There's trouble in Harmonica Town and you're the only one who can stop it. You being a young lad who's just come to the town with the hopes of establishing his own farm. As a premise, it couldn't be any more departed from the rest of the industry's over-drammatic tales of woe if it tried, but that's what makes Harvest Moon endearing. It has still maintained its ability to stick to its guns and deliver a fun experience, while still finding quirky ways to expand and cater to its very dedicated fanbase. And this is no different with Harvest Moon: Animal Parade.
Starting off, the first thing you'll probably notice is that there is very little in the way of a tutorial and your initial plot of land is already populated. For players who've never played a Harvest Moon game before, this could make things a little confusing, but if they have any common sense they can probably figure things out. There are still plenty of books lying around to help people who're still stuck and Finn, a Harvest Sprite, is also on hand to give more context-sensitive assistance.
Now, we know that Harmonica Town is in trouble, but speaking to the Mayor doesn't really help to explain why. It's after speaking to the town's residents that things start to become more apparent. The whole place is falling into disrepair and many believe it's because of the Goddess Tree. In short, it's up to you to restore the five elemental bells and save the day. Again, it's a story that's there as more of a guide. It's not meant to be taken seriously at all.
The world is one of the largest, if not the largest in the history of Harvest Moon. There are plenty of places to explore and with numerous landscapes. One thing that's interesting though is that each of the main places is quite far apart and walking between them can take a while. It's very intentional though, as the game is trying to focus more on realism, but it can get a bit tedious sometimes. It's only really an issue when walking though, because you can ride your animals.
There are numerous things which make a Harvest Moon game, a Harvest Moon game. Firstly, would be the farming. Then you have the pets, building relationships with people and having children. However, there's also fishing and mining, which constitute another form of "farming", to use the MMO term. You'll need to go mining in order to get valueable ores, but it can be quite a frustrating affair because of the negative status effects the game inflicts on you. Once you've got your ores, you'll then have to pay to have them refined, but there's only a chance it can be turned into something useful. It's a system which promotes happiness if everything works out, but it can be rather annoying if things don't go as planned.
The farming works as expected. You acquire seeds, plant them and then sell the produce. The relationships also work as fans of the franchise will expect. However, the developers have added some functionality to the children aspect of the relationship. You can now have two children and they will grow up to be teenagers who're able to help out on the farm. Their personalities will also differ depending on how they're brought up and who their mother is. It actually has a lot more depth this time around and it's nice that they included this heavily requested feature.
There are a few performance issues which hinder an otherwise fine experience though. Firstly, the graphics are looking considerably dated and they look poor even for a Nintendo Wii title. To further this, the game also has frame-rate issues in almost all of the areas, which just adds insult to injury. To further add to the games performance problems, there are loading screens in a lot of places and they aren't short either. There is also a semi-fixed camera, which isn't the most helpful of things. It would have been nice if you had a bit more control over what it was showing.
Now, the knock-on effect of this is that the game is all about time. And when the game slows down, it also slows down the in-game speed. So, while they did make days a bit longer than previous installments, the slowdown makes them even longer. If you're in particularly demanding areas, it means a day can take up to 20 minutes longer than intended (a typical day lasts around 30 minutes real time).
The game still has a wealth of replay value though, there is a ton of stuff to keep you busy. Upgrading your home is one of the things which may take the most time, especially getting it to the top tier, but building up a family is also a nice touch. There's also a new game plus option too, for those who want to go through it all again.
Harvest Moon: Animal Parade is one of the most expansive Harvest Moon titles to date, and the developers have implemented a lot of the feedback they've received from previous titles. There is a ton of stuff to do and the additions to the family aspect of the game are a welcome addition. However, the game has some serious performance issues in the form of frame-rate drops, which genuinely affect the entire experience. The graphics are also beyond sub-standard and it's about time this aspect of the game was taken more seriously.