Impressions: Harvest Moon - Tree of Tranquility

Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility
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Right off the bat I'll admit this is not the most timely impression. The game has been out for a couple of years, but I thought I'd write about Tree of Tranquility because I've recently had cause to start looking into what makes the Harvest Moon series tick and get familiar with it's mechanics.

I'm not a complete stranger to the series. I do have and enjoy a related game, Rune Factory,  for the Nintendo DS. Rune Factory involves a heavy dose of fantasy swords and sorcery though, which puts me much closer to it's target audience. The Harvest Moon series is all about building the biggest, most successful ranch possible by farming, raising animals, courting a potential spouse, getting married, and having children.

So what does Tree of Tranquility have to offer me, a guy who likes Half-Life 2, Burn Out Revenge, and Mario Kart? Well I also like The Sims series, so there's some common ground there. Harvest Moon is a similar life simulation game, just more stylized and specialized.

As the title suggests, Tree of Tranquility is a very tranquil, relaxing sort of game. You're a young rancher just moved to a new island, ready to begin a life for yourself. You start with your choice of 3 plots of land to work, and can buy more land later when you've gotten your feet under you.

Your early days on the island will be spent preparing your first fields for planting, a grueling process that will drain your character's endurance pretty severely. Eventually you'll have enough land cleared of rocks, weeds and other impediments to plant some proper crops and start earning some money. The longer you play though, the more experience your character gains with each tool that he (or she) uses. You'll level up your tools individually; spend a lot of time watering crops and your ability to use the watering can increases. Plow a lot of land, and your plow skill increases. Use a scythe to clear weeds, harvest grasses and other produce, and your scythe skill increases. Fish a lot and your fishing rod skill increases, etc.

Leveling your skills in these and other tools is critical. The higher your skill, the more you can do with the same amount of stamina. Controlling the amount of stamina you use is central to the game, so anything you can do to cut down the stamina required to earn money will get you ahead. In addition to building your skill at using the tools, the tools themselves are upgradable either by paying for better types, or upgrading existing tools at lower cost, but with the requirement of supplying the increasingly rare ores needed for the work.

Once your skills have leveled up a bit you'll be able to finish most of your chores pretty quickly in each day, leaving you time to explore other elements of the game play. One of the chief elements you'll want to investigate is the 'courting a wife/husband' story line. Getting married and having kid(s) is one of the big criteria for the eventual success of your ranch, and one that'll take a long time to complete. I'm only a couple of seasons into my game at the time of this writing, so I haven't gotten very far in any individual story line, but I have learned that courting someone involves visiting them frequently and giving them a lot of gifts after you learn what they like and what they don't.

As I get further into the game, I'll post more about it. For now though, my impression is that it's an interesting "relax time" game with elements taken from RPGs, time management, and resource management games. Unlike most time management games though, you get the experience without the stress of any actual time pressure. It's a good way to spend a lazy couple of hours.

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