Are Android-Grown Vegetables Still Considered Organic?
Ah, the outdoor life. What a gift it is to be awake to watch each sunrise. To feel the earth beneath your feet and smell the glorious scents of the season’s harvest. To live life under the sun, surrounded by flowers, trees, and the rest of Mother Nature’s finest work. That, my friend, is living.
[image1]Ah, who am I kidding? Working outside sucks! You have to get up at the buttcrack of dawn every morning, just to sweat under the hot sun, swatting away flies as you pluck manure-scented vegetables with your filthy, blistered hands. Who in their right mind would want to do that kind of work? (This dude. ~Ed)
Well, you, apparently, if you’re a fan of the Harvest Moon series. For reasons that remain unclear, thousands of gamers (myself included) have discovered that they really enjoy pretending to do the kind of back-breaking, soul-destroying physical labor that was the reason human beings invented slavery.
Thankfully for us virtual masochists, there are games like Innocent Life. This title is not your typical Harvest Moon game, and in fact, is the first in the series not to be developed by Marvelous. The difference is clear, for reasons both positive and negative. Innocent Life certainly takes a… shall we say unusual approach to the typical Harvest Moon story.
Instead of inheriting a farm from a missing father or a distant relative, you are actually a robot. Yep, you heard me, a farming robot – designed to look like a young boy. And you have a purpose. Whereas the usual goal is to grow your farm for no other reason than to raise a family and have a fulfilling life, in Innocent Life, you have instead been designed and constructed by the kindly old Dr. Hope for a very specific goal: To farm the rooftop gardens of the ancient Easter Ruins with enough love that the nature spirits are appeased and decide not to blow up the entire island with the now dormant volcano. It’s like Harvest Moon meets Battlestar Galactica, with a little bit of Joe vs. the Volcano thrown in for good measure. But, yeah. The stakes are kind of high.
[image2]Despite the unorthodox storyline, Innocent Life largely stays true to the winning Harvest Moon formula. You still grow your agrarian empire one freshly-picked vegetable at a time. You start by planting a little batch of turnip seeds, then sell your tubular tubers for a profit, which you use to buy more seeds, growing more cash crops, et cetera, et cetera. Soon. you’ve got countless acres under your command, complete with state-of-the-art tools, robust livestock and diligent helpers, all working to make you enough money to afford that next upgrade.
Of course, everything has a sci-fi twist to it in this futuristic universe. While you start out using quaint tools such as axes and hoes, you quickly voyage into the world of automated tomato-picking rail systems and robot chickens (seriously!). Your helpers are decommissioned battlebots reconfigured to perform the farmwork drudgery, and they place the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors into Jetsonesque shipping tubes that whisk your produce away to the supermarket. In town, you can visit the gigantic hydroponic farms that made the spirits mad in the first place, or see what the kids are learning at school on their humungous flat-screen blackboard.
It looks great, too. The backgrounds, while cartoonish, are lush and colorful. Seasonal touches such as gently falling cherry blossom petals or wind-lashed leaves whipping by during a thunderstorm add a touch of the new as the days pass. As you explore the island, there always seems to be something pretty to look at, whether it’s a beautiful lake inside of a cave, the sleek lines of a futuristic skyscraper, or a concept installation created by the town’s eccentric artist.
The sound is likewise good, if unmemorable. The music stays in the background, as it should, and is pleasant and never grating. There is no voice acting in the game, which is probably a blessing, but the sound effects are realistic and well done.
[image3]Innocent Life has also made some improvements to the controls, avoiding some common frustrations in past installments. You can walk right through planted crops, so you now won’t experience the impotent despair of seeing a ripe strawberry desperate to be plucked but surrounded by strangely impassible seedlings. You’re also allowed to place seeds wherever the heck you want, instead of the same block of nine squares of farmland.
The game is also smart enough to keep you from making mistakes: you can’t accidentally throw harvested crops away or erroneously cut down your prized cucumber plant. Heck, it won’t even let you water the same square twice, which is a godsend when you have to keep refilling that dang watering can every twenty-five squares. These changes seem small on the surface, but by removing those minor sources of irritation, they make the daily grind of planting, watering, and harvesting far more enjoyable, and allow you to explore the rest of the game.
And while there are plenty of ways to goof off when you’re done working, the additional content have numerous weaknesses. As you learn and grow, your new various statistics, such as challenge, creativity, and humor increase. What do gamers love more than leveling up? Nothing! Except that it’s never made clear what these statistics do, or whether you get anything by increasing them. But my intelligence went from 46 to 49, so that’s got to be good! Right?
The random leveling has replaced the traditional ‘find a wife and settle down’ quest you usually see, which I don’t particularly miss because I’m too much of a rebel to settle down with just one woman. Yeah, that’s it. What I do miss, however, is the process of building additions and expansions to your living space. Sure, you can unlock extra fields and barns, but nothing beats transforming your house from an empty shack to a comfy home.
[image4]While you can explore nearby caves, pick mushrooms in the forest, watch some seriously strange shows on your plasma TV, visit friends at the bar in town, and learn how to cook, new content is unlocked more by the passage of time than than your own hard work. Grow as many vegetables as you want, but you won’t be able to access the next set of upgrades until the following week or month. Especially at the beginning of the game, when your farm is small and requires little work, there’s not a whole lot you can do except stare at your sprouts, willing them to turn into delicious produce. I would frequently go to bed at 9:00 am just to speed things up and move on to the next day. Worse, seasons last a whopping 35 days. So with nothing to do but harvest crops and nothing to spend my money on, I had amassed enough spare cash by the end of spring to finance a year’s worth of purchases.
Despite its flaws, Innocent Life is an interesting and fun take on a familiar game. With a few tweaks to the pacing and goal structure, ArtePiazza could have made a strong entry into this strange farming sim. Innocent Life, however, could have used a few more days of watering before it was ripe enough to be picked.