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Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness for the Nintendo DS is the first totally original traditional Harvest Moon game for the DS, and the first DS Harvest Moon to utilize the touch screen controls to do everything. How does it live up to the Harvest Moon standard? Pretty well, I'd say.
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In Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness you (you get to choose if you want to be a boy or a girl) are on a boat to a start a new life on an island. On the way the boat capsizes and you and the survivors wash up on an island that had been deserted. Well, it is as good as any other island, so you and the others set up a town on the new island and get to work to make it grow and proser.
Since Harvest Moon games are more dependent on player choice, that is about as deep as the story gets. The harder you work the more characters move to the island and the bigger it gets. You can unlock many cut scenes with your actions, but what cut scenes you view is all up to the decisions you make.
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When you first get set up on the island it is spring time and you have a hoe, an axe, a watering can, a hammer, and two packets of radishes. Like all Harvest Moon games, there are four seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) and in each one only a certain kind of crop grows. There are also festivals specific to each season that you can choose to attend or avoid, but only in attending them (and winning competitions at the festivals) can you get wonderful stones to upgrade your tools.
The Nintendo DS Touch screen controls rule all in Island of Happiness. You use them to move, farm, take care of animals, fish, pretty much everything. The controls are pretty good, although aiming tools can be a little bit off. I've watered the wrong place several times or tried to chop up a branch and missed. It is only a slight annoyance.
Another constant in the Harvest Moon series is the stamina bar. This goes down as you work (watering plants, taking care of animals, walking around) and if it reaches zero your character will pass out and be sent to bed immediately, forcing you to stop playing for that game day. While expected, the stamina bar in Island of Happiness goes down very quickly. Just watering three plots of plants of nine plants each will drain your entire stamina bar. You can up stamina by eating, but it is really annoying to have to go have a snack as you are trying to work on the farm!
In addition to the stamina bar Island of Happiness also has a hunger bar. You have to feed your character regularly because if the hunger bar dips too low they won't get up early in the morning, and you need all the time you can get in this game.
While the time in Harvest Moon games moves much faster than that of real time, the time in Island of Happiness moves way too fast for all of the tasks you need to accomplish in one day. In order to make the island grow you don't just need to farm and to make money, you have to make friends with everybody in the village by talking to them daily, you need to give presents, fish (to get the fisherman to come to the island and stay), get and care for animals (by building a barn and chicken coop), go mining and more. However, in one day, just taking care of animals, watering three plots of crops and talking to everyone in town takes until 11 p.m.! Part of the problem is that walking from one side of the island to the other takes hours in game time. Annoying? Yes!
Also like other Harvest Moon game you can marry. You'll have six bachelors and bachelorettes to choose from. Although the courting for each one is a little different and it will take over a year to marry most of them. Some of them won't even show up until certain conditions have been met.
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Graphics and Sound
Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness actually looks really good. The character designs are really well done and each chibi person is cute and fits the mood of the game well. The backgrounds are lovely too. While not the most detailed of any game, they fit the feel of Harvest Moon perfectly.
Sound-wise, I'd say Island of Happiness is a winner. Each season has charming music that, while repetitive, never gets old or boring. The music is understated enough to blend in while remaining charming.
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I'm no expert on Harvest Moon games. I've only played a couple now, but they are strangely addicting and Island of Happiness is no exception. The game is fun yet equally frustrating. It's great when things are going well and it is pretty easy to make money. However, most of the money must be spent to spruce up your ranch and the island. And the whole stamina issue (it falls too fast!) and the short days make it hard to get a lot done. This game does not have a relaxing feel to it like Harvest Moon games of the past have boasted. It feels more frantic. Also, the lack of hints is a huge annoyance and a problem with all Harvest Moon games. I'm not psychic and don't know that to bring forth the Harvest Goddess I have to toss a present into a certain spring! Hints would be nice.
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If you like Harvest Moon and own a Nintendo DS, or just want to waste hours of your life pretending you have a farm give it a try. It is addicting and fun, despite its flaws. However, if you want something with a little more substance (and the ability to fight monsters!) try Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon instead.