So I moved to the countryside -- packed my bag, went to the videogame store, bought Harvest Moon DS and wandered into the postage stamp-size game's rural landscape. One bag of turnip seeds later, I was standing in my yard watering the teensy squares of earth that constituted my livelihood. Only the faintest change of color from dusty brown to damp brown indicated the soil was wet. All day (which in Harvest Moon means about 10 minutes), I monitored my seedbed. I played fetch with my dog. And I chopped wood.
This is a more whimsical title, with fewer romantic ideals about country life (such as that pick-up-and-befriend-wild-animals nonsense from Harvest Moon: Magical Melody) and a healthier dose of soft-core fantasy. I visit the mad scientist's basement and meet his mermaid. I'll need to bring her lots of fish to win her heart in marriage. I meet the granddaughter of the rich lady on the hill, all grown up from her childhood in Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life and now legally marriageable. She likes diamonds, which means I'll frequently find myself digging in the mine for gems and battling monsters.
While on my quest to lead the quiet life, I'm also trying to remove a curse from the Harvest Goddess. I began the game in the middle of her fight with a witch. The Harvest Goddess lost, and rescuing harvest sprites seems to be the only way to remove her curse. These little rainbow-colored munchkins have been the primary supernatural helpers in past games, and they continue that role here. But now they've been lost, and getting a full component of them requires me to keep farming and exploring my world. And so I water my turnips. And check the weather. And slow down.
THE GOOD: How cute to see the big pixelated eyes of Harvest Moon's anime characters rendered brightly on the DS. The game's colors are saturated versions of nature -- stone grays and leaf greens in dozens of lighted varieties -- and the simple overhead view allows for a stylishly flat presentation. The game's strange quests and sub-stories grow naturally from the easygoing pace. There's a lot to do, with little pressure.
THE BAD: The game continues the Harvest Moon tradition of poorly translated text. There are fewer lapses into Engrish than most videogames adapted from Japanese originals, but enough to occasionally give the game the cheaply hilarious feel of a dubbed Godzilla movie. And most Americans don't know the difference between "farm" and "ranch" either.
& r & THE BOTTOM LINE: After several recent uninspired Harvest Moons, the whimsical and intricate DS version deserves a sweet thanksgiving.