|Harvest Moon: Magical Melody|
|MtAMinutes to Action||Animal Crossing farm sim|
|Buy from Amazon|
Harvest Moon has been one of my favorite video games series, but with as many Harvest Moon titles that have been released, there are bound to be a few that just don't click with me. This has been happening more often than I would like of late with my favorite farming simulator, and I blame that on essentially the two different series Harvest Moon has become. Ignoring all the spinoffs such as Rune Factory, Frantic Farming, and Innocent Life, the series essentially split at the Back To Nature/Friends of Mineral Town point about ten years ago.
Back to Nature for the PS1 was the first non-Nintendo Harvest Moon game and expanded on the previous console release, Harvest Moon 64. An enhanced remake/port was released for the GBA titled Friends of Mineral Town which I consider to be the quintessential Harvest Moon title. But at this point, the PS2 and GameCube were out, and the developers started going down the road of fancier 3D graphics on the conoles while basically every portable iteration has been based on the Friends of Mineral Town structure.
So what I call the portable Harvest Moon series is built on a very solid set of gameplay elements: farming, foraging, mining, and relationships. All aspects of the game are well-tuned and are balanced decently. On the consoles, it's a completely different story: we get a mish-mash of unbalanced, poorly tuned gameplay elements planted in a boring looking 3D world. The console "series" has suffered like this since Save the Homeland on the PS2, but I mostly blame A Wonderful Life, the first Harvest Moon game I ever played that I really, truly hated.
Magical Melody, of course, falls into the console series. Released on the GameCube in 2006 and then re-released on the Wii in 2008, Magical Melody continues the sorry Harvest Moon console tradition of not being very much fun. Whoops, did I spoil the first hour for you?
I've actually been sitting on this first hour review for an entire year, I had it completely written except for this introduction. I'm not really sure what I was waiting for; I think through a combination of Magical Melody being an older, quite unexciting game combined with the fact that it's a sorry game from one of my favorite series made me hold off. But I really need to get it off my to-do list, so here you go, the first hour of Harvest Moon: Magical Melody for the GameCube.
00 - I select New Game and the first hour of Harvest Moon: Magical Melody begins. The game asks me when my birthday is, but my only options are Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. As for my gender: Boy. A kid in the blue hat is walking on a stone path, but then a wall of text shows up. Flower Bud Village is looking for ranchers! The boy likes the sound of that and jumps up and down.
01 - He runs into town and is greeted by the mayor. Still no voice acting? Kind of a let down. At least everyone is expressive, though it doesn't look like their faces can change.
02 - Asked for my name: Greg. Cool, I get to pick where I want my house and lot: the Village Center, Ocean Side, or River Side. The ocean sounds great. The land isn't fertile there, but I like the challenge, and the view. My only tip from the mayor is to not throw trash on neighborhood lawns. Okay...
03 - I name my ranch FirstHour and we're off! Well, off to bed.
04 - The short music tune stops for a moment and then starts up again, signaling the new day. Man, the camera seems like it's drawn in really close, I hope it doesn't actually play like this. Oh, now he's going to sleep.
05 - Ah, new music! What? A Fairy woman appears with long purple hair. "People forget how to appreciate," she says to her elves (aka slaves in Friends of Mineral Town). Oh man, she just disappeared because no one believes in her! The Harvest Goddess has turned to stone.
06 - Some girl(?) in short purple hair runs up, her name is Jamie and she seems concerned. She vows to return the Goddess back to normal, where was I during all that? Oh, he says it was a dream? This is so weird.
07 - Still haven't moved my character, but he's outside again surrounded by the elves. They just flash a bunch of emoticons back and forth and seem to get the point across. Oh, the elves are surprised I can see them. They bring me to where the Goddess awaits in stone, maybe I'm going to help too. She's been stone for one year now. We need to collect notes to restore her to her glory. Jamie shows up.
09 - Sounds like she's sick of those elves, but still intent on rescuing the Goddess from her rocky prison.
10 - "If you do a lot of things, you'll get a lot of notes!" Uhh... okay. The elves give me a pedometer to count my steps. What is this, Final Fantasy VI? Oh, my first note! Greg shouts "Lucky!" and holds the note above his head. I got it for taking the first step of farm life.
11 - There are a 100 notes and five notes create an instrument. I wonder if every note is required to save her?
12 - Outside my house again, Ellen appears with a dog in tow. I name the puppy and he's now mine to keep forever.
13 - Hey, I finally get control! Yeah, the camera is too zoomed in for my taste, can only see about seven or eight squares across decently. Oh, you can zoom out with the D-pad, very useful.
15 - My toolbox is full of the standard Harvest Moon farm tools: sickle, hoe, axe, hammer, watering can, and fishing pole. I think I'll head into town first.
16 - There's a mini-map in the corner that helps me navigate around. The first building I enter is the local carpenter's place, run by Woody. Joe and Kurt are his apprentices.
18 - The area seems to be one seamless world, if there's one advantage the console Harvest Moons have over the portable ones, it's this. Unfortunately, most of the houses aren't open because it's too early. Back to the farm I guess.
19 - I stock up on a few of tools to start clearing my lot.
21 - This is not your typical Harvest Moon lot, it's really spread out, almost totally surrounding my small house. It is full of junk, including some really large cherry blossom trees that I assume I'll never be able to cut down.
23 - It's after noon now so I start visiting the town again, next up is the tool shop. Michael is running it, just looks like they're selling all the tools I already have. He gives me a tool notebook, how... useful. My controller starts rumbling hard, is this an earthquake?
24 - Nope, just Ann causing an explosion in the back room. In most Harvest Moon games, Ann is the orange haired nerd who is always inventing stuff.
26 - I have 500G, and they're selling a bigger Rucksack for 1000G. My current rucksack can only hold five items, including tools, which sucks. This will be a must buy.
27 - Everyone has these annoying fences that I can't jump over, oh well, I enter the doctor's house. Haha, there's an eye chart with just horseshoes on it. Alex is the town's doctor, and gives me a quick checkup. I'm healthy, so we're both happy and green sparks fly around our heads.
29 - I enter Blue Sky Ranch, Ellen is inside along with a buck toothed guy. It almost looks like he has a beaver tail too. Ellen gives me an animal notebook.
31 - Oh oh, I wander over to Jamie's ranch, she's working the field with her purple hair. She says she's "not going to lose to me." What is she talking about? Is this all about saving the Harvest Goddess? She tells me to scam and my guy jumps the fence and hightails it out of there.
33 - I think I explored the whole town so I start checking out the mountain north of the village. Just a bunch of rocks scattered about, are there any caves in this game?
34 - Interesting, on the pause screen there's a picture of Jamie and me, I have zero points and she has a 100. This must be what she was talking about.
36 - Exploring sure is taking forever, it's after 6 PM already. Ah, I find the Harvest Goddess spring, the elves just tell me I need to collect more notes. Well, duh. There's this really annoying owl hoot instead of any music now.
37 - There's all these random animals around like monkeys and squirrels that you can pick up and hug. Hearts float up from them when you grab them.
39 - I head back home and go to bed, hopefully I can buy some seeds tomorrow for the small patch of land I cleared up. Bob appears, he's the guy that picks up the stuff I want to ship. I guess I get paid every morning.
41 - I dump all my tools so I have room for foraging, man, even the pedometer takes up a spot!
43 - Browsing the pause menu, I can view the town map; it shows me where everyone is and I can also instantly warp back to my house and go to bed. Now that's sure to be useful.
46 - I pick up five items from around the mountain and head back to my house to ship them. I toss in an herb and I get another musical note! It's the "very first delivery note." The game also tells you how much each item you ship is worth, but you don't get paid right away. That's still pretty convenient.
47 - Next door is Spring Farm, it was closed yesterday, but now they're open and pink-haired Liz is ready to greet me. She has a daughter named Nina, they're both very happy to see me. Nina gives me a crop notebook. Wonder what's in all of these? Reading them is for the second hour though.
49 - Oh, free turnip seeds! Thanks! Wow, all this stuff is really cheap to buy, I could buy over 20 bags of turnips with my cash! Umm... think I'll just stick with my one bag for now.
52 - I plant and water my turnips, and then it's off to forage some more! Need money for that bigger rucksack!
54 - I can see the mouth to a cave, but I can't figure out how to get there. Everything is laid out to make travel very difficult.
55 - Okay, I enter the cave even though the sign warns me to carry my hammer. Well, nothing really in here except for Jamie who blows me off. Jerk.
57 - I head to bed and wake up to rain on the 4th of Spring. Yay, I don't have to water my turnips! I now have 901G, that's pretty dang good if you ask me, tomorrow I can buy that rucksack.
60 - Well, not much time left to do things, so I just finish off the first hour of Harvest Moon: Magical Melody by clearing my land a bit more.
Minutes to Action: 19
What I loved: The idea of collecting musical notes is really cool and introduces a bit of a meta/achievement game. Harvest Moon games can enter a phase of repetitiveness that has caused me to quit them prematurely many times, but I think if I had unique and extra goals available, I would be more inclined to play. That's exactly where the musical notes come into play.
Having a rival injects a much needed bit of competitiveness to the series too. I don't know if it'll work out in the long run, but I'm game for a farming competition. I just wish Jamie wasn't so creepy looking, he/she is obviously supposed to be androgynous so that you could marry her as either a boy or girl... *shiver*. Not my cup of tea.
What I liked: The farming aspect seems like it has taken a back seat to social activities and collecting musical notes, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Harvest Moon has not always been about farming, and I'm glad the series can finally openly admit that.
The game's economy seems a bit more realistic than other Harvest Moon games. Seed bags actually cost a reasonable amount instead of every gold piece in your wallet at the beginning of the game. And when you toss something in the shipping bin, you're immediately told how much you'll get paid for it. Useful!
The town is big and spread out, feels like a real, rural village with all the necessary professions present. I just wish the mountainous area wasn't so difficult to navigate, but that's one of the costs of going up there: you may find lots of great loot, but it's going to take you some time to do it.
What I hated: The camera seems like it was really zoomed in close to my character. I couldn't see nearly as much of the surrounding land as I would have liked. I don't know if this was a deliberate design decision or if there were some technical reasons behind it, but it was disappointing in my opinion. And while the game drops the traditional forced march through town to get to know everyone, you're still treated to a painfully slow introduction whenever you enter a new building.
It seems you can farm nearly anywhere around town, but the 3D farming just felt awkward and a step backwards from Harvest Moon 64. Since Magical Melody is a tile-based game, you have to be pointing at the tile you want to perform an action on, and if you're off by a few pixels one way or another... It's been something that's plagued the series since the beginning but is all the more apparent in three dimensions.
The rucksack is excruciatingly small at only five items large, I know you can upgrade it, but even 10 or 15 items isn't that big. The default size in the Rune Factory series has been something like 30 to start out with! I know that in the original you could only carry one item at a time(!), but the gameplay was built around that restriction... more or less.
Would I Keep Playing? No. While the idea of collecting musical notes puts a nice spin on the series, I think the game simply has too many faults that would bother me too much. The camera is just way too close for it to be useful and the restrictions on rucksack space are just obnoxious. There are better Harvest Moon games out there to play, so unless you're an Animal Crossing fan looking for a farming fix, skip this one.