Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life
- Developer: Marvelous Interactive
- Release: 2004
It's regarded as a mis-step by many long-term fans of the series, but for some (and for many newcomers), this stripped-down, socially focused, incredibly laid-back 3D Harvest Moon was completely spellbinding. It's certainly unique - there's still nothing else like it, within the Harvest Moon series or outwith. Noob Tom loved it, finding that it awakened in him that same weird, paternal investment that made most fans fall in love with Harvest Moon years before. It's a calm, relaxing and charming game, with enough hidden weirdness to satisfy any cult collector.
What we said: "This truly delivers exactly what it promises: A Wonderful Life."
- Developer: Skip
- Release: 2003 (Japan-only)
This really is a weird one. It falls into that Harvest Moon/Animal Crossing category of sort-of freeform games set in an odd town, and casts you as a boy who's missed his coming-of-age ceremony and is forced to wander around with his face pixellated and a ball and chain around his ankle as punishment. The game's basically about redeeming yourself and learning how to come of age, which involves helping people, as it turns out, as you learn after a few weeks of service to the money-obsessed town mayor. You run around collecting people's problems (most of which, humourously, you cause yourself), eating mushrooms and getting to know the mental townspeople. What makes Giftpia worth a look for non-Japanese-speakers are its brilliant offbeat musical score, made up of contributions from over 20 Japanese bands, and its psychedelic visuals. Even without a word of the language, this is a trippy and quite awesome aesthetic experience - actually playing the game is simple enough to just pick up, and the slapstick, gesture-heavy character interactions mean that you'll know what's going on, even if you do miss out on the characters' mad dialogue.
What we said: Never reviewed. To be fair, nobody outside of Japan ever even touched it.
Harvest Moon: Magical Melody
- Developer: Marvelous Interactive
- Release: 2005
I reckon this is the best Harvest Moon game ever made - more industrious than A Wonderful Life, considerably more expansive, but less social. It's still a beautiful escape to a virtual world where hard work always pays off and cows have happy, lovely faces, and the musical notes system adds a new Achievement Points-esque style drive to the game beyond the simple and addictive allure of just farming. Plus, there's no need to buy separate boy and girl versions, as you can play as either. The characters have just enough definition to make you form an attachment, and because you live within the town instead of on the outskirts, you feel a part of the community and an attachment to setting like no Harvest Moon game has ever provoked before. Absolutely essential.
What we said: "If there's a hunger inherent to Harvest Moon: Magical Melody, it's the hunger to keep playing it until you've seen it all, and it'll be a long time until it's sated."
- Developer: Treasure
- Release: 2003
We don't really need to introduce Ikaruga. It's a twitch-gaming work of art, an incredibly rare Dreamcast vertical shooter whose re-release on the GameCube gave it a new chance to reach the audience it was meant for. It is genuinely a masterwork of the form, and the selection of difficulty levels does nothing to soften its rigorous, gloriously punishing difficulty. It's a masochistic breed of gamer that enjoys challenges like this, but you don't have to be able to play it with your feet like that terrifying Korean boy in order to enjoy it.
What we said: "This is perhaps the purest gameplay experience you'll find for a long time."
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