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Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon (Special Edition)
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Natsume
Developer: Arte Piazza
Genre: Simulation RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 02/12/08
Japan 03/29/07
Official Website: English Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 80%
Sound: 78%
Gameplay: 80%
Control: 70%
Story: 70%
Overall: 76%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Kimberley Wallace
Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon (Special Edition)
03/14/09
Kimberley Wallace

Since its first installment in '97, the Harvest Moon series has capitalized on a simple, yet addicting formula: get a farm, make it profitable by raising crops and livestock, win over the mate of your choice, get married, raise a family, and rinse and repeat. It's a formula that has been entertaining enough, but could use something to spice it up. And although there have been minor attempts to keep the series fresh, they were nothing more than a choice of gender, throwing in some mining, and adding new choices in your quest for marital bliss. These were welcomed baby steps, but the series never strayed too far from its roots until recently. In the Spring of 2007, two handheld games were released, Innocent Life for the PSP and Rune Factory for the DS. Both were different games than Harvest Moon fans were previously accustomed to, and if you are anything like me, you thought: It's about time.

For this review, let's delve into Innocent Life, which not only made its way onto the PSP, but also onto the PS2. The PS2 version is a special edition that Natsume released about a year after the PSP release. The special edition added few bonuses, such as raising a pet cat and partaking in a quest to fill a dictionary that will unlock extra content, and it also upped the challenge of the amount of crops you need to harvest in a certain time frame. These are minimal changes, but if you want to experience Innocent Life on a bigger screen with a few added bonuses, then the PS2 special edition is the game for you. Now, let's see how Innocent Life holds up compared to the rest of the series.

You are the Future

First off, you're probably wondering just about how different this is from the usual Harvest Moon entries. Well, for starters, this installment is placed in the future, in the year 2022. They didn't stop at the time period either; the character you play as isn't even human. Yes, since this is the future, you are a robot, a robot with a heavy burden, I might add. Rumor has it that the fire spirit is upset with humans, who have come to depend entirely on robots and machines for their every day needs, especially when it comes to farming. If people continue to abuse technology, the fire spirit threatens to destroy Heartflame Island by causing a nearby volcano to erupt. Dr. Hope, your creator-turned-father, invented you to appease the fire spirit by running a successful farm on top of ancient ruins. According to Dr. Hope, as long as you break the seals upon the ancient ruins by loving and nurturing the land with your own hands, you will be Heartflame's savior. There's also one extra bonus for working on the farm. Taking a page from the Disney classic Pinocchio, Dr. Hope turns into a Geppetto figure, and says if you can learn the "value of life" you will truly become human.

I'm sure that you've noticed that there is a serious contradiction in the whole premise of the story: The fire spirit is angry at people for depending on robots, but you are a robot, so how that would make a difference is beyond me. Now the only reasonable explanation I can think of is that humans are using virtual farming simulators to harvest their crops, unlike you who will be farming the natural way without the help of this invention. Still, to me, this is a huge inconsistency in the plot that I wish the developers had more thoroughly considered. I also can't help but mention that names like Heartflame Island (yes, it's shaped in a heart), Volcano Town, and Dr. Hope make it extremely difficult to take anything in this game seriously. But, then again, have Harvest Moon games ever really been about the story?

If you are playing for the story, however, just be warned it consists of a very slow progression of events. You can look forward to every Sunday when you visit Dr. Hope for your required maintenance. At these meetings, at least some story advancement takes place. Sometimes it's only a minor plot point, while other times, there are larger plot developments. Although, even if it is only a small part of the plot, you are so starved for some story that you will appreciate what you can get.

It should also be mentioned that this game is more focused on time sensitive story events than previous Harvest Moon titles. Usually Harvest Moon games let you play at your own pace and are more centered on this freedom of play. In the case of Innocent Life, you have specific obstacles you need to complete in a certain timeline to beat the game and, if you miss these opportunities, the game is very unforgiving. And by unforgiving, I mean you will be forced to play through another humdrum year. Luckily, if you do everything in the required timeframe you should be able to beat the game in a year, and I recommend this fully since the story isn't anything spectacular.

I can usually let up on a game with a poor plot as long as it has interesting characters. In the case of the Harvest Moon series, it's known to spend less time on developing story and more time on unique characters. Unfortunately, this installment has the weakest cast of characters by far. None of them stand out or are distinctive in the slightest. In fact, at one point in the game, I was asked to go talk to a certain character to advance the plot. The problem was I had no idea who that character was and had to spend my time trekking across town talking to every person possible to find him. Also, the fact that the developers eliminated the courtship aspect of the game doesn't help any with the characterization. I understand this is because you are a robot, but there is nothing else significant going on for you socially. My trips into town to talk with townsfolk were pointless, unlike other Harvest Moon games, where visiting characters often triggered unique cutscenes. The town members' generic automated responses also never change; not even with new seasons will you experience any new dialogue. And it's not like you can befriend any of the town members to fill the void of the courtship aspect, which also eliminates the importance of presents. Hopefully, you aren't playing Innocent Life for the story or the cast. Let's hope you're more excited for the futuristic farm life that awaits you.

Where is the Challenge?

Innocent Life is spilt into two areas of gameplay: farming and exploring. Now, if you're an experienced Harvest Moon player, you probably can't wait to dive in and really get your farm up and running. Unfortunately, you are faced with the most boring tutorial of your life; even beginners who need a tutorial may not be too keen with it. The problem is, instead of showing you how to till, plant crops, and water them once, you are forced to do it nine painfully obvious times. You will also notice from the tutorial that instead of X being the button to issue commands and talk to people, it is triangle. This is a difficult change to grow accustomed to. Regrettably, from the tutorial onward, the game basically holds your hand the entire way. Therefore, I have to add that this is not the best game for veteran Harvest Moon players. It is extremely easy and seemed more geared toward the elementary age group. By the end of the first season, I actually had more money than I knew what to do with, and all financial challenges that were a big part of previous entries were nonexistent.

In fact, a lot of the things that have made previous installments challenging are not prevalent in Innocent Life. For instance, cooking and fishing have always been large parts of past games, but with minimal social interactions and financial burdens, what is the motivation for focusing on either one? Plus, cooking has been extremely simplified. You can't use your own crops to make dishes and gone is the thrill of finding new recipes. Instead, you watch the cooking channel on your TV, which helps increase your cooking skill. After you gather a high enough skill, new dishes become available. The only person that will benefit from your cooking is you because you can't give the food as a present to anyone or sell it for extra cash. As far as fishing goes, you have to locate a lone fisherman to be able to fish. The only benefit of fishing is that it can unlock sushi for you to prepare.

Also, having animals in this game is not a difficult task at all since you aren't responsible for providing them with food, nor do you have to milk the cows, sheer sheep wool, or pick up the chickens' eggs. It's all done for you and placed on a conveyor belt to be delivered. With very little challenge, Innocent Life can become quite tiresome, and it definitely doesn't help that the game takes a while to get started.

That also brings up another big problem; the pacing in this game is tremendously slow. In fact, the entire first season is extremely lackluster. I would actually go to bed early and desperately try to find something more to fill my days. This is quite opposite from other Harvest Moon games because you usually feel like you don't have enough time to accomplish everything. If you can make it through the first season, which for me took around seven hours, the game not only picks up the pace, but it also feels like an entirely different game.

And That's When It All Changed

After your first month, your whole futuristic life begins to change and, for the most part, it's all for the better. You'll receive a number of different innovations, all fresh to the series. First off, you'll receive your own robot named Forte to order around your farm. Forte can water crops, till soil, pull weeds, and put away log and stone resources. In other words, Forte is a lifesaver for those of us who are bored with the monotonous farming aspect of the game. The only thing Forte won't do for you is harvest or ship your crops. While it was nice to have Forte, it did make me feel worthless as far as farming was concerned. Why would I focus on my farm at all if Forte could do the majority of the work? Forte isn't the only thing that will help you out in your journey; you'll also receive a dirt buggy from Dr. Hope once you break a seal upon your farm. The buggy will get you around a lot faster, which is great because Heartflame Island becomes a huge area of exploration for you.

Throughout the game, you will explore many caves and collect different colored jewels. These jewels serve two purposes. First, they unlock sealed doors in caves for you to explore and, secondly, they unlock certain areas on your farm. Some of the things you can unlock are extremely convenient, such as vending machines, so you don't have to make the haul into town to buy more seeds. You can also put these jewels on altars on your farm and they will give special bonuses to the crops you plant near them. For example, the crops will grow at a quicker rate or you won't have to water them as much. But, enough about making the chore of having a farm more convenient. Let's move on the exploration part of the game.

The caves you have to explore, unfortunately, aren't what I would call the most fun you'll have with the game. They all look the same: Dark and barren, with rocks for you to break to find ores. It's what is outside of the caves that will entertain you most. You can explore and find new characters, scenery, hidden caves, and you can collect fruit from various trees that will add to the mass amount of money I'm sure you'll have already acquired by this time. Also, I hate to say it, but the novelty of all the new exploring you can do will eventually wear off, and like your farm, it can at times, feel like a chore. For me, the true treat in the exploration, besides discovering new things, was the game's scenery. You can discover a wide variety of locations, from jungles to deserts to meadows and so much more. I was impressed with the liveliness of the background, especially the bright and lush colors used in the environments.

Overall, the level of detail in the game is impressive. The livestock no longer look like they are out of the Hello Kitty franchise like in previous installments; they now actually look like real animals. Also, the crops you harvest have vibrant colors and more resemble realistic crops. Plus, the characters look more lifelike, while still having that cute appeal that is in most Harvest Moon games. And just to come full circle here, the music was actually pleasing. My only complaint is that it never changed with the seasons, but at least when you entered different areas you heard different melodies. I did feel like I was in an Irish tavern whenever I entered Volcano Town, however, so I can't say the music always matched the setting. But with any Harvest Moon game, since you have to listen to the music for long periods of time, I always base its quality on how sick I get of the music. If I can withstand a year and not turn off the sound, then the music wins for me, and in this case, it did.

Conclusion

While it was nice to see some new things for the Harvest Moon series, Innocent Life just didn't give me the thrill I was hoping for. There were some good ideas, but they were poorly executed. I definitely wouldn't recommend this game to veterans of the series. Innocent Life would be more of a game for a casual gamer or, because of the ease of difficulty, maybe someone just starting out in the series. I hate to say it, but this is by far my least favorite Harvest Moon installment. It just proves change isn't always going to be for the better. Still, I hope new ideas and renovations will continue to make its way into the series. With better execution, it really could make all the difference.



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© 2007 Natsume. All rights reserved.


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