Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands - Staff Review  

My Trick Knee is Acting Up! Must Be More Harvest Moon!
by Sam "Nyx" Marchello

40-60 Hours
+ Cute graphics.
+ Fixes all the problems from Island of Happiness.
+ Mini-games are fun.
- ... the microphone mini-game is not. Period.
- Sunstones are often difficult to locate without a guide.
- Townspeople are bland and lack personality.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Some days, I can't help but love Harvest Moon. I may not play every iteration of the game, but every so often I find myself craving a little farming sim, and somehow I find immediate joy from it. Harvest Moon has been around since 1996, and while the mechanics may not evolve with every new iteration, there are always hardcore fans who continue to play each game with a smile on their faces, and still see the joys that this little farming series has to offer.

   Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands is the seventeenth installment in the Harvest Moon series, and the fourth to appear on the DS, following Island of Happiness. In Sunshine Islands players will take on the role of a rancher who has just moved to an island. Players have the option of being a boy (Mark) or a girl (Chelsea) to explore the mystery of the Sunshine Islands, while still maintaining the role as a farmer seeking fortune and marriage. Sunshine Islands' straightforward plot finds that long ago a powerful earthquake struck, causing many of the islands to submerge deep into the ocean. It is up to the farmer to restore the islands to their former state by collecting all one hundred Sunstones. Plot in a Harvest Moon game is not plentiful, and this one is no exception.

   Here lies the main problem with Sunshine Island: Sunstones. Since the task is to collect all one hundred of them, players may feel slightly overwhelmed because there are no instructions on how to specifically find the stones. Agate, the Harvest Sprite who has the power to raise the islands does offer a hint or two, but it doesn't help when trying to multitask between collecting multiple stones simultaneously. Sunstones can be found on the islands in random spots, by raising affection towards the villagers who inhabit the islands, through forging friendships with your pets and livestock, shipping certain types of objects over a hundred times, or simply through the use of an item. Not having this information beforehand feels somewhat problematic as hours can go by without finding a stone when the player has zero idea how to obtain them in the first place. For example, how would players know that obtaining over 7000 friend points (FP) for each member in a household nets a Sunstone? These types of acquisition are next to impossible to figure out without a FAQ or list of sorts. There is no shame, however, in finding and using a list that shows how certain stones are obtained, especially in some of the more obscure cases.

This is the way we pet our cow, pet our cow, pet our cow... This is the way we pet our cow, pet our cow, pet our cow...

   Forging relationships with the townspeople is critical to success in any Harvest Moon game, but is even more important if players wish to be successful in obtaining Sunstones. This requires every town inhabitant being spoken to every day, and giving the right gifts to the right person in order for one's FP to go up. In some cases, simply giving a crop can raise FP, while in other cases cooking a dish for a specific person also nets FP. There are also now private scenes, in which players will watch rival marriages begin to formulate around the islands. Seeing these scenes show what could potentially happen if player's are not on the ball regarding the person sought as a partner in marriage. Unfortunately, one of the biggest drawbacks of Sunshine Islands is how uninteresting most of its townspeople are. They have set specific phrases, and these change only as their affection goes up. Talking to people every day begins to feel like a chore considering the villagers lack any sort of personality to make them remotely interesting. However, having random events occur does make the days somewhat interesting, and adds some variety in the courtship process.

   The Harvest Sprites are also very useful in this game, being able to help players charm townspeople into liking the main character, as well as helping the farmer ship their crops, reducing the stress levels of the animals, and charming shopkeepers into lowering their prices. Using these powers can go a long way in Sunshine Islands, as often it helps lessen the requirements for certain projects, such as upgrading buildings, and can help players increase their FP with the villagers.

   Sunshine Islands is a hardcore Harvest Moon game through and through. While searching for Sunstones, seeking marriage and farming are still a vital tasks to making Sunshine Islands' story play out. The farming system is probably the game's best aspect. The farming degree system from Island of Happiness has been greatly improved, and now has a greater function than simply renaming objects. There are six different categories that players must earn points in to make up the overall farm degree: fishing, mining, cooking, crops, animals, and "other." This point system adds new challenge to the game that is rewarding for those who love collecting or farming for items. The points dictate when new areas and items can be unlocked after a certain number are accumulated. Once a month the island will be hit with drastic weather, and this will sometimes cause crop failure or make your animals sick because they haven't been fed. It is important to feed the animals and give them affection every day, as they can provide players Sunstones as well.

   The only negative aspect to this new farming system in Sunshine Islands is the addition of Wonderfuls. Wonderfuls are items that can increase the power and endurance of the farmer's tools. The frustrating aspect about the Wonderfuls is that not any old Wonderful can be attached to any item. Only specific ones can be attached to enhance a tool. However, the game fails at properly explaining how Wonderfuls work in affecting tools. Throughout the game you can receive Wonderfuls either through buying them in Chen's shop or obtain them by participating in festivals. The problem is that throughout the game Wonderfuls can be obtained either as prizes or by purchase, yet they may not be usable on any of the current tools. Even when I was successful at attaching Wonderfuls to my tools, they never felt like they were making a significant difference in whatever task I was performing. I found most of the time that my Fullness and Stamina points were depleting just as rapidly as they were before. Replenishing Fullness and Stamina is very manageable, however, since eating a meal from any source will do the job.

Would you trust this man making you supper? Would you trust this man making you supper?

   Island of Happiness' reliance on exclusive touch screen control has been abandoned, and Sunshine Islands has tight, effective operation. Players can have four items equipped at one time, and can either manually change them with the D-pad or quickly tap the item with the stylus. The menus are clean and straightforward to navigate, with all vital information being easily presented and completely accessible. There are also plenty of stylus mini-games throughout the game, that include filling a milk can within a time limit, petting your pets as quickly as possible, throwing a Frisbee to your dog, and many more. The only mini-game I can say I loathed was the horse racing mini-game which requires players to talk into the microphone to make the horse move. The whys of this situation are baffling alone, but the game itself isn't even remotely fun.

   Visuals in Sunshine Islands are solid, though the 3D graphics do not push the capabilities of the DS. They look clean, and the animals look as cute as ever. The characters look over-sized and round, but it works considering the graphical style. Overall Sunshine Islands looks average and doesn't do anything remotely remarkable. It's simply cute. The same can also be said about the music and sound, which again is nothing special. The music sounds sweet but is mostly forgettable, with the exception of Shea and Wada's standout theme that is probably the best composition heard in the game. The animal sound effects are also great, and they enhance the overall experience, but again this is expected from a Harvest Moon title.

   Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands can take anywhere between forty to one hundred hours to complete, and the difficulty of the game depends on the pace players take. In this particular title, with the right requirements and criteria while performing tasks, Sunshine Islands can be a very rewarding game to fans of the series. This installment is highly rewarding, but patience is required because this is a game that cannot be rushed by any means. The more patience one has, the better the reward and outcome within the game. While Sunshine Islands is a complete improvement over Island of Happiness, it is a game made for the most hardcore of Harvest Moon fans, and this may or may not might be a turn off for those just getting into the series. While not necessarily the best introduction to Harvest Moon, Sunshine Islands' changes make it superior to its immediate DS predecessor and will be a great addition to your DS library, even if its still the same tried and true formula.

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