IGN Review of Harvest Moon: Magical Melody
The Harvest Moon series has defined the term "niche gaming" for over a decade, and while not everyone may love the series, they respect it. Despite the countless number of action adventure games, RPGs, sports and puzzle titles, there is but one main farming game. Harvest Moon doesn't fit into a genre, it creates its own. True, the series has seen its ups and downs, but the soul of the franchise has stood the ages, bringing fans a form of gaming that literally can't be found anywhere else. Fans - should we instead be called addicts?- will be happy to know that Harvest Moon: Magical Melody has not only gone back to its roots, it has done so in a phenomenal way.
When we think about the way our industry is currently built, it is amazing that a game such as Harvest Moon has been able to survive. Nowadays, top selling games need famous characters, a large and broad appeal, as well as a ton of marketing power. Publishers hit to the majority no matter what the costs, and for that reason original intellectual properties are beginning to be a true rarity. Amazingly enough, however, Harvest Moon has managed to continue amidst the far more corporate world of this generation, appealing to only a small group of people while containing no truly "popular" franchise for non-gamers or casual fans to latch onto. It's quite amazing to see the series continuing despite what others may call a quite lengthy list of shortcomings.
For those who aren't familiar with the Harvest Moon franchise, or those who wish to take a sweet trip down memory road, the series can be summed up quite simply. You're a farmer, and you farm. In fact, that's pretty much it, and it can seem baffling at first as to why it's such as cult classic. Dive into the world, however, and it becomes not only obvious but also addicting. Harvest Moon is, at its core, a form of RPG and life simulator. Players assume the role of a young farming boy or girl, building up your own personal farm, meeting and interacting with the world, raising a family and simply living life.
When the series was moved to GameCube in the form of Harvest Moon: It's a Wonderful Life, some areas of the world were compromised. The previous Cube titles attempted to show off a bit more realism, offering a fully 3D camera, lifelike textures and a somewhat serious theme. However, while the game was aesthetically similar, it lacked the depth and amusement of the previous games. For Magical Melody, however, Natsume went back to the roots of design, offering a fully customizable home, multiple ranch locations, a ton of upgradeable tools, and a huge cast of characters. In fact, the balance hasn't felt this good since the original Super NES version, as well as the GBA title "Friends of Mineral Town." Unlike the previous attempt to go "next gen," the creators realized exactly what made Harvest Moon a hit, and gave fans what they truly wanted.
While the game's presentation has never been an inssue, even in the earlier GameCube versions, it is entirely refined in Magical Melody. As mentioned, players can select either a male or female lead (taking out the possibility of yet another Harvest Moon double dip, thank God), and then builds their town from the ground up. Multiple locations are available in the village, and depending on your playstyle there will be advantages and disadvantages to each of them. If you're a fan of tons of space, Ocean Side is perfect. Need a great fishing hole (like some IGN editors), then head over to River Side. If city life is the most important aspect of how you play Harvest Moon, the Village Center is a small, yet cozy, living environment. Once you've moved in, it's all about planning out your house. This is essentially the same as Animal Crossing, offering tons of different furniture that can be bought, sold and arranged as you please. Once the house is set up, it's time to start the farm by adding chicken coops, sheds, barns and fences to hold your animals. If animals aren't your style, however, why not use the extra room to expand your house, or better yet, build onto a second location! When it comes to the Harvest Moon franchise, no other version has given as much personal control as Magical Melody.
Don't think for a second we're done yet. Aside from taking care of your farm (no matter what strategy you use), that's only the beginning. There are a ton of aspects to Harvest Moon, both new and old, that make Magical Melody both amazingly deep, and simple enough to be fun. Players can raise a variety of animals, farm over 25 different kinds of crops and fish to bring in money. Aside from the basics, however, items can be leveled up (much like the N64 and previous versions) as the quest continues. Also included is the ability to cook your own food, whether it is over a campfire in the hills, or in a stove at your kitchen. While not every aspect of the game is new, they all help in creating a great environment.
While we can say with confidence that Magical Melody is by far the better GameCube adventure, it isn't without its faults. For starters, the game is graphically weak in comparison to most any Cube title in the last year. While it still remains true to the original style, the game is technically weaker and doesn't hold up too well visually. There wasn't much attention put into effects animations, and the game does nothing to go above and beyond. In fact, during the majority of festivals and holidays, computer controlled characters won't join in the festivities. Instead, characters are often standing still, or committing to one normal motion at a time, such as feeding chickens or milking a cow. It's true that the main appeal of the game can be done on any system, and that gameplay rules over the graphical presentation but the fact remains that Magical Melody looks dated. In fact, while the style has stayed quite true to the original versions, it is starting to creep into the Animal Crossing world a bit. Animations and characters look a little too similar, and first-time fans might see this as a downfall in the game, though the two styles are truly very similar in nature.
Along with the less-than perfect visual presentation comes the lackluster audio. There is no recorded voice-overs, nor is there an extensive sound track. The audio works fine, but feels dated much like the graphical package. The amount of time in each day is also a bit short, and players will find that the amount of stamina it takes to perform simple tasks (such as cutting down trees) makes Magical Melody harder than it appears. The kiddies style may entice younger gamers, but be forewarned, this one is just as hard as the originals. This, as fans of the series can tell you, is both a blessing and a curse.
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