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   Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon - Staff Review  

New Spin on Established Series
by Anna Marie Neufeld

FARMING SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Variable
COMPLETION TIME
40-70 Hours
OVERALL

4.0/5

Rating definitions 

   It's not unusual for established series to try something new, but not want to risk the main series on a potential flop: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, Starcraft and other titles have attempted it with various levels of success. So, what happens when, in the future, there is no arable land to farm? Autofarming becomes the way to go, with artificial crops and machine-run barns. However, when a dark curse from the past threatens to sink an island, an elderly man puts all his life's research and love into a robot: an Innocent Life, and tasks that new creation with saving the island by unlocking the secrets lost in a war long ago. Cue Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon, a side story of sorts to the series that puts a new spin on old ideas. With a slight push away from monotonous farming and into fun exploration, an excellent storyline and tons of replay value, this is a title that few RPGamers will want to miss.

   The Fire Spirit is angry, and the volcano under the isle stirs. Legend says only a pure heart who truly cares for the land as well as their fellow human can save the island from certain doom. Time to get to work! The Easter Ruins were abandoned long ago, cursed by the humans who fought over the island. Though the farmland was once expansive, it's now down to one small plot, which the player begins with. Around the island are doors sealed by mysterious forces that are opened by special gems. The gems themselves play two roles. One, placing four gems of the same color frees a field from the curse, allowing the player access to more farmland. Two, as implied, they also unlock a variety of doors around the island, allowing access to new areas for the player to explore. On the farm front, the player must use the basic tools (hammer, hoe, watering can, axe, and scythe) to keep the farm clear of debris and plant an initial crop. The game holds the player's hand for the first week then lets the player roam free afterwards. Each season has up to nine produce items that can be grown, and several types of flowers. Growing certain plants may unlock certain events or secrets in town, and even some new recipes for the player's kitchen. Although farming is, as always, important, this title puts emphasis on exploration as well - caves have hidden treasures such as the gems and upgraded tools to find, and puzzles must be solved in order to fully learn the island's secrets.

A Chest! A Gem Inside? A Chest! A Gem Inside?

   One of the downsides of Innocent Life is the lack of variety in music. While the various areas of the game have different music, this music changes little (if at all) between seasons, meaning the player is generally listening to the same four or five tunes the entire length of the game with few changes. The enchanting futuristic swooshing sound effects do make up for some of the monotony, and do lend an advanced feel to the game. The graphics also aid in this futuristic feel. Unlike previous Harvest Moon games which tended towards sweet and cute visuals, this time around the presentation leans more towards the realistic and futuristic. Lifts are prominent and move smoothly, and technology abounds around town. The school is filled with computers and large screen teaching devices, while all the farming others are doing is completely automated. The level of detail in the graphics is surprising--when riding the buggy gifted early in the game, the character's hair blows in the wind. The attention to detail is nice and should please the player.

   How difficult any Harvest Moon game is depends upon the effort the player wishes to put in, and Innocent Life is no different. The more a player plants and the more animals the player wishes to keep, the greater the daily upkeep needed. Thankfully, much of the upkeep that used to have to be done completely by hand is now either automated or semi-automated, taking much of the monotony of previous games away. Animals are automatically fed and have their goods delivered to the bins via a conveyor belt. If the player wishes to use milk for cheese or eggs for mayonnaise/breeding, the option to pull these items before they are shipped also exists, simply by taking the item off of the conveyor belt inside the barn. Sheep are automatically sheared once per week. Flowers are harvested by outside help the player requests via the television. The player also acquires a helper bot which can water, till soil, remove debris, and fetch processed wood and stones. This means that if the player wishes, the only task truly done by hand needs to be planting and harvesting. This can be further aided by the Bas&Ket system, a trolley system which allows the delivery of baskets wherever the player places rails, as well as an autoharvester which automatically dumps bins it receives into the shipping pods. This means that players can kick back and take farming easy, once they've bought everything necessary to set up. Due to this large amount of automation possible as well as how the story is laid out, players can expect to beat the game in as little as 40 hours, although there is more to do once the credits roll. The 1000 Crop Challenge will easily eat up an additional two years, pushing the game upwards of 70 hours including this optional quest.

   The interface is clean and futuristic, as can be expected. The left shoulder button brings up the backpack of the player, where tools and other necessities are held. There is a finite amount of room in the pack however, so pack sensibly. There is an item storage facility which can hold any number of items and is accessible both at the farm level and the storage level of the ruins. The right shoulder button brings up a variety of maintenance menus, from examining how the player is progressing with tool levels, to the number of dishes cooked, and how happy the animals on the farm are. For the most part the game is localized well but there are several flaws evident in the translation. All ores are referred to as "an", so awkward sentences such as "An Volcano Ore" crop up. There is also some minor goofs in the cooking section, where tea is "marinated." These errors certainly do not break the game in any fashion but are evident enough they should have been picked up on.

Full Fields Full Fields - Bas&Ket Running

   Every Sunday, Dr. Hope (father and creator of the Innocent Life) performs maintenance on the player to ensure everything is going well. During these times, the story is revealed and stretches over the next week to several weeks. Each season now has 5 weeks, with the 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th and 35th being Sundays. Life goes on as normal on the island, so children go to school during the week and adults work; the weekends there are adult classes and other activities and the children are out playing. As the seasons pass, and on different days of the week, NPCs may have small variations in what they say. For the most part, the town is painfully static. Despite this, there is an actual story to be told, unlike many previous Harvest Moon games which consisted of merely "save the farm from disaster." The originality of the game is evident from the start and continues in: the player is a robot and not human (and thus cannot marry); the interaction aspect with the townfolks is not here; different trees produce different fruit depending on the season and there is a finite amount that can be harvested at a time. Obviously, the entire futuristic theme is new to the series. It is less that the game is highly original but because it feels so much different than previous Harvest Moon titles even long time veterans to the series will find this a breath of fresh air.

   Having Innocent Life on the PSP was an artful move: not only is the system short of quality RPGs, but with the ability to save almost anywhere along with the greatly reduced tedium means that this game will appeal to a much broader audience than the previous Harvest Moon entries. It sets the tone for the first serious Harvest Moon title aimed primarily at adults, with a different pace and attitude. Though some iffy localization and poor music hurt, it doesn't detract from the fact that this is a solid title both veterans to the series as well as newcomers should pick up.

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