
Dev: Marvelous Int.
Pub: Natsume
Release: April 2006
Players: 1
Review by Colin

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best