IGN Review of Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon
Ever since the Harvest Moon franchise was released on the Super Nintendo, it has defined niche gaming. The pleasant farming simulation has let gamers tend crops, raise livestock and explore their surroundings at a leisurely pace that's completely different that most titles on the market. In a way, it's captured the basic experience of farming since the profession began thousands of years ago. But what if, in the far distant future where robots and humans co-exist, you wanted more than just getting married, having kids and raising animals? What if you wanted to save the world around you in an eco-friendly manner? Well, Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon, gives you the opportunity to explore your inner Al Gore and George Jetson.
Unlike the previous Harvest Moon titles, you take on the role of a small robot boy created by a benevolent doctor known as Hope Grain on Heartflame Island. The good doctor has purchased land for you to live in peace and learn what it's like to become human by growing crops and being responsible for land. However, this retelling of Pinocchio isn't as simplistic as it sounds. See, because of the inhabitant's angering the nature spirits of Heartflame Island, the creatures have not only sealed off the earth to its people, but have threatened to erupt the land's volcano and destroy its civilization. Dr. Grain hopes that by creating an artificial life that hasn't angered the spirits, you may be able to calm the spirit's fury, restore the land and prevent the eruption of the volcano. No pressure, huh?
As a start, you'll receive a watering can and a tutorial from the doctor's good friends in town. From there, you'll start tending your land just like you would in any other Harvest Moon title. That means tilling soil, planting seeds and watering land until the crops or flowers are ready to be harvested and sent to market. Luckily, you'll have futuristic storage pods that will do the delivery for you every day, so you won't be forced to physically walk your crops to town. In your downtime, you'll spend free moments watching television shows, talking to the inhabitants of the island and learning how to cook and eat food. It doesn't seem like it would make a lot of sense, especially since you're a robot and have no need to eat, but since you're trying to learn how to be human, you just have to go with it.
It may sound a bit simple, but there are some things that you'll need to worry about as the seasons wear on. For one thing, you have to constantly keep every seed watered or you'll delay a plant's growth. For another, storms will sometimes rage across the island, destroying the hard work that you've put into your farm and smashing any harvestable produce if you haven't been able to gather it in time. You'll also need to constantly pluck weeds that can strangle your plants and remove rocks and logs from your farm that can take up precious ground. Fortunately, as the game continues, you'll acquire a number of tools, like axes, hammers and scythes that will help you maintain your farm.
However, to manage to unlock these items, including a robotic helper that can do a significant amount of watering and resource gathering for you, you have to slog your way through trying to develop the storyline, which happens at a snail's pace. Every Sunday, you're supposed to visit Doctor Grain, which is the only way that you can make the plot progress and gain access to some new and often critical item that will help you perform your job a bit easier. Talking to townsfolk, while it can be interesting, isn't exactly a major source of plot development, so you can abandon much of it in favor of the weekly Grain checkup. As a result, you'll find that your crop tending will quickly degenerate into doing only the basics for that day (watering, gathering and weeding) and then immediately going to bed to make the days pass, which isn't particularly enthralling.
On the other hand, the game does force a certain level of external farm exploration in the form of Spirit Stones. These stones are scattered around the island in caves or other locked away locations, and are important for two reasons. If you manage to gather four stones and place them on the altars in your fields, you can expand the amount of territory that you can farm. Obviously, the more you can farm, the more money you can make and the more you can plant. The other plus is that by expanding the territory, you open up new sections of Heartflame Island that you can explore.
However, you'll find a couple of issues with tracking down these crystals. For one thing, uncovering the items feels a bit unbalanced. It's possible to go for quite a while without coming up with a single crystal, and then all of a sudden you track down a group of them. Perhaps that was tied to the plot for a reason or maybe there's another reason, but this yo-yoing effect can be somewhat annoying. The other odd effect of the crystals is that after a while, you'll be spending so much time in search of these crystals that you'll abandon your fields. When the game offers you tents so you can stay out in the wilderness instead of enforcing a return to the farm, you've started to invalidate the need for farming.
Since there isn't necessarily a need for money after a while either, the constant need to farm decreases as well. You can easily gain enough money by mining ore, gathering wood, and selling other items. However, since you don't have to spend your money on things like rent, paying for food or other items, it's pretty easy to acquire and horde large sums of money that you'll never ever spend. Doesn't really seem like he'll be able to understand what it's like to be human if he doesn't have that much to worry about, now does it?
Then again, there's a number of things that don't really make a lot of sense when it comes to the little robot boy. For instance, while you'll wind up working on the farm, you'll get increases to your stats, but these don't exactly translate to anything. Cooking food won't improve your skill points that are used or your health. Tilling the soil or picking crops won't make you stronger or faster in the fields. Constantly using tools won't appear to minimize the number of skill points that you spend whenever you use a tool. Why include this if it isn't going to have an impact on the actual gameplay?
At least the title is pleasant to look at. While it's not the most visually stunning title around, it does its job with appealing sprites and backgrounds. Character models are somewhat basic, but decent. You're not going to be blown away by the areas you'll explore, but there is some variety in the game, with underground, forest and desert areas, and there are even some nice little touches. For instance, you'll find leaves and debris blowing around during storms. Musically, the title is nice and understated, although it could use a little variety over the course of the game.
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