Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness

The latest instalment in the Harvest Moon series on the DS, Island of Happiness has a lot of things in common with the previous games. Nothing is really that revolutionary, and if you have played any of the previous games, you'll recognize many aspects here.
The previous game on the console, simply titled Harvest Moon DS didn't capture me at all when I tried to play it. It was merely Friends of Mineral Town all over, but with characters that was less convincing and charming, and the farm work becomes a lot harder when you don't like any of the characters you interact with.
Thus, I didn't have too high hopes for Island of Happiness, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The backstory of Island of Happiness is a bit more dramatical than usually. Instead of the "Oh my, you've just inherited a farm! Run along lad/lass and grow some turnips, will ya?" of the previous games, this one begins with a shipwreck. After being washed ashore on a small island, you meet up with a small number of survivors and you all agree to stay there and re-build the abandoned island instead of trying to be rescued.

In the middle of the island there is a big farm, and since your character is the only one wearing farmer clothes, you're also the one who gets to run the farm.

Now, in the beginning of any Harvest Moon game, money is tight and resources rather slim, but you can always get by with a bit of hard work. In Island of Happiness, be prepared to work your butt off just to survive in the first year. It is a lot harder than previous instalments here.

As expected, it is up to you to ship crops, build bridges and generally turn the island into an appealing place, so more people will move there.

The basics here are recognisable. Grow crops, tend to your animals, fish, mine, get married, rinse and repeat. There are numerous changes to the gameplay, however, as Island of Happiness has a "Fullness" meter (random anecdote: this is abbreviated as "Ful" next to the meter, and "ful" means "ugly" in my native tongue). It also has a "Stamina" meter that will decrease as you use tools, but the fullness meter will simply decrease over time.

"What is it with you kids? Every other day it's like 'food, food, food'."
- Bender, Futurama

What I'm trying to say with that quote is that you have to eat in Island of Happiness. This is no problem after you've played a couple of seasons, as gathering new people to the island will prompt the construction of a Diner and a Café, where you can buy food whenever the fullness bar is low. Earlier in the game, you will have to rely on eating various grass found around the island to keep your fullness bar on a healthy 50% or more.

If your fullness bar is below 50% when you go to bed, you will wake up later the following morning. When it is at 0%, you will not wake up until noon, which is half a day wasted because you didn't eat. As anyone who has ever played any Harvest Moon game will be able to tell you - time is your biggest asset, you can't afford to waste it. Bottom line: eat.

The tool upgrading system is also different from previous games in the series. Instead of just going to the mine and getting a new type of Ore whenever you have enough experience, you instead collect small colourful stones called "Wonderfuls" and insert them into slots on your tools for various effects. It reminds me of Final Fantasy VII's Materia system and it's pretty cool, but it has one giant flaw: it is too ridiculously hard to get new Wonderfuls. There are three ways to obtain them: you can win a festival (in which case, the colour of the stone is all-but random), you can reach floor 255 in the mine (really, really hard to do, and again the colour of the stone is random) or you can buy them from a shop during the winter time (here, the fact that the certain shop is even selling Wonderfuls on a particular day is random). Needless to say, getting the three yellow Wonderfuls for your hammer to finally clear your field from the big rocks will be a huge pain in the neck.

Finally, the weather system has changed into a more detailed and realistic version. No longer can you just water your plants and wait for them to grow, every plant needs both sunlight and water to grow, and too much of either will kill the plants before you can reap the benefits of your hard work.

To expand the island, you need to build bridges to cross to other areas. Do not expect to be able to afford all three bridges within the first year, and do not expect a single thanks from any of the other villagers because you shelled out 20,000G and 500 lumber that could've gone into a remodelling of your house, just so everyone can take a stroll in the woods.

Closing off, I would like to state something about the controls. Several reviewers have panned the controls, calling them "slippery" and plain "bad". I thought so too, initially, and I didn't think I could play the game when I discovered that you couldn't control your character with your D-pad, but as I got used to the controls, after a spring of throwing away crops and seaweed, I got used to it (and a lot more careful). Simply put, you have four tool slots and you use the tools with your D-pad (or A, B, X, Y if you're left-handed) and everything else is done via the stylus. As I said, it takes some time to get used to, but once you've got a feeling for it, the controls are smooth.

Graphics and sound
Island of Happiness certainly looks a lot better than Harvest Moon DS and it does a good job in blending the 3D environment with the 2D sprites of characters when you talk to them. The overall look is pleasing and inviting.

All the character sprites are well done, but a bit freaky considering all of the bachelors and bachelorettes look like they are barely teenagers but they are all nonetheless able to produce children later in the game.

As far as sound goes, you have the stock sound effects. Nothing spectacular, and nothing annoying. The music is great, however, and sets a nice tone. I especially enjoy the winter theme.

Despite some flaws, Island of Happiness is an enjoyable game for anyone. Granted, it's harder to begin with for a person who hasn't played any of the previous games, but some online guide could get a newbie started easily.

I recommend this to anyone who enjoys growing crops, taking care of animals or just getting married in a baseball cap.