In 2004 Natsume released one of the most popular games in their series of potato farming simulators, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life. It was developed by Marvelous Interactive Inc for the Nintendo Gamecube and remains one of the few reasons to utilize a Wii for those who are lacking in the Gamecube department. The game revolves around a young, unnamed-until-the-player-names-him boy who comes to help manage a farm. No specific backstory is given, leaving the player free to pull one from the depths of their likely long-neglected imagination. The young protagonist is met by Takakura, his father’s best friend, who indicates that he brought the hero to the farm because he thought the lad would be happy there. Takakura takes the boy on the standard Harvest Moon tour, showing him the facilities on the farm, local landmarks, and introducing him to key townspeople. Everyone is, of course, cheerful, cute as a bug’s nose, and eager to become the hero’s best friend for life.
Although the game is a potato farming sim, there are other aspects of the game to be explored, should one be so inclined. If by chance the wonders of both potatoes and sweet potatoes are insufficient amusements, the player can focus on other aspects of farm life. There are other less potato-ish crops to grow or livestock to maintain. Off of the farm there is abundant fishing opportunities, as well as an archaeological site to dig through. However the main focus of the game, and the only way to actually progress beyond Chapter 1 is by building relationships with the townsfolk.
The game is divided into six chapters. As previously alluded to, chapter 1 revolves around building relationships, specifically relationships with girls. In order to progress in the game beyond chapter 1, the hero must charm and marry one of three possibe wives. They consist of the ditzy bubbly blonde girl, the emo redhead, and the nice and normal brunette. If the hero can successfully woo one of these ladies and marry her, the next chapter begins, with the addition of a baby. The remaining five chapters will occur automatically, without any prerequisites. As each chapter advances, the hero and his family will age, as will the townsfolk. New townspeople may move in, while some may move away or even pass away. The purpose of the game is to raise the child and to see what he grows up to be. His future is determined by a combination of natural predispositions based upon who his mother is, and the hero’s influence. Influence can occur through either exposing the child to certain toys, or by building friendships with certain townsfolk who will in turn influence the child to favour one field of study or another.
Unlike many other games in the series, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life is not particularly concerned with how much money one makes, or how many potatoes one can grow. Instead it encourages the player to give anything and everything away as gifts in order to buy friends, and to spend more time running hither and thither to socialize. If desired, though, there is significant room for expansion on the farm, with options to order new buildings and landscaping features for significant sums, so it is certainly possible and even reasonable to focus on things such as breeding livestock and growing acres of produce. So long as the hero selects a wife by the end of chapter 1, the game will continue and cannot truly be “lost”. The inability to truly lose may be a negative aspect to some gamers who enjoy striving for simulated perfection, or a bonus to those who dislike games that seem like more work than, well, their real work.
Visually the game is pleasant enough with its superdeformed characters, bright cheerful environments and 3D detailing that is quite good for the console. In fact it is on par with many Wii games, making it a reasonable addition to a gamer’s Wii library thanks to that console’s backwards compatibility. All in all it is a game that stands the test of time well, and is an enjoyable mind-numbing experience for those who enjoy potato simulators but want an easy carefree game that does not require careful planning and execution in order to be successful.