Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands has just debuted on the DS, and the best way to describe it as Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness version 2.0. It features all the same characters and an almost identical setting, but fixes all of the problems and imperfections of the first game.
You come to the islands in Sunshine Islands as a young man or woman who dreams of becoming a farmer and rancher. The islands have recently been rediscovered and repopulated, and those who’ve played Island of Happiness will recognize all of the familiar faces from the previous game. A few days after receiving your ranch, everyone on the islands hears a mysterious voice. Pretty much everyone then goes to a seemingly deserted island.
Once you get there, you hear a voice and walk towards a shrine. A sprite appears! He tells you that eight of the islands of this chain have sunk, and you must help them find the missing sun stones to raise the islands again. Thankfully, this is mainly accomplished by doing your daily chores.
It really feels like Marvelous just took Island of Happiness and just fixed everything everyone had an issue with the first time around. Like, for instance, the control scheme. You can now choose between touch screen controls and standard controls. This was a big deal for me, as the touch screen controls in Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness were what eventually made me stop playing the game. The touch screen control system is the same from Island of Happiness and isn’t horrible, just the standard control scheme feels more natural. Both are there though, so you can test both to determine which works best for you.
There are also more items and options in Sunshine Islands. Will and Lily are the new bachelor and bachelorette added in. You can have dogs, cats or pigs as pets. You can make friends with wild animals to get extra items. There’s also more of a collection element as there are more recipes than before and sunstones to acquire. It adds more motivation and variety to the game.
Heart events are much more traditional in Sunshine Islands, which should make it easier to get the men and women you want to marry you. There are now four events for each character, for purple, blue, green and yellow heart levels, and two answers for each one.
I also found the harvest sprites more helpful in this entry. They can do more than just help out around the farm, they can also help you make friends quicker and other unusual tasks. Plus, they’re available right at the start of the game.
Another thing that was slightly fixed was the way crops grow in the game. In Island of Happiness each kind of crop required a certain amount of water and light, and if you wanted the highest quality you’d have to pray for sunny (or cloudy) days and repeatedly return to your farm to keep watering. In Sunshine Islands crops are less demanding, and an overcast day won’t ruin your whole crop. I found I could typically get adequate, sometimes even above average, crops by just watering in the mornings.
I was also impressed by some things immediately available in Chen’s shop. You can buy bigger rucksacks right away and, if you have enough money, you can buy the teleport stone right away. I thought it was just nice to see Chen have such a wide selection of products right away.
It would have been nice if Sun Stones had been a bit easier to collect. There are a handful you can find just by clicking on areas in the environment, but most are reached by performing a certain action or doing a certain thing 100 times, making friends, giving certain gifts and learning recipes. It provides players with a purpose, but I prefer the whole mission and task system used in Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility and Harvest Moon: Animal Parade, where you must find specific items or do specific things to advance the story.
One of the new additions is the farm degree, something that some Harvest Moon fans may like. I’ve been playing since the first SNES entry, and wasn’t pleased with it, but there could be people who’d like the new concept. You can’t just do, mine, fish and grow whatever, you want in Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands. You have to earn the farm degree for it first. For example, you can’t get certain seeds or animals until you have enough crop or animal points. Or you can’t cook a certain recipe, even if you have all the ingredients, unless you’ve already cooked a substantial amount of lower level recipes. It makes things feel more realistic, but it also makes things quite harder. Part of the fun of Harvest Moon, for me, is to be able to just decide to do whatever I want, when I want. To know now that I can’t suddenly just decide to head to the bottom of a mine on the 28th of a month because I haven’t mined enough previously is just annoying.
Aside from the new influence of the farm degree system, Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands is quite possibly the best, and most pure, portable Harvest Moon game to date. The focus is on the farming and relationship building, and the overall story mission encourages those endeavors, rather than distracting from them. From the beginning of the game, practically everything and everyone you need is immediately available, and you can focus on making your farm great.
Food for Thought
- If you own Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness, I’d advise you consider trading it in towards Sunshine Islands. It’s essentially the exact same game, only much, much better.
- I like having all the major island citizens, with one or two exceptions, available at the very start of the game, but it feels like it takes away some of the motivation to work and develop the island.
- If you buy soybeans in spring and plant them, you’ll get an error message. Soybeans are a fall crop, despite what the game says. Plant them in fall and you’ll be fine.