Review By: Siou Choy
|# Of Players:||1-4|
Well, it’s about damn time. Natsume finally drops the whole sub-Animal Crossing vibe of the last 2 releases and returns to its roots as a "farming RPG" of sorts. Harvest Moon: Magical Melody is out as we speak, and fans of the earlier, far better Harvest Moon releases need to get off their hay bales and head on down to the general store to snap themselves up a copy.
While the game offers a welcome return to the series' roots, there are still enough variations on the original themes to give the impression that this is actually a new game, not just another cheesy rehash cash-in.
First off, in sharp contrast to the last 2 disappointing entries in the series, you’re actually given the choice of playing as a boy or girl in the game (so you won’t have to fall for some crappy Nintendo marketing scheme like being forced to buy two versions of the exact same game, spaced a year apart – AHEM!).
Secondly, rather than the standard plot where you’re some city kid taking over the ancestral farm, you come into this without any real background. As a stranger moving into town, you get to choose between three different plots of land, each having their own respective benefits and problems. Should you elect to do so, you’re given the opportunity as the game progresses to buy several more tracts of land and build several more houses, barns, etc. This didn’t seem particularly necessary, though, should you choose the right plot from the get-go. In fact, whichever plot of land you decide on, you can quickly buy yourself a secondary tract of land on which you can raise your crops. This is necessary as whichever land you place your house (and eventual barn, chicken coop, and/or windmill) on will leave you precious little space for farming – very much akin to the last 2 Harvest Moon games.
The marriage aspect is similarly altered and played down. While the spousally minded can still engage in competition with virtual rivals and the challenge of getting those hearts to pile up, it is no longer an integral part of the game – effectively, one can remain single forever, should one be so inclined. That said, the Harvest Moon series fan probably wouldn’t want to, as there are a comparatively mind-boggling ten possible choices for a spouse. With the removal of standard time limits or necessary requirements, Natsume takes a huge risk and (gasp!) allows the gamer to move at their own pace.
Another way Magical Melody differs from prior Harvest Moon entries is in the fact that you have a rival – not in love, as expected, but in farming! Your rival comes in the somewhat disturbing form of "Jamie", a creepy bisexual/transgender type who lurks about the hinterlands of town menacingly. With its bright pink fenced farm, short for a girl/long for a guy purple hair and nasty looking dog, there is little doubt that "Jamie’s" sexuality may be just a bit confused, regardless of whether it’s supposed to be "male" or "female". Nonetheless, the game informs us for propriety’s sake that it will be the "opposite gender" of your own character choice. This is about as convincing as all those animes with the flamboyantly effeminate male character voiced by and supposed to be (in the English version, anyway) somehow "female"; or if you prefer, fools about as many people as Lady Miss Bunny or Divine did. (Though I understand both Boy George and RuPaul have fooled more than a few in their heyday…). So let’s just be honest here, and say that "Jamie" is some sort of creepy bisexual character, either more butch than the Indigo Girls or more drag than Sylvester, your choice. Oh, and to really sink the nail in the coffin? You can marry it. (Interestingly enough, this will end the game then and there – any other choices or lack thereof leave the game open ended and presumably playable till infinity).
For no apparent reason (as this affects the game in no form whatsoever), you are also given the task of awakening the "harvest goddess". Apparently this pagan icon was so all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful that she managed to fall asleep and turn to stone (this is not even to mention the fact that she wasn’t able to give herself a smaller head). If you should, for whatever reason, choose to do this, you’ll have to collect 50 "magical notes" by performing sundry miscellaneous activities in the course of the game (for example, befriending particular people or animals will result in individually tailored notes from each). For every five notes collected, they’re turned into an unconvincing synthesizer-voiced approximation of a particular musical instrument. Veterans of prior Harvest Moon games might assume one need do this to befriend the harvest sprites who come begging you (and the disturbing "Jamie") for help with this task, as in prior entries their friendship was necessary in lightening the workload around the farm. Not this time, baby. All they do is hang around the statue of this oh-so-great "goddess", and dance "The Lord of the Dance" rather poorly. If you actually follow through and "free the goddess", you get to sit through a 7 minute credit sequence that impacts the game by no means whatsoever, unless you count the aural anguish you get to suffer through as the particularly putrid "goddess" muzak plays interminably. Follow your inner punk and tell the lazy little bastards where to go and how to get there!
Posted: 2006-05-04 18:12:35 PST