I know I know this is waaay late, but I have my reasons, being I have yet to get an ending (had to restart, will explain in review) I wanted to make sure I was comfortable with the game-play before I started, but here he go... *clears throat*
Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley (from now on just called HoLV) is the first original game in the Harvest Moon series that is not a spin off or direct port. Considering the series has a long history, with many greats in there, how does this newest PSP version stand to the series?
The game begins with your character, for the sake of the review, we'll name him Jack, receiving a letter from his dad. This letter asks Jack to go take care of things on his grandfather's farm since he passed away. However upon arrival, Jack discovers the harvest sprites, Nic, Nac, and Flak. They inform him that the Funland Corporation is going to tear down the valley and build an amusement park over it soon, and beg Jack to put a stop to it. So it is up to Jack to stop Funland from starting their construction in two years by any means necessary.
For a Harvest Moon title, this game actually has a deeper story than most, considering the game has 16 different endings to obtain (although to "Win" the game, there are 4 possible outcomes, each with their own set of needs to accomplish). For the most part the story structure is fine, you make friends, meet requirements and if you did it in time you trigger the next cut-scene at a certain range of dates. There is one issue however, I have yet to see clarification on it, but two of the story lines, one being the main story/best ending meet at one event on the same day, at the same time, and same place, I'm leaving the info out of the review, but I'll explain in better detail below the review and hide it, so those who want to know can. Even with the issue the story is actually decent given the game it is in.
HoLV is a simple game to play. Over the course of two years, spanning four seasons with 30 days each the player will grow crops, make friends, go fishing, mining, wood cutting, and a variety of other activities, even going to festivals or special events. Although there aren't as many scripted ones, like the moon festival or the cow festival, there's plenty of diversions to keep the game from getting dull. Each of the endings requires a different set of objectives to be completed, like befriending woodcutter and fisherman Joe, and spending some time fishing, which is presented here in one of the best systems ever used for a HM title, as it isn't just a quick button press or hold timing.
Mining also is better, as each area is actually a puzzle that, if done correctly, only requires one swing of the hammer to clear the rocks in the room. Cooking is back, as well as the playable ocarina, and even bug catching. There's also more to the horse racing this time around as there are three types of races, the short race, the long race and the steeplechase. The amount of animals goes back to a more basic model, as only a dog, chickens, cows and a horse can be owned. One would think, after a game like Tree of Tranquility where there was like 20 different creatures to own, that this would be a drawback. In reality it isn't as much, as the management of the animals is much more simple, and being a small valley farm, you don't have a lot of room.
Crops are tweaked also, you still till the soil, plant the seeds and water them, however now there's a little more to it, each bag of seeds does one square, and you can use mineral crystals (that are found in the mine) to change the crops into a new variation of crop that is worth more. There's also a seed machine that can be won in the races that will grow 2 different plants on one square. There is no shipping bin either, you must sell your goods to the shops around the valley. Another neat little feature is when your house is upgraded so you have the bath, every time you use it your character will wear a different colored outfit. There are 3 in total everyone gets, but one ending unlocks a fourth. Also, just a heads up, you can only save when you go to bed at night. At first it seems odd, but when you take in the PSP's sleep mode, it becomes almost a non-issue.
For a Harvest Moon game, hell for a PSP game this title looks and sounds pretty good. Most textures are sharp, and some of the shading gives an almost sketch-like look to the game, which actually looks pleasing. Little details are everywhere, like a poster that is the box art for one of the Game boy titles, just without the hat. Rain looks good, even if it moves a little slow, and the fireworks, which go off in real time on the day of the Fireworks Show are good to look at, even if you can only see them from maybe two spots. There may not be a drastic change from Spring to Summer, but Fall and Winter are huge changes in graphics that bring the game a very nice change, this is the first fully 3D title that I'm aware of (that DOESN'T use a over-head camera) that actually has snow on the ground in winter.
The sound track for the game is really good for Harvest Moon standards, one of the better sound tracks in the series, and this is coming from someone who is REALLY picky about music in the series (NOTHING has come close to Save the Homeland's Summer Theme, not even the remix that appears in later games, although the sound track in HoLV comes closest). Most of the sound effects are good, some just workable, which is what is expected in this series.
The presentation is not perfect though, in some areas, although it seems to become less frequent later in the game, you can see the seams of the landscape as light blue lines. It's not a game breaker by any means, but if can be a slightly bit annoying. Also on a PSP-1000, which I played the game on, everywhere outside the farm seemed to be slower in graphic movement, not in skipping more frames. Again it's not a game breaker, since all but one area is at this speed, where the farm is slightly faster, but is is noticeable and needs to be taken note of. The load times I've heard are bad, but I don't buy it, every area in my game seems to load in maybe 8 seconds, tops. Maybe it's because I'm patient with a slow paced game, but they don't bother me. The other flaws are more design choices, but they seem like off choices, as rain, wind (for storms), fireworks, and a couple other things possibly, don't have sound effects for them. It's an issue that makes you wish they were there, but it's something that is relatively easy to look past unless you are a nit-picker.
It's OK to go into this one with the worry that it's just an enhanced port of Save the Homeland (The first PS2 game in the series), because that is basically what it is, although there's so much more to it, like being able to continue after the end and get married, that it feels like it's own game. The game has some minor flaws and off decisions in the presentation department, but overall it's actually a refreshing feeling game in the series, because it goes back to a simpler time.
Note: Turn off your pre-load cache on PSP-2000 and 3000 with the UMD version, as it can cause strange issues, however this is NOT exclusive to just this game, hence why no points will be docked because of it.
Content Score: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy
Below is the story issue I mentioned earlier, highlight the text to read, or if it doesn't work as planned, don't read below the line.
[color=white]The story for the Horse racing champion and the main story meet at the 2nd year spring horse race. It is unknown to me whether you can still obtain the best ending (as you must defeat ALL of the robots Funland releases during the main story) if you are going for the horse race champion ending, as the circumstances are slightly changed.[/color]