Compared to franchises like Mario and The Legend of Zelda, Harvest Moon is perhaps not so well-known, despite the fact that its roots began way back in the NES/Super Nintendo era. The series has had many installments, however, (both hand-held and console) and Tree of Tranquility just so happens to be the first one for the Wii.
Has Natsume succeeded in yet another Harvest Moon adventure? Has the new select-your-gender option made this latest installment appealing to guys and girls alike?
Keep reading for answers!
Tired of living in your droll urban life, you one day receive a brochure about a beautiful place known as Waffle Island. Immediately, you book your tickets and catch the next boat-ride to the island with the hope of starting a ranching business. Unfortunately, a storm breaks out just as you near your destination and you are knocked senseless in the rocking vessel.
In your feverish dreams, a beautiful woman–as striking as a goddess–appears and weakly begs for your help. Just as quickly, she is gone. You awake to find yourself alive and resting in the island’s one hotel, the Sundae Inn.
As fate would have it, the island is gorgeous… but it’s not quite everything that you’d thought it’d be. The Mother Tree, the large tree said to represent the presence of the Harvest goddess, has died, and nothing has been right since. The soil has become harder to cultivate, animals have become untamed, dangerous storms have sprung up, and the wind has died. Despairingly, many residents of the village have packed up and left. As days pass, your dreams are still occupied by the vision of the mysterious woman who you believe is none other than the Harvest goddess herself. But what can you do? You are merely a newcomer. You begin to understand that you are the island’s one hope of restoration, but you have no idea where to start. Not only that, but how will the residents react when you tell them about your mysterious dreams and seemingly impossible quest?
Farm life is all about responsibility–something that the player is bound to learn in a hard or easy way. You have animals to take care of, plants to grow, money to make, and things to buy. If you neglect your animals, their produce will suffer and you’ll lose valuable profit. In the most bizarre cases, your animals and plants will die from neglect and you will be left with nothing. Likewise, players are also encouraged to watch how much they spend, especially at the game’s beginning when animal feed and farm tools take priority. Unlike previous games in the franchise, Tree of Tranquility has an energy meter, meaning that each time your character works they lose energy and will eventually collapse if you push them too hard. Being responsible, provident, and self-controlled will be vital to your farming.
Tree of Tranquility has a big emphasis on getting to know and befriend people. Players are encouraged to bring other characters gifts and form bonds with them, especially if they find that special someone who is destined to be their future wife/husband. Working a part-time job for one of the island’s businesses improves the player’s standings with other islanders and also yields money.
A large portion of the game involves the player’s quest to restore the island. The main character is quite selfless, and it is obvious that their main motivation is not personal fame, but simply helping others by returning the Island to its former glory.
In addition, there are several little mini-lessons scattered throughout the game’s story, such as being responsible to keep the island clean, the dangers of taking things for granted, and working hard to get what you most want.
Since I’ve already mentioned something about a Harvest goddess, you probably know what’s coming. Here we go…
The main part of the story involves your quest to restore the Mother Tree (the tree said to be inhabited by the Harvest goddess who gives beauty and life to the island). Your character is visited several times by the Harvest goddess through visions, where they are told what they should do next. I would not take anything having to do with this goddess too seriously. Like the Greek gods and goddesses, she is portrayed as weak and almost human. In fact, she even writes you a letter to thank you for all of your hard work!
There is a church in the game which the player can visit regularly. A sign outside reads “Come and worship!” The actual religion is not mentioned, and, despite the sign outside, no services are ever held aside from the occasional weddings that occur. A stained-glass window of the Harvest goddess is set behind the altar, however, and your character and their wife/husband eventually go to the church to “wish” for a healthy child; it is suggested (but never actually stated) that the in-game characters may worship the Harvest goddess in some way. There are no religious leaders. The mayor performs all of the wedding ceremonies.
Cutscene Violence. I think the only “violent” cutscene that happens in the game is another character accidentally running into yours. You are knocked out at the beginning of the game, but this isn’t shown.
Gameplay Violence. Again, following the tradition of previous titles, Tree of Tranquility generally has no violence. Players can whack moles on the head with a hammer while in the mines. They burrow back beneath the ground with stars spinning around their head. One mini-game is a “whack-a-mole” contest.
With the exception of the rare (very rare) mention of “heck,” “dang,” or “darn,” Tree of Tranquility is squeaky-clean in this area.
Perhaps Harvest Moon’s biggest emphasis is on marriage and finding that special someone to settle down with. Fortunately, Natsume keeps all of this very tame.
To woo your bride/groom-to-be, you bring them gifts and talk with them on a daily basis. After reaching a certain relationship level, your boyfriend/girlfriend will bring you a gift, ask you out for lunch, go to special events with you, and eventually confess their feelings and ask if you love them back. After you receive a blue feather (the sign of engagement in the series), you can propose to your special someone and get married in a few days. A couple months later, junior arrives…
Of course, you aren’t the only one who can get married. Other single girls and guys will eventually pair up with each other and have a wedding (and child).
At each wedding, the couple kiss. When you ask your boyfriend/girlfriend to marry you, you will also share a kiss. It never gets any worse than this.
One marriage candidate wears a short skirt and low-cut, midriff-revealing top. Another dresses in a bikini top. Think Gerudo thieves from Ocarina of Time and you’ve got the perfect picture.
Unfortunately, Natsume has made it plain that a Harvest Moon game without a bar just isn’t a Harvest Moon game. Tree of Tranquility is no exception.
The Sundae Inn has a bar that opens every night. The beverages are all called “cocktails,” and your character can buy these to give to their friends or to drink for themselves. These drinks do not get you drunk. However, it should be noted that there is one exception during a cutscene. As you progress through the story, you will come to a part where you must get information from the reluctant mayor. His son, Gill, and several other villagers will inform you that the mayor has been going to the bar a lot lately and drinking more than usual. If you go to the bar on a certain night, you will find the mayor slouched across a table in what is suggested to be a drunken stupor. Your character can then get information from the drowsy mayor.
A few characters enjoy getting cocktails as gifts. One marriage candidate is the daughter of the bartender. Another is a hard-working blacksmith who occasionally talks about having drinking contests with some of the village men.
Other Negative Content
With sixteen possible marriage candidates, I was disappointed to see that not all of them were very … er… desirable.
One candidate is rebellious towards his father, one is a snobby rich-kid stereotype, one is the daughter of the bartender, one is very cruel towards the girl he considers his rival, one wears a revealing dress, one is suggested to be a drinker (etc.) While it is just a game, and the marriages aren’t to be taken too seriously, this might make a great discussion-starter for kids about how to make smart choices in real-life marriage.
Tree of Tranquility was my second dive into the Harvest Moon series, the first being Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life for the Gamecube. Though the amount of activities to do increased from game to game, the control scheme seemed to decline.
The controls are a lot more sensitive when the player is running around (particularly within a building), and the general movement is very light. This is alright until farming comes around and precise controls are vital for picking up eggs, cutting down wheat (etc.). Often, I found myself having to re-adjust my position several times before I could pick up the item I wanted to. When it came to cutting down wheat, I often missed what I was aiming at or cut down the wrong thing. Like I said, the sensitivity takes awhile to get used to, but once you have the knack, gameplay is much, much smoother.
Another thing I initially disliked about the game my first couple of plays was the shortness of the days. In A Wonderful Life, the days were exactly 24 minuets long (if I remember right), so you had plenty of time to do everything you wanted. Not so in Tree of Tranquility. The length of day has been decreased to about ten minuets, which at first seems like hardly enough time to do anything. As the game progressed, however, I soon saw how a day any longer than this would be too long to be enjoyable.
The virtual Wiimote controls are disappointing. A general flick in any direction will work all tools in the game. Personally, I don’t even use the virtual controls because I find them slightly difficult. Buttons on the Wiimote and Nunchuck can be used as an alternate method of control.
As the player begins their adventure, the action is pretty fast-paced. You’re setting up your farm, getting your house, buying new property and animals, dating a guy/girl, and trying to complete your quest to save the island. I had the main story and marriage over with in about a year and a half (game time). After that, things seemed to slouch to an all-time slow where the only “exciting” thing was waiting for my child to be born and then waiting about 2 years (game time) for him/her to finally grow up. Likewise, farming became very routine: get up, milk the cows, let the animals out, collect the eggs, water the crops, pick the crops, sell the produce (etc.). After that, your game ends with the option of replaying as your son or daughter. While some may not find this “lapse” to be boring, I began to lose interest right here.
That isn’t to say that there’s absolutely nothing to do, however. Daring players will want to go deep into the mines and search for rare minerals to refine. Those interested in fishing will want to travel around, looking for the best spot to cast a lure. Besides, there’s always people to visit, gifts to give, friends to make, things to buy, and pets to befriend and take home. Occasionally, a holiday or festival will come by that your character can attend and participate in contests or buy rare items. At best, these festivals are fun the first few times. Sadly, they never change, and once you buy up all of the items for sale, they are basically useless unless you wish to participate in a mini-games (etc.).
Due to the new energy meter feature, younger players may have a hard time with Tree of Tranquility because they won’t understand how to keep from passing out and will likely run about working willy-nilly without a second thought.
Tree of Tranquility, like all its other titles, is a very long game (100+ hours). However, it is a longness based on repetition, and many may stop playing before they ever reach the end.
While most glitches are harmless, there is one that is quite serious. One of the bachelors, Calvin, can’t be married due to the fact that the game freezes up during a scene vital to his marriage process. Several gamers contacted Natsume concerning this, and a new, patched version of the game is now being released. If you get a copy of the glitched version, Natsume is willing to give you a patched one if you send it back and ask for the updated version.
The graphics are nicely done for the style of game. They are generally cartoony. While there is nothing wrong with the in-game graphics, they aren’t the best that I’ve ever seen either. My final say would be simply, “Good. Nice work. A job well-done,” but nothing more.
The weather and season changes are nice touches. The four seasons each have their own look, as well as their own weather conditions.
The few cutscenes used throughout the dating and storyline process are generally more cleaned-up and look nicer than the rest. The New Year’s Eve Festival is perhaps the greatest example. The rising sun burning on the water looks very realistic. This is the game’s graphics at their best.
None of the music in Tree of Tranquility is orchestrated; however, it is presented through an appropriate music synthesizer that doesn’t sound cheesy. All of the music sounds light-hearted and cheerful, lending a very airy side to the game, unlike the gloomier tone of A Wonderful Life. Some of the tracks are very beautiful or addicting (such as the Sundae Inn theme, or the spring time theme).
Sadly, sound doesn’t… er… sound as well as the music. Though a lot of the sounds are good (animal noises and such) others aren’t. The sound of thunder, for example, sounds more like someone flushing a toilet (I’m not trying to be funny here). The two or three lines of voice acting in the game are, at best, few and far between. These sound fuzzy and could have easily been left out.
Unfortunately, Tree of Tranquility is pretty glitchy, and it becomes more obvious as you progress. Harmless, amusing glitches sometimes occur. For example, couples-to-be sometimes start talking about their future children like they’ve already been born (when they haven’t been yet) and even name them (i.e. “Matt is so laid-back, just like his father.”).
For someone used to playing action games like Sonic the Hedgehog, The Legend of Zelda, and Starfox, Tree of Tranquility was a brand new experience for me. I have to admit, it’s a rather perfect game for when you just want to chill out, listen to happy music, and live a simple, virtual life. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about enemies jumping out at you from around every corner!
However, Tree of Tranquility isn’t without fault. Its gameplay and repetition will likely turn many away, but die-hard fans of the series should have absolutely no problem. While the game’s content is very clean in most areas, parents may want to give younger ranchers a talk about drinking, dating, and the goddess mentioned in the game. With a new storyline feature, tons of characters, more land than ever to explore, new animal types, and lots of potential husbands/wives-to-be, Tree of Tranquility certainly has the right to be called the biggest, most involved Harvest Moon adventure of its time.
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The Bottom Line