The Harvest Moon games are traditionally huge affairs, low pressure epics that involve running a farm and interacting with the villagers around you rather than saving the world from any kind of threat. This makes them very, very, very! long-term affairs to play through rather than something you can play for a week and toss out a review on. Seeing as we'd been discussing the idea of doing a gaming journal for a while, this seemed like the perfect game to give it a go with. So for the next month (or so) you can expect a weekly update on my progress through the Forget-Me-Not Valley of Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life.
Bought the game, read the instructions during a bit of down time prior to getting home and actually playing it. Oddly, the first thing I notice is that there's a slight difference in the game case art compared to the manual cover art - the artist's signature is on the instructions but not the box. Strange, and seeing as I can't actually play the game for another couple of hours (work, plus new South Park) I actually have time to notice. Also worth mentioning is that they named one of the livestock (I'd assume the horse, but maybe the horse and cows are in the same building now) Seabisc. I'm guessing the additional "uit" got cropped due to name length limitations.
Other pre-gameplay impressions: Only three girls to choose from? Marriage is automatic at the end of the first year? The knocked a zero off the end of the prices when compared to previous Harvest Moons? Only minor tool upgrades? I'm willing to withhold judgement until I play it, I suppose.
Finally getting home long about midnight, I actually get to fire up the game at long last. The usual game intro follows, and I name all my critters, main character, and farm. I have no idea why but I name my dog Ormond. When you get the dog you actually have a choice between two - a floppy-eared pooch or a pointy eared one. I went with the floppy-eared guy, because he's less obviously cute than Pointy-Ears.
As in any first day with a new game, there's a lot of information to absorb. This is very different from previous installments, so expecting the usual - like seeds to spread out in a 3x3 area - just isn't getting results. One seed = one square's worth of growing area, and at this point I'm not sure how that's going to affect my economy, not to mention my desire to use it as food or gifts. I'll just stumble through with blind faith that it'll all work out properly.
Another change worth mentioning is the way time is handled in Wonderful Life. My current Harvest Moon experience is mostly on the GBA, and the clock is completely unforgiving there, except when you poke your head inside a building. In Wonderful Life, time is flowing at a constant pace indoors or outdoors, but unlike the GBA one it goes at a far more manageable pace. At the moment (and it's still a very early one) I don't feel I'm struggling against every tick of the clock. I'll see how that holds up as the days progress, but right now it's a far more relaxed pace than I was expecting.
I thought Day 1 went pretty successfully. I met my cow and milked it, I discovered that there's a button on the wall of the barn to put all your herd to pasture at once (which is a wonderful addition, trust me), I met and gave a few flowery gifts to various villagers, and I even bought a few seeds. There's still a lot to learn, but that's what the first week of in-game time is all about. Day 2, on the other hand, was enough of a failure that I reloaded. My guy was hungry and tired, and I wasn't sure what to feed him. I got the fishing pole and learned, through trial and error, how to fish. I also learned that apparently he eats fish raw. O . . . kay . . . In the meantime, I thought I was flopping around more than acutally accomplishing things, so Day 2 got a redo, which I now kind of regret.
In my original playthrough I hit the right place at the right time and got a wandering salesman to sell me a brush for my animals and the fishing pole. In my second go-round, I spent the day tilling the fields and putting in crops, missing him entirely. It's probably not a big deal, I fully expect to see him around again pretty soon, but I hate not having those items. I have a weakness for fishing mini games (which is strange because full fledged fishing games leave me cold) and I'd like to see what else I can pull out of the water.
So at this point I'm only just begun, with only a wobbly grasp of which does what and where. There's no strategy guide available, no GameFAQs to help out, just me and an only somewhat-useful instruction manual. Nothing for it but to look forward to the days of experimenting ahead.
Okay, today things clicked a bit better. Last night was the "flopping about sorting things out" stage, tonight was the "putting the bits together" stage. I admit to going in thinking that familiarity with the GBA version would give me the insta-skills, but there's enough difference in style and method between the two that thinking like that is a good way to wander into trouble. For example, shipping stuff out doesn't get you instant cash when the items disappear, you have to wait for your payment to arrive. You also have to go to your shipping log, conveniently located beside the shipping box, to find your money. It's not as convenient but it definitely makes a certain kind of sense.
In-game Day 3 went pretty well. The wandering merchant showed up again, so I re-bought the items I lost when I killed my original Day 2. My cow now gets brushed daily, and fishing is happening in the evenings when all other chores are done. I also got a load more seeds, and a lesson on which seeds go with which seasons. This would have been a bit more helpful if most of the seeds weren't listed in the instruction manual and they'd gone into some detail on the fruit trees, which are both expensive and look like they could be fun to experiment with. I also shipped and got paid for my first round of milk, and was pretty pleased at the return. Soon enough I imagine what I got for it will be chump change, but at the starting stages of the game it's mana from heaven. Time to buy a chicken!
And with a chicken comes a need for chicken feed. So far I've got no way to make it myself, so I ordered some rather pricey bird food. Well, as it turns out the one serving I put down is still there the next day. I've no idea how long it'll last, or how many chickens it takes to polish off one serving in a day, but I'll find out soon enough. It's all about the obsessive-compulsive attention to details.
Across the stream and to the north, by the waterfall, there's an archeological dig. The archeologist and his assistant (and it's really a shame that she's not one of the girls you can try to win over) will let you dig for goodies if you've got the time to spare, and I found a fossil, a strange bit of ore, some old coins, and some figurines. I'm guessing they'll get a nice price when the wandering salesman comes back to town, but in the meantime I'm giving them away to Nami, the red-haired, kind of punkish girl. It seems to be working, I got a cute little cut scene one morning of her investigating the farm.
Finally, I got to explore the village a bit more. I can't figure out what to give the mad scientist to befriend him yet but I'm sure I'll figure out something, but the rich old lady in the mansion likes a certain kind of flower. I wonder if I can worm my way into her will with one of them a day?
Hey, nobody said I had to be totally nice.
Continue to: Days 3 through 5