When I first started playing Sunshine Islands, I had an intense feeling of déjà vu. The game is so painfully similar to Island of Happiness that it practically feels like the same title just fine-tuned a little bit. Sunshine Islands may be a follow up to Island of Happiness, but does that mean we have to have essentially the same game with very little to carve itself its own identity? It seems like Natsume took Island of Happiness, added a new control scheme and a couple characters, and put it back on the market. Naturally, this makes writing this review a little difficult. Usually, I’m brimming with ideas when it comes to writing my reviews, but Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands leaves me feeling like I’ve played all of this before – and with nothing new to say.
Familiar Faces and Worn Out Places
Sunshine Islands features a plot very much in the vein of your average Harvest Moon: many years ago a great earthquake occurred and as a result, it caused many islands to sink to the bottom of the sea. The islands that remain haven’t been too prosperous since the loss of the other islands hurt them in many ways. It’s as though there are missing pieces to make the puzzle complete. As the daring and brave main character, it is your duty to find them. If you can find a certain number of sun stones you will be able to restore the islands and make the land complete again.
There’s a reason why the explanation of the story was so hard for me write and seems so bland: there’s not much interesting or memorable about it. The narrative just feels jaded, as if the developers went with a generic main idea and didn’t flesh out the story in any way to make it more exciting or compelling. Now, my fellow Harvest Moon fans, we are usually used to the story taking a backseat to the gameplay and characters, but Sunshine Islands really makes the story the lowest priority. Unfortunately, it’s more about getting the stones to raise the other islands to unlock gameplay bonuses than about advancing the story.
The characters, like the narrative, are missing that spark to be compelling. In the average Harvest Moon game, the characters are what make you want to socialize and forget about the lack of story events. This is not the case in Sunshine Islands, which features the majority of the same characters from Island of Happiness. They mutter generic responses, offer no engagement, and have very little personality. To add insult to injury, if you do not talk to every character every single day you have a 30 percent chance of losing 100 friendship points with them. Even worse is the lack of variety in the dialogue. Usually, the characters spew out the same phrases everyday, so it makes talking to them more of a chore than something exciting or new. It’s really unfortunate that the story and dialogue don’t live up to even average Harvest Moon standards; they’re half of what makes the series what it is. Granted, if you get your friendship levels high enough you can unlock special events with certain characters, but these are not enough to make up for the lack of character development during the rest of the game. These sequences are also not worth the amount of effort required to unlock them.
Farming on an Island Isn’t Much Different Than Anywhere Else
Naturally, due to the day in, day out activities you have to do between farming, fishing, gathering resources, cooking, and socializing, the gameplay can be quite repetitive. However, there is a lot to do in Sunshine Islands once you start raising islands. You’ll spend a good portion of the game searching for sun stones; you need a certain amount of these to raise the islands. There are perks to raising islands – they will not only unlock new characters to befriend, but they will also give you new activities to partake in, which is great considering how repetitive the game can be. However, before you can even start looking for your sun stones, your farm will be your top priority.
Players start off the game focusing on farming to gain profits because everyone needs a little cash money in their pockets. This, in turn, will help you expand your farm into something much more massive. Thankfully, the control scheme, which made farming quite the hassle in Island of Happiness, has been fixed. In Island of Happiness, the heavy use of the stylus greatly distracted from the quality of the game. Often the stylus would get in the way of doing simple tasks, and make them take a lot longer to complete than if you had the option to use the buttons or d-pad. In Sunshine Islands, you have the option to choose between the stylus and the basic DS controls, which is a nice addition to the game. It’s great to be able to alternate between the two depending on what is convenient at the time, since not all of the stylus-based controls are poorly implemented. It’s not perfect though, as sometimes there are just too many different controls and menus that it’s easy to get lost in them, and accidentally use a tool or throw away an item by accident.
With that said, the farming still stands strong in this game, but there’s something about this Harvest Moon title that makes it seem much more chore-like than usual. Perhaps this is due to the lack of story and dullness of the characters. Normally, the gameplay wouldn’t feel quite as lackluster to me, but because the impressive characters are absent, farming seems like more work than usual. Also, to add a bit of realism, you have stamina and fullness meters that determine how much work you can do in a day. Neglect one or the other, and you’re bound to pass out or sleep-in the next day, which cuts into the activities you can accomplish. Unfortunately, watering the basic crops for the day would deplete more than half of my stamina bar, so I was constantly going to sandwich shops and cafes to eat something to replenish it. This adds a cash sink to the game, but it is also there to make sure you don’t overdo your cash crops to gain money faster than normal. Personally, I’d rather have it up to the player how much activity they can partake in a given day. The game has a clock that is constantly ticking, which limits most of the activities you can get to in a day in itself. The stamina and fullness bars seem more obtrusive to the gameplay than actually adding anything valuable. Yes, the hunger/stamina bars make the game more challenging, but maybe there’s a better way to implement them into the game. For instance, if your character gets hungry have him or her be able to take another character out for a picnic or if your character gets tired allow them to grab a coffee with a friend or even allow your character to relax in the sauna with the character they are trying to romance. An added social bonus would improve this aspect of the game immensely.
The game does attempt to combat some of the chore-like duties you have to endure by making things a little easier on you. Once you meet some of the Harvest Sprites, you can begin enchanting. When you enchant things, you send a Sprite to either do a chore for you or unlock a special bonus elsewhere in the game. The Sprites can accomplish a range of tasks, such as watering your crops, lowering store prices, increasing your charm with certain characters, and adding to your fishing skill for a day. You can request them to do these tasks, but once the Sprites complete them, they need to rest for a certain amount of days before they can help you out again. These are great for days where you want to take some of the stress off yourself with the daily activities or to help you get one step closer to winning the heart of the girl or guy of your choice. Another bonus to make your chores easier are magical orbs called wonderfuls. Wonderfuls can be attached to your farming tools to make them more powerful, which is sure to lessen the burden of some of your daily tasks.
As it stands, the gameplay doesn’t do anything new or deviate at all from the basic Harvest Moon formula, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work either. I found the gameplay to be a mixed bag; there were times I was absolutely bored with it, and other times when I found great enjoyment with it. As you advance in the game, more things open up for you to do, and this should ease some of the tedium you may feel at first. The developers at least packed this game with a lot of things to do. You can make various upgrades to your farm, partake in festivals, enter various contests that reward you for your hard work on your farm, visit new islands where you meet new people and see new sights, find new recipes, and there’s a good deal of mining for you to take on. There’s even more than that to do, but it gives you an idea of some of the opportunities that await you in Sunshine Islands, and I’ll let the rest surprise you.
The Visuals and Sound of the Island
Sunshine Islands looks decent on the DS. It’s quite a colorful game, and the different islands have their own flavor and detail. However, I wish the actual town had a little more variety and personality. The characters are 3D and have the usual cute Harvest Moon appeal. The character portraits also follow the same suit. For some reason with the DS games, they’ve made the characters look more childish, probably to appeal to a younger audience. The only problem I have with that is you’re not a child in this game; you’re trying to romance these characters and eventually marry one. It feels weird when the character portraits make them look like they are twelve years old. Despite that, I did enjoy the surroundings and appreciated the amount of beautiful colors used throughout the game.
The music throughout the game is nothing to write home about – it’s adequate, but there’s nothing memorable about it. That says something because I had to listen to these tunes day in and day out in the game, and yet I can’t think of one that left a lasting impression on me. The music felt more like it was something I tolerated rather than something that enhanced the game. Sunshine Islands also features adequate sound effects, which add a little realism to your daily farming routine. These brought the full farming experience to life, and added a little much-needed zest to the game.
How Sunny is Sunshine Islands?
Sunshine Islands is a passable installment in the Harvest Moon series. It’s a great pick up and play game, but it doesn’t do much new. My hope is that the series will continue to try to spin in new directions, try unique things, take some risks, and flesh out the narrative more in future installments. If you’re a hardcore Harvest Moon fan, then I don’t even have to say anything, you’ve probably already picked up this game regardless. If you haven’t touched Island of Happiness, I’d say pick this game up instead; it’s essentially a better version of it. If you’re new to the series, this is by no means the best Harvest Moon game I’ve played, but you’ll find some enjoyment in it. What it comes down to is that Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands is an adequate starting point for new Harvest Moon fans and a run-of-the-mill experience for veterans. It’s one of the better DS Harvest Moon games to snag at the store, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking.