Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness is one of two titles released by Natsume to celebrate the series’ tenth anniversary. Essentially an upgraded version of Harvest Moon DS with a different story, it would normally be correct to challenge such a product as unnecessary.
Not with Harvest Moon, though. The fanbase is intensely loyal, and the games are designed to keep playing for months and years, so bug fixes, tightened controls and a few more features can go a long way in keeping the experience fresh. In a series known for reusing characters, IoH features a largely original cast of townsfolk, including new bachelors and bachelorettes to court.
The graphics are upgraded from HMDS, as expected, and aren’t amazing but do enough. The sounds and music have a charming quality to them, but some more variety would have really helped in a game that’s made to be played for hundreds of hours. Of course, as usual, this Harvest Moon title contains a few bugs, but they don’t break the game, and are largely avoidable.
The goals and costs for things have increased since the first DS game. Where HMDS had almost infinitely deep mines and an insane number of Harvest Sprites to unlock, Island of Happiness has just one medium-sized mine and no Sprites. On the other hand, attracting and keeping villagers has become more time-consuming, and construction costs have been, shall we say, adjusted for inflation.
Island of Happiness would have benefited from a control scheme that uses the D-pad, simply because the game is laid out into little squares anyway. There are times when the system is as easy to grasp as Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and there are times when it’s hard to line up the character at all for watering or a similar task. That said, anyone looking to invest in Harvest Moon should be prepared to play more than long enough to get used to the system.
A small bonus is IoH‘s WiFi connection support. While there’s not much to do, a weekly contest allows longtime players to compete to complete specific objectives, like growing the most of a certain crop or making the most money.
Critics will largely pan this game because it doesn’t have enough upgrades to appeal to the gaming mainstream. Nevertheless, it added a lot that series fans were hoping for. There’s still room for improvement, but IoH can hold its own until the next installment.