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Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands DS Review

05/04/2011 Thinking Microcosm Gamer Review
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Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands DS

Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands




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There's more to life than finding a spouse and growing turnips, but Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands for DS still connected me to core elements of reality.

My time living on Zephyr Farm, as I named it, was infused with cute cartoon sprites and environments. The characters care deeply about raising a prize winning sheep or inventing a new recipe. It's a bright place where human desire and motivation is distilled into neat bite-sized chunks.

The colourful simplicity of Sunshine Islands feels idyllic, although the community still has its share of difficulties to overcome. There's a surprising amount of complexity behind the cheerful exterior.

Building and running a farm is damn hard work, and goals tend to be straightforward but not necessarily easy. Eventually, small scale routines add up to larger scale progress. The farm grows and becomes more productive, and the local villagers become friendlier. Hard work tends to pay off in the end.

The gameplay is deceptively deep. However, as a life simulator Harvest Moon feels simple and innocent while at the same time hinting at something important and very real.

Sunshine Islands is a microcosm of passing time. Lifecycles turn as the seasons change, and crops flourish or wither according to the care I provide and the whims of the weather. Those shorter cycles mirror the life of my farmer, who also has a limited time to build a life for herself.

It's a bright place where human desire and motivation is distilled into neat bite-sized chunks.

This ebb and flow draws me from one Harvest Moon day into the next: the soothing repetition of daily farm maintenance. But there's more to it than that. Solitaire or Bejeweled could give me a similar sense of pattern and repetition, but not the same feeling of visiting another world and trying on another lifestyle.

Harvest Moon reflects my daily decision about how best to spend my time and energy. I've been thinking a lot this year about my life, and the directions it might take. Maybe it's the sudden need to re-examine my career options, or my upcoming 30th birthday reminding me that a clock is always ticking. Regardless, it's time for taking stock.

Cultivating relationships is technically optional, but success in Harvest Moon is probably measured most strongly by getting married and having a child. In that sense, it's a life very different life to my own, and doesn't fit many of the people around me, either.

Harvest Moon reflects my daily decision about how best to spend my time and energy.

This narrow version of lifestyle bothers me, although games for me are more a representation of life rather than its literal reality. I might decide to learn something new rather than having a baby, but the pressing life choice and achievement is the same. That's the level where Harvest Moon works for me.

Still, even though this isn't like my life, it still reminds me that back in the real world I do actually come from several generations of farming ancestors -- a line has been broken now. I imagine it's a hard way to live, punctuated by boom and bust seasons. It's not a lifestyle I'm attracted to, beyond wondering how it shaped my family.

My grandmother moved away from their farm well before I was born, but in many ways her heart never left. She never lost touch with that tiny, rural community and she had not been forgotten when we eventually returned to bury her there. Locals I'd never met told stories about an earlier version of my grandmother, when her hair was still red and she hung up wet towels to keep the farmhouse cool on hot days.

In story-form my grandmother seems almost as caricatured as the cast of Sunshine Islands. She experienced a sense of community far closer to Harvest Moon than me. Harvest Moon's festival days and present giving are like my grandmother's regular phone calls and local newsletters. There's a similar sense of bonds forged in small communities.

Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands made me value my choices again, and those of the generations who came before me.

My uncle is the only member of my family who still works on the land. For most of my life he was the grumpy bachelor of the family. He was always gruff and smelt of stale cigarettes. He softened a lot when he eventually married. I like to imagine romantic scenarios about how that came about, since I don't know the full story. Sometimes I wonder how he looks back on his life so far. Does he wish for more time, or regret never having the chance to start a family?

Where my grandmother led a long, full life my uncle may have spent more time unfulfilled. Both have lived through cycles, from annual harvests to the eventual loss of loved ones.

It makes me more aware that I only have one life to play with, at least as far as I know. I want to feel satisfied when I look back on my choices. Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands made me value my choices again, and those of the generations who came before me.

Written by Amber Gilmore

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Amber Gilmore writes the Microcosm Gamer column.

"Games provide me with a diverse range of miniature worlds to explore. I'm fascinated by the myriad of ways these microcosms recreate elements of reality. Even the most fantastical or abstract games stem from real world concepts when studied under the scope. Far from being mindless escapism, playing games prompts me to reflect on the concepts presented and how they inform my outlook."

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