Harvest Moon: Magical Melody

April 25, 2010 at 8:12 pm | Posted in Game Review, Wii Review | Leave a comment
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Aaaahhhh…Harvest Moon. How I love your quaint, relaxing gameplay. And your cows. And your bounty of virtual beauties to woo.

Title: Harvest Moon: Magical Melody

Format: Wii

Developed by: Natsume

Published by: Rising Star Games

Genre: Life Sim

Since its birth on the SNES in 1995, the Harvest Moon series has managed to carve out its own special niche as the world’s premier (and lets face it, only) farm simulator. As a HM veteran I have been waiting for Magical Melody to hit UK shores for longer than I care to remember and finally Rising Star has decreed us worthy enough to get our hands on the second of the Gamecube titles, now wii-ified (© me) and fit for consumption. But has it been worth the considerable wait?

Magical Melody is less an evolution of the series and more a return to the early days circa ’95, so your enjoyment may depend on how familiar you are with the series’ roots and whether you enjoyed them more than later entries. It initially feels too sparse and confusing which could prove difficult to overcome at first. Your characters movement is painfully sluggish and planting your first batch of crops feels too much like hard labour (was that intentional?). You no longer have a self-contained farm handed down by a dead relative; instead starting off with a sparse plot of land in one of three locations (you can choose which one to start with, and then buy the other plots when you have enough cash) with very little space for crops, and no buildings bar your farm-house.

But, like the hardy plants you nurture in the game, Magical Melody just needs a bit of time in the sun, with plenty of watering and TLC before it can flourish and become a golden sunflower.

Once you get past your first festival it gets just as addictive as all the other games, maybe more so. The core dynamic remains the same: spend a lot of time nurturing crops, get a bit of money to spend on bigger and bigger things and before you know it you’ll have a gigantic empire under your command. And if you feel the need you can also meet and greet the neighbours, go fishing, or attempt to woo some of the local ladies.

Magical Melody does do some things a little differently though, which helps to keep things fresh. For the first time you have a rival farm to compete with, run by the rather moody Jamie, who is a bit ticked off that the local sprites have called upon you in their hour of need instead of her. The (thin) plot revolves around the Harvest Goddess, who turned herself to stone because people didn’t believe in her. As you do. Collecting 100 musical notes (hence the title) returns her to her former glory and provides the ultimate goal for this game. They can be collected in many obvious or unusual ways like shipping a certain number of crops, or even fainting.

The other goal, as always, is to get married and start a family and HM veterans will be pleased to hear that MM doubles the number of potential spouses on offer, and in a delightful twist you can even marry your rival Jamie. If you want to be married to a sour-faced old goat that is.

There are also more villagers to meet, a healthy mix of new and old faces, which is quite welcome after the last cube HM completely dispensed of the entire cast (possibly in some Eastenders style disaster?) that had been around since the SNES game. And unlike previous games, they are not necessarily going to stick around for the whole game. The residents depend on you far more now, and the number and type of villagers that set up shop in the area is directly affected by your actions in the game. Ship a bunch of ores and a Blacksmith will move in. Plant a few fruit trees and Ronald will move in to set up an Orchard. Conversely, if you don’t ship many wild herbs or medicines you may find the doctor has moved away. Such moves aren’t permanent and you can entice them back if you put a little effort in, which makes your work that little bit more meaningful. It also makes the game feel a little bit like Animal Crossing in that you can have a completely different set of characters in each play through, giving the game even more replay value.

Another small, but nonetheless positive, addition comes in the form of a stamina bar on the main screen, which shows how much strength you have left in your weary bones before your farmer keels over and dies from exhaustion.

It has to be noted though that Magical Melody a victim of some pretty shoddy porting, offering virtually no Wii functionality at all (bar shaking the controller to use an item, which is more of a pain than using the buttons); no support for 60Hz or Widescreen; and less content than the cube original (no option to play as a girl for instance). This may be because publisher Rising Star doesn’t have the resources to stretch to translating all the content into five languages or upping the technical presentation of the Gamecube version but considering the time it’s taken to be released this is very disappointing. Perhaps if Magical Melody can tap into the more casual Wii market and get the attention the series has so richly deserved then Rising Star will be able to bring the next instalments (Tree of Peace on Wii and Island of Happiness on DS) without any content cut.

Harvest Moon games have always had something for everyone; girls can enjoy the more social aspects, while hardened RPG fans can get their kicks out of the grinding nature of crop-raising. Magical Melody neither makes the series more accessible to newcomers or different enough for hardcore fans but if you can get over the fact this looks and (almost) plays just like the two-year old Gamecube title there is still a lot to see and do and plenty of enjoyment to be had.

6.5/10

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