It is hard to imagine that a game about doing mundane chores can be fun and addicting. Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands is the latest game in a long running series that has players farm, raise animals and make friends all while they complete a light story that usually involves saving their neighborhood or bringing it back to its former glory. While Sunshine Islands doesn't differ from this path at all, it still manages to be a very addicting game with plenty to do.
Many of the recent Harvest Moon titles tie in a small story to try and spice up the old formula. In Sunshine Islands, your character soon finds out that he or she has to save the islands everyone lives on by raising them out of the sea. To accomplish this, players must find sun stones and dump them into a shrine on one of the islands. Sun stones can be acquired by finding them in hidden spots, giving gifts to the townspeople, shipping a certain amount of a certain crop, and many other ways. By raising the islands you attract new people to live on them.
The problem with the story in some of the previous Harvest Moon titles was that they were separated from your daily activities. This made progressing in the story difficult since there is usually not enough time in the day to farm and work on progressing farther in the plot. In Sunshine Islands, the story coincides with your daily life. Most of the sun stones can be obtained just by doing your daily chores, so it makes the process much more pleasant. Plus, the islands you raise keep the game fresh by gradually giving you new areas to explore.
Sunshine Islands is very bright and lighthearted. This is a welcome change from all of the shooters and heavy action games being released these days. Everything is colorful, the 3-D models look good, and the anime style pictures of the characters are very charming. Even though many of the characters are from previous Harvest Moon games, they are still full of life. The only problem with the characters is the inclusion of a couple of faceless fishermen and miners that blend into the background.
The islands look great as well. Each island has its own theme and its own look. The characters travel from island to island, so the new ones you raise don't just feel like a static addition to the game. Even the characters' houses are all varied. They can range from a small, one room house to a multistory mansion, and the interiors reflect the specific character's lifestyle.
Like the graphics, the sound is also very upbeat and cheerful. The music definitely stands out the most. While the music on the two main islands where everyone lives doesn't change throughout the year, the music for the other islands reflects what season it is in the game. While the outdoor music is great, the indoor music can get a little irritating. The music is almost always the same when you are indoors and if you have your volume turned up a decent amount you will hear it distort in the speakers. The song is good, but the track itself should have been mixed better so it would not sound distorted at some parts.
If you have ever played a Harvest Moon game before, Sunshine Islands will feel very familiar. The game progresses in seasons and every year has four, 30-day seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter. The season governs what crops you can plant, what you forage and what types of fish you can catch. Since farming is the best way to get money, the largest impact the seasons have is on the crops. Besides farming, the other two important aspects of Sunshine Islands are caring for your animals and making friends with the people in town.
Most of the individual elements in Sunshine Islands are very straightforward. To farm, you get seeds, plant them in a tilled field, water them everyday and ship them off when they are ready. The in-game tutorials give great explanations on farming and everything else you have to do in the game. In addition to shipping crops you harvest, you can also forage, fish, and mine for various things to ship and make money off of.
Throughout the course of the game, you can upgrade your farm. You can expand your house, buy new furniture, and build new structures such as a chicken coop and a barn. With the new buildings come new responsibilities. After fulfilling certain requirements you will get animals such as chickens, cows and your trusty dog to care for. Some of them, like the cows and sheep, produce products that you can sell. You can also enter them in festivals to see if you have the best animal out of anyone.
The last core element in the game play is making friends. To do this you have to talk to people every day and give them gifts. Each person has specific gifts they like and don't like. What I found interesting about interacting with the people in Sunshine Islands is they will not accept your gifts right away. You have to build a relationship with them first by talking to them for a few days and then you can start giving them gifts. This makes them look less shallow and greedy, but not by much. This step is important because after you make friends with them, they will give you sun stones. You can also woo the girl or guy of your choice by showering them in gifts they love and eventually marry them.
To do most of these things you will need tools. Like in the previous games, you can upgrade your tools to cover more area or have more force behind them. You do this by attaching different colored stones called "wonderfuls" to the tools. You obtain wonderfuls by winning festivals, or by buying them at one of the stores. The system works like Final Fantasy VII's materia system, in that you can equip a certain number of colored stones to an object to make it more powerful.
Although there is a lot to do, your character does get tired after a while. Thankfully, Sunshine Islands has a stamina bar and a fullness bar on the top screen of the DS to help you maintain your character's well being. One downside to this is the stamina and fullness go down rather quickly, so you have to take time out of your day to eat which can get mildly annoying. Also, I find it strange that the meal you eat at the beginning of each day does not fill you up at all.
Another good top screen feature is the map. This map shows where just about every character is during the day. With this you don’t have to memorize every character's schedule like you had to do in the older Harvest Moon games. However, it does not work perfectly. The map does not update in real time, so you have to go inside a building, or go to a different island to update the map. This can get frustrating when a character you are looking for is in one house, but when you enter that house you find the character either outside or in another building.
The biggest improvement this game has over the other DS installments is optional stylus controls. In the previous Harvest Moon games for the DS, stylus control was mandatory and it made the game feel sluggish. In Sunshine Islands, you can opt to use the control pad and the buttons and this makes for a much more immersible experience. The control layout is good and the shortcuts involving the shoulder buttons make equipping tools relatively easy. The only small annoyance is when you buy the larger rucksack you have to pause the game and manually look through it every time you want to pull out a specific item.
Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands is anything but boring. Even though the tasks may seem mundane and uneventful, there is a lot going on in this game. Raising the islands gives you new areas to explore and different events happen throughout the game to keep it fresh. Yes, you do generally do the same thing everyday, but Sunshine Islands does it in such a way that the experience is enjoyable and addicting without moving into the realm of repetitive and boring. There are some minor flaws and annoyances, but they are in no way game breaking. With the new controls, Sunshine Islands is joy to play and if you are a perfectionist it will keep you busy for a long while.