Whilst Anton I toils away in the world of Back to Nature, his descendant (in spirit if not in fact) Anton II has just set up a farm in Forget-me-Not Valley. With an updated game engine for a newer generation of game consoles, what challenges will Anton II face as he tries to get his farm in working order?
When I first loaded Harvest Moon A Wonderful Life (AWL), my father’s friend Takakura introduced Anton II to his farm, and asked if he would like to try farming. Being the contrary person that I am, I decided to reply in the negative, expecting him to try to persuade me to give the right answer as happens in most games; instead, I got what must be the fastest game over in the history of the PS2.
Having learned my lesson and answered ‘yes’ the second time, the life of Anton II began as a collaborative effort, in which I look up FAQs and direct the game, whilst my sister is the one actually sitting at the PS2 and controlling gameplay and its minutiae. Yes, AWL is just that sort of game- more so than the earlier instalments, it thrusts you into a world of farming with little clue as to how you should actually proceed, or what the game mechanics are. Nonetheless, in some ways this makes the game easier- until you are in a position to spend your time exploring and mastering every aspect of it, your daily tasks will be relatively simple, even if your farming success is equally limited.
Compared to earlier games in the series, AWL attempts to deliver a more ‘realistic’ farming experience, which means that while many aspects of real farming are still omitted, many processes are lengthier and more tedious than before. The following sections will explain just what you are letting yourself in for when you answer ‘yes’ to Takakura’s question.
Having the time of your life
Compared to earlier instalments in the franchise, game time seems to flow more slowly in AWL, with each hour of game time taking a minute instead of around half that time (time also increments in minutes instead of jumping ahead in ten minute chunks). As if to compensate for this, time now keeps flowing when you go indoors, meaning that you can never escape the relentless tick of the clock. As it turns out, this is actually a good thing, since in the early stages of the game there can sometimes be so little to attend to that you are forced to aimlessly wander around or go to bed early.
Speaking of which, sleep times have now become more flexible. In the old days, you could go to bed practically whenever you want and still get up at 6am (stamina permitting), but in this new era, the time you go to bed affects when you get up- in effect, this means that you can take regular afternoon siestas, or even sleep during the day and work at night (not recommended). Unfortunately, it also means that those ever present boring days are harder to clear; in the worst case scenario, you may need to take three consecutive naps just to reach a point where you have something new to do.
With the majority of the game thus seeming quite boring (yet also oddly addictive in that unique “let’s see what tomorrow brings” way that Harvest Moon has), it should come as something of a relief that each season has been reduced from the standard thirty days to a mere ten. Instead of just playing consecutive years, however, the main story of the game takes place over six chapters selected from various points in your life, allowing the unique and perhaps somewhat depressing experience of witnessing Anton’s entire farming life. At the end of chapter six, the promise of free and unlimited play in your twilight years awaits, although only people of a very particular mindset will want to play for that long.
Love and marriage
Once upon a time, you could give as much of whatever you liked to an NPC in the hopes that they would like it, but these days, the gift-giving process of befriending villagers and wooing a prospective wife has been scaled down. Villagers only accept one gift a day, and if it doesn’t interest them, they’ll flat out refuse to take it.
Fortunately, when it comes to convincing that special girl that she wants to be your bride, it can actually be a remarkably easy process. Aside from the terminally moody and hard to please Nami, your prospective brides merely need the flowers you can pick up off the ground in order to light up their day, and by summer, you may well be ready to propose (although whatever you do, the wedding doesn’t take place until the end of winter). Note that girls do not have an obvious heart level any more- instead, you have to sneakily read their diaries to find out what they think of you.
Be sure not to neglect love entirely- if you haven’t made at least some effort towards wooing a girl, the game will end after the first year. Those of your fortunate enough to snag a bride can continue onwards into the future chapters of your life, starting with the birth of your child. Although by default you should have a son, there is a way to get a daughter- either way, as a concerned parent, Anton should do his best to direct his child’s life. Exposing them to different aspects of the village can control their choice of career, so if you don’t feel like forcing Anton or Antonia Jr. into a life of toil on the farm, you can encourage them to take an interest into a different field.
In addition to the various trials of romance, it is actually worth befriending the other villagers too; in spite of their often terrifying appearances, getting on their good sides can mean that you’ll end up with some nice freebies for your farm.
Crops and tools
When I look at the small plots of land given over to crops in AWL, I can’t help but miss the days when Anton I had a huge area that took hours to till and water. Anton II’s options are a lot more limited, with only two small areas and a pasture given over to growing (you can upgrade this later on). Unsurprisingly, the pasture is purely for growing grass and fodder for your livestock, although in order to get that started, you’ll need to buy fertiliser.
Not only is fertiliser also a necessity if your growing soil is poor, but unlike Anton I, Anton II must buy seeds individually instead of in bags of nine. He does at least get a wider variety of seeds, but therein lies a whole new host of problems. Fruit trees are now available (oddly, even grapes grow on trees here), but the shade they cast will kill any other crops that are planted close by (should you make this mistake, a talking cricket will visit you one night to explain what you did wrong- no, I’m not joking). Plants can now last longer than one season, but they are depressingly prone to randomly dying off, and if you don’t plant them in the first couple of days of the season, they may not be ready in time.
As if that wasn’t enough to remember, the game also offers an option for you to hybridise seeds and create bizarre second and third generation crops such as the ‘Potamelo’.
In contrast, tools in this game seem a lot more simplistic than they were in the days of Anton I. The often useless hammer is gone, as is the axe and the associated need to spend hours chopping lumber. Tools are no longer levelled up through use and blacksmith’s upgrades; instead, you must purchase them, or convince the villagers to part with them through constant gifts. As is the custom in the Harvest Moon world, Anton’s stamina is gradually worn away by continual tool use, to the point where he has to start finding food for himself (i.e. eating the precious profits) in order to replenish it.
If the hard facts about growing crops haven’t already put you off, then it’s time to investigate the other side of farming life- the livestock. As with previous games, you can get a dog and a horse, and whilst the dog seems to have little purpose, the horse does at least arrive fully grown on the first summer with the ability to ride it anywhere in the valley; given that Anton’s stubby legs do not enable him to run quickly, this is a welcome addition. Cat lovers will also be delighted to learn that you can even have your own kitty, although in true feline fashion it is too lazy to be put to any use.
A good dairy has always been the key to massive profits, and as if in response to this, cows are now many times more difficult to manage. You’ll start off the game with a single normal cow, but over the course of the game, you can invest in four different breeds of both cow and bull. After a year or so of producing milk, your cow will dry up, and you’ll need to impregnate her and wait for the birth of the calf before you can get any more (this also applies to new cows, who must grow up and give birth to a calf before they are any use whatsoever). Unfortunately, bovine love does not take place the natural way, instead, you must obtain a Miracle Potion (which I now realise must be a sperm sample for artificial insemination) from either your bull or a generic bull in the city (you can’t actually visit the city, it’s just that magical off screen place where your goods are sold and purchased from). As you can imagine, after several years of farming, your barn will be full to bursting with cows, and even though the manual advises you not to do so, you will be forced to sell them.
In a vain attempt to inject some variety into the game, it is also possible to purchase a goat for the purpose of milking her; however, she too dries up after a year, and there is no way to breed further goats. At least she can be sold in the PS2 edition- in the original GC version of this game, the only way to get rid of her was to deliberately starve her to death.
Fortunately, chickens are not quite as tedious to manage (they even eat less), but even so, the simplicity they once had is long gone. A lone chicken will of course lay eggs, but if you want them to be fertilised, then you must invest in a rooster. Although it can take a while for chicken and rooster to get together and produce a fertilised egg, trying to accelerate their love is not recommended- putting them together on the same spot only leads to annoyance and anger on their part.
If chickens and their eggs are not of great import to you, then you can give up some space in your chicken house for another new and utterly pointless feature- ducks. If you install a pond, ducks will appear, but oddly enough, they are not even good for eggs, since from that point on ducks will hatch out of chicken eggs in the most bizarre piece of genetics to grace the game.
The final animal in the livestock line-up is, unsurprisingly, the sheep; as if to make up for the complexity of breeding cows, sheep only come in one gender and thus cannot be bred. Worse yet, their wool can only be cut once a season, so whilst they may need less attention, for the rest of the time they are useless as a second-year goat.
What to do when farming and flirting get too dull
It should be easily grasped from above that sometimes daily life on the farm can all get to be a bit too much- either because you have too many tasks to do, or because you simply don’t have a clue what you should be doing. Fortunately, it is possible to take a break from toiling in the fields in order to toil somewhere else; if none of the options appeal to you, however, you are at least free to ignore them all.
From the very start of the game, you can practise cooking in the comfort of your own kitchen, although if you don’t have a recipe, you will most likely make a rather strange and unsatisfying dish. At first, Anton’s cooking repertoire only consists of soup and salad- it is only with continual practice that he can learn to create more complex dishes.
If culinary pursuits aren’t to your tastes, you may want to take a trip to the excavation site and try your hand at digging up stones, coins and artefacts. Although there are a wider variety of things to collect, the excavation site is a lot smaller than the mines of old, so whilst you can keep digging on the same spot and still find more artefacts, it does get boring quickly.
Unfortunately, the next option in the selection of side pursuits is one of pet hates in gaming- fishing. If, like me, years of Breath of Fire have soured you on fishing games forever, you won’t have much use for this option, but if the boredom of endlessly waiting for a nibble appeals to you, then you’ll be delighted to know that Anton can purchase a fishing rod and while away the hours trying to land a whopper.
If all else fails in your attempt to find both occupation and money, there’s always the fallback of setting up shop and trying to sell your items to passing villagers instead of shipping them to the city or trying to offload them to travelling salesman Van. Unfortunately, such a shop is not only stuck in a fixed position, but you’ll have to wait ages in the hopes that a) a villager will pass by and b) they will want to buy something
Finally, the game also comes with a couple of mini-games; since they are fairly unmemorable, however, the only one I can recall is a rather tasteless game in which you must polish the grave of a character who dies at the end of chapter one.
A few technical points
Visually, AWL is rendered in full 3D, and despite the general tediousness, at least looks reasonably good (apparently the graphics are poor compared to the GC version, but I’m not in a position to compare). The background music is actually quite catchy, and it is even possible to have it looping for hours without feeling any irritation. Unfortunately, the game is plagued by frequent loading screens- nothing serious, but ubiquitous enough to be memorable.
Harvest Moon A Wonderful Life is game that takes an already tedious and difficult system, and makes it even more repetitive and nigh impossible to master. It probably isn’t the best game with which to start your experience of the franchise, but if you already appreciate the oddly addictive lure this series has, it is worth looking into.
Extra: Anton’s Family Tree
Anton (Back to Nature) marries Popuri, and fathers a son and a daughter, Ian (Friends of Mineral Town) and Antonia (More Friends of Mineral Town). Both Ian and Antonia can grow up and run a farm in a Mineral Town populated by clones.
Antonia marries Carter and has a son, Tony. Tony goes to Forget Me Not Valley to start a farm with Takakura. After Tony dies, his son, Anton II (A Wonderful Life), takes over his farm and marries Celia. They have a daughter, Antonia, whose descendant is the protagonist of Harvest Moon DS.