You don’t have to be a fan of the long running Harvest Moon series to enjoy the simple charms of the sandbox-style farm sims. There’s something perversely satisfying about tending your own crops and raising livestock for hours on end, or putting some personal touches on your dwelling and whipping up a culinary masterpiece in your kitchen. Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility is the latest title in the series, and it’s a Wii exclusive.
After choosing to play as a boy or a girl, and making the sea voyage out to the delectably titled but sparsely populated Waffle Island, you embark on a lengthy intro and tutorial session which familiarises you with all the necessary skills and knowledge to get started running your own farm. The Wii remote and nunchuck set-up is well suited to this type of game; activities such as fishing are so much more fun when the controller movement mimics the real thing. At this point we should mention that load screens are frequent and sometimes quite lengthy, which does affect the flow of play – especially when travelling from one area to another on the island.
As well as tending crops and raising animals, there are a number of other wholesome activities you can engage in to pass the time and maybe earn a bit of money, which is required for almost everything – from food to farming equipment, to furniture and décor.
Besides the more mundane business of running a farm, making friends (both human and animal), and wooing that special somebody to share your life with, there’s also a main storyline involving the Harvest Goddess and the restoration of Waffle Island. Details of this are drip-fed as you fulfil certain criteria within the game.
Seasons change and time passes very quickly in the game – almost too quickly to achieve anything significant on any given day. You might choose to water, weed or harvest your crops, or perhaps dig out your fishing rod and head for your favourite spot, or maybe go mining for treasure or shop some wood. Many of these activities also require stamina, which is in limited supply. Initially it is all too easy to run low on stamina before morning smoko time, and if you do overexert yourself you’ll risk winding up at the medical clinic, receiving treatment for exhaustion. Fortunately, frequent use of a particular tool will make you more proficient, which means you will use less stamina to complete your chores.
There are a couple of new animals to raise in Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility. Move over boring old livestock and chooks, and make way for the more exotic ostriches and silkworms! Your character can also befriend wild animals; with the right approach and a bit of perseverance they can even become household pets.
Relationships have always been a major feature of the Harvest Moon series, and there are a number of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes on Waffle Island – as well as rival suitors. If you don’t play your cards right with your chosen mate, someone else may snap him or her up. Once you’ve safely made the trip down the aisle, however, you can look forward to the patter of little feet – and eventually the prospect of playing the game as your offspring.
There are a handful of mini-games to unlock, by attending various festivals. These can be played against your friends, but due to their high frustration factor you probably wouldn’t fire up an extra Wii remote or three just to play them.
Visually, the colours are vibrant and the level of detail and animation is on par with previous Harvest Moon titles. To be honest though, the graphic quality is not truly Wii-worthy. The camera had a life of its own at times, and the occasional unpredictable and awkward angles can interfere with your line of sight. Music and sound effects are pleasant enough and a good fit for the game’s simple animations; however the character’s voice quality is terribly distorted at times.
Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility doesn’t venture far from the well trodden path of its predecessors; however it does offer a welcome safe haven from the trials and tribulations of the real world, and like all Harvest Moon titles will probably keep you playing a lot longer than you intended. As such it is excellent value for money, and we can recommend it for younger gamers or fans of the series.