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Josh Tolentino avatar 12:40 PM on 02.29.2008  (server time)
Innocent Life: Harvest Moon....IN SPAAAAACE!!!

Actually, no. It's Harvest Moon...from the FUTURRRRRE!

Following the Destructoid metric, I'm going to give this one a 6/10. Before you leave with "shitsux" on your lips, note that in my experience, this game seems to thumb its nose at our genre-based notions of what is and isn't good, especially with regard to its own franchise.

I'll tell you now: the good chance is that you simply won't like the game. You may well hate it. In reading this you might conclude that I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel for something to say is good, or that I'm just batshit insane. Recognize that I'm somewhat forgiving of games that can provide an interesting experience in spite of technical or gameplay flaws. You might not, in which case I figure you'll hate Innocent Life.

History first: Innocent Life is the first Harvest Moon game not developed by the franchise's main squeeze, Marvelous. As you may have read in my Rune Factory review, Marvelous handed the reins to the previously invisible dev house ArtePiazza, to take the series in new directions. And as the studio's name might imply, this title seems to concentrate more on the art than the game.

That is to say, Innocent Life is unlike any previous (or possibly future) Harvest Moon game, doing away with or making secondary most of the franchise's core conventions. In favor of what exactly, is difficult to describe or even identify.

You're a child robot, tasked by your creator to live a rural existence at a forgotten ruin, to become "more human". Down the hill is a high-tech town whose residents have forgotten about farm life, relying on technology for living.

The basic elements of an HM game are all there. You clear out land to farm, plant crops, sell them for money, and spend the rest of your time exploring and talking up the neighbors.

Except it doesn't quite work that way. As you go on you'll accumulate a collection of futuristic tools to further and further automate your farming, thus further and further pushing the daily tedium of tending to the land into the background. After you buy a certain device, you won't even need to water the damn plants!

What surfaces after this seeming abandonment of your daily chores is a focus on exploring the island and slowly drawing the story forward. Where all other HM games placed farming as your end-all-be-all, in Innocent Life it takes the passenger seat, calmly assuring in its presence, but never telling you where you should be driving.

But if you don't farm, what the hell do you do?!

For most of the early stages, sadly, the answer is "not a lot". It takes you very little time to finish the chores, and once you start Roomba-rizing your farm, it'll take even less time. You might fill your hours with exploration, but the game's storyline limits your stomping grounds, only pushing forward about once a game week. For a long bit you'll be waiting for the game to let you go forward, seeing six-odd days of jumping back into bed early, before some fun exploration and story events.

And it seems pointless at times. Standing on a cliff waiting for the sun to set, harvesting crops for money but having little to buy, taking care of animals, but unable to enter them in contests. And having no girls to woo and marry (and who'd marry a robot that wasn't KOS-MOS?). If you loved the other HM games, you may well hate this one, or at least like it for entirely different reasons.

The truth is that, taken as itself and not a "Harvest Moon"-type game, it's quite compelling compels. Quiet and just a bit lonely, your little robot boy becomes more human in his rural existence, every action raising his "Human Meter", bringing him closer to nature.

Its beautiful environments (best ever in the series IMO) and reflective score only underline this attitude, as you walk back to your solitary farm as snow falls, spring blossoms whisk by, or fruit ripens on the vine. Aesthetically speaking, Innocent Life is a far cry from the sickly sweet gee-whiz cheeriness of the rest of the franchise, for better or worse. Maybe that's why Japan saw fit to port it to the PS2 as a special edition?

In the end, to enjoy Innocent Life, you have to put aside the traditional gamer's love for progress and purpose. On Volcano Island, you farm for farming's sake, rather than live to get that bigger house, build the golden barn, or win at the game of romance by bribing every girl in town with gift after gift . It's like Myst, but without the puzzles. And it operates at Myst's glacial pace.

In the end, fans of the series will probably loathe the fact that Innocent Life has pretty much stepped away from nearly everything that's defined the franchise to date. I myself'll admit I lacked the patience to take it to its end until I put it on the to-do list. But then again, you may well love it for its charming ambiance and excellent presentation.

Love it or hate it, ArtePiazza has in its "Innocent" way offered gamers a different take on the future's rustic "Life". Whether it's for you or not is yours to consider. Rent first.


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