After almost twenty years, role-playing fans, multitaskers and farming fans have all enjoyed the innovative Harvest Moon series from Natsume. In this Nintendo DS version, players can enjoy endless elements involving livestock, farming, socializing, gathering, fishing, and cooking and, a new element, mining (check the north part of the town for this very deep game element).
There are similarities and compatibilities with the previous Harvest Moon release, mostly the Mineral Town Game Boy Advance version. In this latest Harvest Moon installment you have a cat and a dog, plus you can shop on channel 2 to get your groceries (after going to the supermarket to buy items for 10 consecutive days) saving some precious leg time. The expanded television options create perfect opportunities to be a couch potato on rainy days where you don’t need to water your planted crops.
Most of your travel time will involve gathering items, socializing and attending town events, otherwise you’ll be working on the farm. The only real control issue is the lack of diagonal movement, which causes some inconvenient movement (especially if you’re in a hurry), but the up/down/sideways movement is great for planting. You can even plant in areas outside your farm, which have more fertile ground.
Once you produce and harvest your food, the town Mayor picks up your items in the bin. If you want to keep some food in your inventory, there’s plenty of recipes to make, plus you can expand your kitchen to store food. You have limited time each day (each game day equals close to 18 minutes of actually playing time) amid the standard four seasons. If you push your little farmer to the limit (though the sprites do help a lot), then you’ll lose some money as kindly neighbors bring him back home, but you never die and can save your game anywhere – a nice advantage.
DS capabilities are further incorporated with a "touch glove" (purchased after a few days of work), which involves a petting mini-game, but mostly functions to access information and items without interrupting game play. I even used the pen in my mouth to accelerate my gathering process making the most of the time allotted for each day.
The storyline of the game involves finding the Harvest Goddess who was banished to “another dimension” by the Witch Princess, who is fairly agreeable throughout the game (it’s to your best advantage to try and stay on her good side when answering her questions). You also have to find 101 sprites who went into the dimension to help the Harvest Goddess. More mini games open up after you find sprites, namely casino games like blackjack, poker and memory.
The graphics and sound work well, but game play rules the roost here. Some hidden items, like tools, can be difficult to obtain, but the main advantages of the game are very appealing – no deaths, time limits and anywhere saves. All the multitasking can produce some information overload, but, in the end, it's all about doing what you want and doing it at your own pace.
Harvest Moon DS is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Simulated Gambling, Use of Alcohol.