"Harvest Moon: Magical Melody clearly is not for everyone. I already mentioned it, but Iíll say it again: the visuals here look like something out of Animal Crossing. I know some people who refuse to play that game primarily because it doesnít look mature enough. Theyíre afraid their image will suffer or something. Well, the same applies here."
You should go out and buy Harvest Moon: Magical Melody as quickly as possible, even though thereís no sex or violence. Sure, you wonít score killer combos or race at high speeds while playing through it. You wonít even battle your way through a post-apocalyptic world dominated by demons and/or evil corporations. Thatís fine. What you get instead of that formulaic mayhem is a farming simulation that ties everything pure and comfortable about the world together into one easily palatable package. Itís a simple and complex adventure, one most people will find both challenging and rewarding. Like I said, you should buy it immediately.
The Harvest Moon series has always existed peacefully in the middle of an industry dominated by football players, race cars and aliens. Some people believe the franchise is meant only to provide an easy gift for a younger brother or sister. While syrupy visuals (think Animal Crossing) and cover art support that theory, youíre missing out on something special if you let your investigation end there. Dig further and youíll find one of the most rewarding titles available on the GameCube. If Magical Melody is your introduction to the series, you couldnít have picked a better time to climb on board.
As premises go, the one youíll find here is simple: youíve just purchased a plot of land and youíre going to turn it into a successful farm. There are, of course, a few wrinkles. For starters, the harvest goddess has turned to stone. Youíll need to collect magical notes gleaned from day-to-day activities to release the seal that binds her. Youíre not the only one trying to do so, either. Your competitor, a sour-faced individual named Jamie, is working feverishly to one-up you. This might sound like a transparent gimmick designed merely to keep you playing, and at its heart I suppose thatís exactly what the whole ďmagical melodyĒ thing really is. Fortunately, the gameplay is such that it wasnít even necessary.
But wait, didnít I say that this is a farming simulation? How much fun could it possibly be to plant, water and pick your crops? The answer is that a game devoted purely to those pursuits wouldnít be much fun at all. Harvest Moon: Magical Melodyís developers were clearly aware of that, so they added in a bunch of interesting diversions. You can woo the village lady of your choice (or the handsome hunk, if you choose to start with a female protagonist), raise a fine bunch of livestock, dig for precious metals in a cave, go fishing, discover tasty recipes, attend village festivals, customize your houseís interior, turn into a lumberjack in the local forests or even work at befriending the various wild animals roaming throughout the area. Every action you take consumes some of your energy, even as a clock ticks down the time. Thereís simply not enough time in the day to do everything you want at a leisurely pace. Thatís what makes everything so much fun.
Perhaps your eyes are already glazing over. Thatís partly my fault, Iím sure, but it also has a little something to do with the subject matter. Harvest Moon: Magical Melody clearly is not for everyone. I already mentioned it, but Iíll say it again: the visuals here look like something out of Animal Crossing. I know some people who refuse to play that game primarily because it doesnít look mature enough. Theyíre afraid their image will suffer or something. Well, the same applies here. Sure, youíve got some visual quality. Itís hard not to be caught up in the spell when you walk through a snowstorm or chop down some trees while fish swim through the nearby stream. But you have to be susceptible to lifeís simple pleasures.
You also have to be a bit patient, and thatís the gameís one true flaw. Though you can sit down for a five-minute play and perhaps live out one day in-game, thatís not really how Magical Melody should be experienced. There are simply too many things to keep in mind, too many objectives that youíre trying to satisfy all at once. Those who canít multi-task wonít find the game rewarding at all. Uneven controls donít help, either. An example that comes up a lot is crop maintenance. When youíre first setting up your empire, you have to hoe a lot of soil to make the way for seed. There are invisible grids all over the place that youíll never see. Itís far too easy to waste time and energy on a space youíve already cultivated, just because you were in a hurry and didnít face precisely the right way. Though I found that you can hold the ďRĒ button to make a patch of light show where youíll perform your action, digging or watering crops still feels just the slightest bit obtuse.
Another problem is that you must earn upgrades that make the system feel more natural. At first, you just have a little watering can that can saturate one square at a time. That wastes time and energy, and itís not particularly fun. Once you raise and sell a few crops, you can then sell them and purchase useful upgrades, but even then itíll take time before you can carry much in your travel bag. These ďflawsĒ are overcome in time, but some people just wonít have the patience to endure.
Thatís a shame, because Harvest Moon: Magical Melody truly is something special. There are so many things to do and see that itís not difficult at all to spend 20 or 30 hours playing without running out of new experiences (I say that from experience). If you can get past the childish veneer and the occasionally redundant game objectives, youíll find that your time has been well spent. Let someone else slay all those demon warlords. Instead, why not kick back and plant some pumpkins? Maybe later you can bake a pie!
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 19, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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