Product Type: Marvelous PSP games
Newest Review: ... all the equipment will be familiar to series veterans. The sporadic use of sleek metal décor in item storage units and the fancy kitchen ar... more
Harvest Moon: Innocent Life (PSP)
Member Name: tom1clare
Harvest Moon: Innocent Life (PSP)
Date: 21/06/11, updated on 22/06/11 (40 review reads)
Advantages: Heartflame Island is a nice environment; growing crops is still strangely gripping
Disadvantages: Hollow community; lack of challenge, diversions, incentives and depth
Back in those reassuring, pre-Farmville days when you could still with some surety label farming games as "a bit niche", Harvest Moon ruled the roost. Since first appearing on the SNES, the series has charmed players with its quirky but effective mix of social simulation/RPG elements and good ol' fashioned farm labour, leading to some of the most moreish time-sinks ever to grace the gaming world.
Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon is something of a nadir for the series however. Whilst retaining the basic framework that made its predecessors so absorbing, there is in reality little more than the shell of a Harvest Moon here in what feels a very watered-down experience. Lacking any real meat to either the social or business elements, the player isn't provided with enough diversions in and around the day-to-day running of the farm, and as a consequence, it quickly becomes a chore.
This time around you assume the role of a sort of android child, created by one Dr. Hope and able in time to develop human characteristics such as love, humour, intelligence and, presumably after playing this game, acute boredom. Like all perfectly rational, sane inventors, Dr. Hope takes the entirely logical first step of sending his miracle creation to live in relative isolation in an old temple that just happens to have a highly farmable flat roof!
Disappointingly, the "futuristic" angle the title implies is rarely apparent. There's a crummy yellow robot to help out with the farm, but very little else in the way of space-age technology as all the equipment will be familiar to series veterans. The sporadic use of sleek metal décor in item storage units and the fancy kitchen area, make for an odd contrast with the cold stone look of the ruins, bringing to mind the abode of a "not as rich as they thought they were" yuppie rock star, halfway through renovating for that all-important appearance on Cribs. Er, in other words, a bit sparse and half-finished.
As with all Harvest Moon's, you buy seeds, plant and grow crops, mingle with villagers and dabble in mining, fishing or exploration. The mechanics of the process work well and the island itself makes for a pleasant environment; picking fruit and berries is an unexpected pleasure, whilst the island has some cool landmarks such as a lake, a volcano, mushroom forests, a waterfall and various mines. Problems however quickly become evident in the scattergun approach to location layouts. Areas inside the temple home, particularly where animals are kept, are too spacious and it's a pain trawling all over everywhere for the sake of collecting five eggs or brushing a cow to make them a bit happier. The yawnsome trek from temple to town (four or five screens worth of legwork) is also very poorly devised, meaning that attempts to get involved with the day-to-day goings on are long-winded to say the least.
These are disappointing though not necessarily game-ruining troubles. More of a deal-breaker though is how completely devoid of life Heartflame Island's community is. In previous games, days would feel rich and unique; shops would open and shut at specific times, people would go about their routines, talk about the changing seasons, form bonds, keep up you up to date on the steady stream of upcoming community events and so on. Innocent Life is almost the antithesis of this; cold, impersonal and regimented. There's no variety at all, nearly every day the kids are having the same conversations at school, housewives likewise recycle the same gossip at the store, whilst an old farmer tells you to keep farming in winter... A few days of this would have been forgivable, but the island remains virtually in limbo throughout the seasons with virtually no changes in the dialogue.
Between the convoluted mines and the lengthy distances between useful landmarks, it seems to encourage a hermit lifestyle. The one highlight of the week is Dr. Hope's Sunday diagnostic, where he (very) occasionally gives you a task or tells you of an upcoming festival/community event. These are mere scraps however as you virtually count the year's happenings on one hand, whilst the characters are given such forgettable dialogue that the rather aimless get-togethers are barely worth it anyway.
Growing crops is as addictive as ever and remains a satisfying process, even if the business element is very soft as there's very little in the way of outgoings. Seasons feel overly long at 35 days each and, much as I imagine Macaulay Culkin felt when he turned twenty, you'll be sitting on a heap of cash but with nothing interesting left to do. It's been simplified too much across all areas; you can cook, but from a pre-determined menu, not from ingredients you've grown. You can find interesting artefacts, but rarely get to give gifts to villagers. You can keep animals, but they don't really require much nurturing or looking after. The villagers don't develop or age, you can't form relationships, marry or generally evolve in this Harvest Moon as you could in others.
The game tailors progression around the idea of intermittently opening up new areas of the island after collecting coloured stones from the various mines and then setting them in the temple/farm. You can unlock these within a couple of days of being given the opportunity, but obviously assuming that most players would take forever to grasp such tasks, there are big gaps and it always feels like you're waiting for something to happen.
Innocent Life's presentation is uniformly middling; locations look acceptable and it's nice to observe the changing of the seasons evident in the smaller details, though the villagers should have looked a lot better. There are some nice, RPG-themed tunes accompanying the farming though perhaps in hindsight, a little more variety wouldn't have hurt considering the duration of time you'll spend in particular locations.
How long you'll play can largely be gauged on the limits of an individual's patience. It lacks challenge, the story and sentiment is ham-fisted and the long waits between meaningful objectives makes farm life feel very tedious. It's okay if you're looking for a relaxing means of passing some time, but there's little reward for a lot of toil. It doesn't add anything to the formula and interest levels will likely have reached zero by the end of the first winter, by which point all but the most die-hard of fans will surely have abandoned the farm for pastures new.
Summary: Innocent Life is guilty of reducing a great series to a level of mediocrity
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