The innovative Harvest Moon series from Natsume has a new Nintendo DS version geared more towards older gamers, but any age can enjoy this deep, involving game. As a young boy named Raguna, the story centers on your work for a girl named Mist in the land of Kardia. Amnesia entices players to learn more about the character, but ignorance is bliss in this case since the story doesn’t reveal very much, so you basically make your own story, which runs in a one real word second to one game minute time ratio.
The story forges as you build skills including swordsmanship, cooking, logging, pharmacy, communication, decoration, camping and mining. Fishing, cooking, trading, and, of course, farming, is all necessary to make a decent living in the game, all have a wide variety of options and uses. All this action can deplete your basic energy, also known as Hit Points. Increasing the more valuable Rune Points fills up your stamina to a higher level so you can do more activities.
New elements include creating magic potions, selling jewelry and capturing monsters, which can be used as allies, slaves, or, gulps, substitutes for the usual milk/egg/wool producing livestock. Like the horses in the previous Harvest Moon games, the monsters can also be used for fast transportation; just don’t take them into town. Other new elements to this game series include dungeon adventures, fighting and the ability to walk on crops to water them as they grow.
On the social side, Raguna can choose from ten available wives and some dialogue scenes have partial voice over. Players have a gigantic inventory cache to store just about everything, even the small rocks and firewood you might use to border your field in previous Harvest Moon games. You can also access your shipping history and so many other statistics.
Players can use the touch screen for the standard menu selections and creating drawings. The stylus really comes in handy when accessing the extensive inventory, but producers could’ve utilized the touch screen/stylus capabilities more. For example, navigating the main character through environments (similar to My Sims) would’ve been helpful.
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. Players even have a selectable square so you don’t access the wrong area. Your produce can also be upgraded to higher crop levels to earn more funds.
The valuable caves (access them by getting a pass from the Mayor) have the various monsters while offering ideal, year round farming options stemming from a wide variety of seasonal seeds. The simple fighting system (press B and repeat) matches the format, but you can’t switch weapons during battles.
The multiplayer mode (on Wi-Fi and local networks) can be accessed from the shell on the shore area, east of your homestead and requires each player to own his or her own copy of the game. Players can easily trade items, upgraded materials, and exchange screenshots (take screenshots at any time by hitting the L and select buttons together).
Mini games including cooking tasks, special social events and competitions. The graphics have a great natural texture and players can discern different areas from signs above the doors. Inexperienced players to the series might have a larger learning curve. Some characters offer advice through dialogue, but players don’t has much access to any tutorials, etc. when they need help. The graphics and sound work well, but immense game play rules the roost here. 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. Look for the upcoming Wii game and the scheduled Nintendo DS sequel.
Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.