By Dolphin_Butter 1 Comments
As a child, it was easy for me to keep my gaming backlog virtually nonexistent. Games were somewhat rare items, since my parents only bought them for my siblings and I when it was either our birthday or when our report cards were in top form. Otherwise, rentals at the local Blockbuster were there to satisfy minor cravings. One such rental was Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, the Gamecube's first foray into Natsume's hit farming franchise as well as my own. My brother, little sister and I liked the game a lot, and we eventually came to the decision that it would be our next purchase once we either scrounged up enough money or had the grades to persuade our parents. On some random trip to GameStop (or maybe it was even a Funcoland at the time) our parents got it for us; despite our excitement and having the save files from our rental in tow, it went unfinished, and will probably stay that way.
While I could easily rattle off a bunch of unfinished games and reasons why I left them in such a state, HW:AWL marks a beginning of sorts, because it was the first game I ever felt bad having not completed. Up to the moment when I gave up, I made a point of completing each game given to me as a gift or reward. If I asked for a particular title or received one for my hard work, I felt it was only right to make sure I reached the end. In retrospect, the restrictions my parents had on my purchases were, admittedly, something I wasn't fond of; but at least the spacing between each new game forced me to thoroughly savor what I had and greatly anticipate what was coming around the corner. Sure, I could always put the brakes on buying games in my adult life, but when there's disposable income and financial freedom, who's to stop me from buying the newest, hottest titles? Anyway, back on topic.
Realistically, HW:AWL isn't hard at all, as is common with the series. However, at a certain point it starts eating its own tail: the routine of tending the farm becomes tedious, villagers literally say one phrase during all four seasons and I wanted to kick my baby for all the times he whined and cried. It's as if every stand-up comedy bit on marriage were made manifest in software. At the start, I was hell-bent on creating the best farm I could, but after proposing, getting married and having a kid, the energy died quicker than a sunflower in winter. The game ceased to provide any meaningful variety.
The sad part is that marriage occurs one year into the game, out of an agonizingly long ten years. Any remaining time before the reaching the end would be fine, if there were anything left to do. As stated before, there's a point when the villagers become absolutely meaningless. After becoming friends and receiving their one gift, there's no reason to ever step off your farm and talk to them again. The residents are either feeling dandy or, in the case of the unmarried bachlorettes, filled with some sort of passive-aggressive guilt tripping over how you didn't marry them. Additionally, the traveling merchant offers very little by way of new inventory.
Instead, the game dumps a newborn baby in your lap and says, "Welcome to the next nine years of your life." Even regarding the child, there's not much to do; he's essentially a special piece of livestock. You don't need to pay too much attention to him and, as far as I remember, you don't even need to feed him. All that's asked of you is a cuddle every now and then to later affect how spoiled or detached he acts during his later years. Hell, I even remember reading a FAQ that said if I wanted to influence his interests, I should carry him to a corresponding neighbor and have him crawl/walk back home on his own.
Speaking of which, the primary objective during this stage is getting him started down one of six career paths. A bit sad really, but what else is a father to do after watering the crops? The choices are: scholar, farmer, rancher, artist, musician and athlete. I opted for the artist path because, well, I don't recall exactly why. A typical day of "caring" for my child involved dumping him off at some hippy's hut while I headed back home and hybridized some seeds. As my child came waddling up the hill back to the house, the only thing he had to look forward to was a sketchpad in his toy box. Yeah, there was a ball and other stuff I could've bought, but he was going to be an artist, goddammit.
I wish I could say more about the game, but that's where I stopped. Eventually, I came to realization that nothing was going to change, and I still had eight more years of in-game time ahead of me. By then I already made enough money to last me through the end of the game, my child was in the habit of visiting neighbors on his own and my wife was still only cooking a Light Pickle dish. I will reiterate my stance that HW:AWL isn't a bad game, just an extremely boring one. After the first year, every single thing runs on autopilot, and any manual task assigned to the player character is repetitive to an extreme.
If I ever were to pick up this game again, there would be a handful of things I'd do differently. Firstly, I'd play the female version, Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life, which fixes all the broken aspects of its predecessor and has more variety (up to the point where you could even resurrect one of the residents that died in the original). Secondly, I'd marry someone with a different personality type. I have a thing for redheads, but the only one in the game is so mentally removed from work that she'd often walk down to the beach, neglecting her kid in the process. Lastly, I wouldn't use the crop hybridization glitch that breaks the economy early on; with nothing else to buy, the game took a nosedive in keeping my interest.
Perhaps I'll take a second look at this during winter break or next year's summer break, since I actually own a copy of Another Wonderful Life. As it stands, chances are that it'll forever hold the dubious honor of being the unfinished game that I've owned for the longest time. Oh, and this bit of music is forever ingrained in my skull: