Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ragequit - Harvest Moon DS

Now, I have been known to vocally enjoy the seemingly-droll games that encompass the Harvest Moon series and its spin-offs, so the fact that I'm playing one should never be a surprise.  The fact that I'm outright refusing to play one of the titles should be one, however, and that's just what I have to do with Harvest Moon DS for being one of the most buggy things I've ever had the misfortune of dumping dozens of hours into to only have it lost.  There's more bugs (or if not more, then at least more devastating) in this damn thing than a Bethesda game and that's -saying- something.  What makes it worse is the fact that the game offers quite a lot and it's not inherently bad, but for the fact that you most likely -will- lose your game in a way that makes it unrecoverable is damning in a way that most games won't ever be party to.

I'll break it down right now and let you know just how you can and will lose your Harvest Moon DS game:  The saving system.  That might be obvious, but it's the bug with the almost innocuous, everyday application of the system that other games have that makes it so dangerous.  At any time, provided you're not in conversation, event or Holiday, you can move to the data screen on the bottom screen and save it in one of the two files available.  It's just that simple, and that's what everyone loves, is a simple saving system.  However, you'll find guides for the game online, or even just advice pieces around online that tell you to save in areas that have no movement on-screen.  Why is that?  It's because if there's something moving on-screen while the game saves, that save will just become corrupt and any attempt to load it will return an unsuccessful message.

That's not the only problem, however, as there is a specific freezing glitch associated with another glitch that is very, very easily activated which makes absolutely no sense.  Apparently in the winter, if you hire the fishing team to fish at the beach and then go down and cast your own fishing rod for a couple seconds, there's a chance that, when the Mayor comes to take your shipments for the day that an exorbitant amount of money that tops out at A Billion Gold will be put into your account.  It seems almost 'perfect storm'-ish as a scenario but I assure you it's very easy to trigger it on accident.  And, in my experience, if you save when you have that Billion Gold in your account, you're not loading that game anymore.  When you try and load it, it just freezes up and the sound that plays stutters and such, and your only recourse is turning off the DS entirely.  So all that work, unless you've been using both slots to save (which you shouldn't be forced to do), is gone.  Unsurprisingly, that's what happened to me and it's the reason that Harvest Moon DS is getting shelved permanently.

It sucks a lot really, because Harvest Moon DS is sort of the last resort I've got when it comes to Harvest Moon games.  I have Rune Factory, and the lot of you know I've gone on and on about those, but they're spin-offs, pure and simple.  I could play Harvest Moon:  Boy & Girl on my PSP, which takes Back to Nature and the Girl version and puts them both together on a single UMD, but Back to Nature takes place in Mineral Town with all of Mineral Town's characters who I am, frankly, a little tired of.  In my playings of Harvest Moon 64, Back to Nature (via Boy & Girl) and Friends of Mineral Town, I've married Karen, Popuri, Ann and Mary more times than I care to remember, and developed more friendships with the same denizens of the Town over and over again than I've formed actual friendships in real life.  I have exhausted Mineral Town of all it has to offer and thus need to move along.

On top of that, Harvest Moon DS actually brings quite a few good, or at least decent, ideas to the table that vary things quite a bit.  With a few extra types of buildings available, not to mention the fact that you can decide their design (sort of) and their placement, that alone opens more doors and windows for variety, and variety is always a welcome thing for HM games as a whole to have.  Joining the usual roster of animals you can raise are ducks, which require you to have a Pond (a new 'building') put into your farm who give off eggs that sell for more than Chicken eggs on the whole, but they only produce them every other day.  Another new source of income (in theory, at least) is a Mushroom Shed that you can buy if you like having something around that won't start to pay for itself for like two or three seasons afterward.  Basically, it's a shed that comes with six slats, you put lumber on those slats, seed them with mushroom seeds and water them everyday for, again, months (In Havest Moon games, generally your 'months' are your seasons.  30 days of Summer, 30 Days of Spring, etc.) and eventually you'll be able to pick off a mushroom.  After the initial one, you'll be able to get one every few days, and if you leave them on and continue watering them, the mushrooms will go up to Medium or even Large size to, obviously, sell for more.

Alongside that, the new ways to up the affection that your animals have for you is welcome, if not executed well.  Using the "Touch Gloves", any action you would take with your animal (petting, brushing, milking or shearing basically) is turned into a scored mini-game and some of the mini-games lead to gaining up to three times the amount of affection you would normally gain.  Granted, that three times means three points over one and a single heart (the measure of affection, they can get up to 10, I believe) is 100 points, but like I said, it's a good idea in theory and not execution.  That the mini-game is entirely optional is the good point, of course, since any action taken without the Touch Gloves equipped is just as normal as it is in any other Harvest Moon game - same efforts, same results.  That the mini-games basically entail "Rub your stylus on the screen really really fast" is also a detracting factor from them, but it honestly would be mitigated easily if the gains weren't abysmal.

Also fairly interesting about HMDS is that there's literally three different casts of women that you can marry, as opposed to just the normal roster of five or so that you generally get.  That is one cast, obviously, and it features Celia, the fair farmhand with a fragile bill of health, Lumina, the rich girl with a curious streak, Muffy, the resident bar girl with a bit too much hot air in her head, Nami, the rough-and-tumble traveling girl, and Flora, the archaeologist's apprentice.  They're your normal group of varied girls who live and work in Forget-Me-Not Valley to cater to varied tastes of the players, and 90% of the time, you're likely going to go for one of them.  However, keen-eyed readers might notice the above picture of the Witch Princess features a little out-of-place black heart as well, and if you know that the Heart System features only with women you can marry, you might just wonder about this a bit.

The second cast of women that you can marry in the game is actually the more 'fantasy' themed ones that features the Above-Pictured Witch Princess, resident 'evil' character, the returning Harvest Goddess who is sent to another dimension at the start of the game and can only be brought back by unlocking 60 Harvest Sprites during the course of the game by performing various tasks, Keira, who is apparently a "Sleeping Beauty" reference that lives at the bottom of a 255-floor mine, and a Mermaid that's being kept in the resident Mad Scientist's basement.  No, I didn't make any of that up, yes it's a little crazy.  The common theme with those few is that if you want to get with them, you're going to have to put in a lot of extra effort.  The Mermaid is almost the exception to that, as you really only have to befriend the Mad Scientist Daryl so he'll let you go into his basement, and he is a fan of the wild colored grasses that grow about the valley regularly, but the Harvest Goddess' hand requires that you ship one of every single item in the game among other things.  It's not a pleasant thought.

And finally, the third cast is the returning cast from Mineral Town, which is apparently just a short walk away from Forget-Me-Not Valley.  Their inclusion is one of those 'neat' little things that you'll likely miss out on anymore, as it requires a copy of Friends of Mineral Town and a DS that has a GBA slot to keep it in.  All five women have their own schedules that take them into Forget-Me-Not Valley a day or two out of every week so that you can talk to them and give them gifts to win their affections.  That's not the only time they come around, of course, but I'm fairly certain you can't woo them without the linked method explained above, and if not then the alternative would be quite tedious.  There are obviously a few ticks against going after them, however, as you might be like me and simply be jaded with them, but even more importantly is the fact that marrying one of them means relocating to Mineral Town which will end the game right there.  I don't know why you necessarily have to move to Mineral Town, but that's how the game handles it and no there's not something that carries over into Friends of Mineral Town if you do so.

After reading this over once, I've realized that the tone is entirely too positive, so I think I need to throw down some of the other annoyances I have besides the few I've mentioned.  First off, saving the Harvest Sprites is a tedious, terrible, game-padding move that detracts from the game more than it adds, despite the obvious.  In previous games, you could hire the Harvest Sprites to do various jobs around your farm that you didn't want to do, or possibly couldn't do (like event days, the birth of a child, etc.) and they retain that role in HMDS....after you bring them back from the other dimension that the Witch Princess inadvertently sent them to directly after the Harvest Goddess. 

This is done by doing various things attached to their particular team, so for example, to bring back a member of the Fishing Team, you have to fish up a certain amount of fish before he comes back somehow, and for another sprite like a sprite from the Collection Team, you have to chop up a certain amount of logs found around the Valley or so.  It sounds simple, but the requirements get way over-the-top for many of them, of which one of the more egregious examples being a member of the TV Team won't unlock until you ship 100,000 of a single item.  Other sprites won't unlock until you acquire Mystic versions of tools which can only be gotten after upgrading every single tool to Mystrile level, unlocking the third mine (which requires getting to the bottom of the 255-floor second mine), finding the cursed version of the tools and then paying a Priest to remove the curse from it.  That's practically a quest in itself and that's only for a handful of Sprites.

Possibly the worst part of it is that half the game of any Harvest Moon game is interacting with the folks about town, so the fact that the denizens of Forget-Me-Not Valley are, in fact, quite forgettable is bothersome.  Characterization is not very strong here despite the fact that the character list includes an android Doctor (or at least a Doctor with a T-1000 eye replacement), the afore-mentioned Mad Scientist, a darling old married couple, and a hulking artist with a fondness for 'modern' interpretations that aren't commonly seen in the Harvest Moon vistas.  Still, even with those, none of them are interesting enough to warrant peeking at, especially when the timing system in the game seems a little sped up from previous iterations.  Less time to do more in a day doesn't bode well, after all, in life or a game simulating life.

Money is either entirely too hard or entirely too easy to get in the Valley, depending on whether or not you know the 'tricks' to making a quick buck.  Normal fare of grabbing up the stuff that grows in the wild and selling that next to crops you grow isn't going to get you very far, and when everything is as expensive as it is (building-wise, at least, which is basically all you need to spend money on), that can lead to not getting a whole lot of satisfaction out of the game.  Even going to the mines and mining a lot of ores doesn't quite pay the bills properly (at least, I don't think it did, or not proportionally to the amount of effort used) so you have to wonder just how in the hell you're supposed to get anywhere.  And while it's not 'the' method, there is 'a' method involving Van, a traveling merchant who wanders into the Valley on every day of the month that ends with a 3 or an 8.  Van sells quite a few things of interest, but the more interesting aspect of his usage is that he buys things -from- you, and apparently has a fondness for accessories.  A Red Cape that can be gotten from the Harvest Sprites for 65k or so medals can be sold to him for a price that fluctuates in the 400k-600k range and the slight pieces of jewelry that can be dug up in the main dig site that leads to the mines can be sold for a few thousand G a piece.  It doesn't feel right and it's fairly cumbersome, but it'll get you what you need.

I guess if I had to describe it in a few strokes or condense what I've already said here, it's that Harvest Moon DS obviously has a few good ideas, but the overall handling of not only them, but some core mechanics of the game (not mentioned so far is the fact that Stamina and Fatigue do not go long -at all-) is fairly poor.  Adding to that the game-crippling bugs and you don't exactly have a 'good' game by any measure.  It's the truth and an unfortunate one at that, but no game can be considered 'good' when your save data can get corrupted for little to no reason at all.  Or when you can get the maximum amount of money possible for no other reason than you went fishing during the winter and didn't keep your line out long enough to reel anything in.  And just the thought of all that progress that I lost just because the game wasn't properly tested...I can't call this anything else -but- a "Ragequit".  Avoid the game by all means unless you're not the type to get attached to your characters.

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