PSP Fanboy review: Innocent Life

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PSP Fanboy review: Innocent Life

Innocent Life takes the Harvest Moon series to a brave new world: the future. How would the long-running farming franchise transform when faced with the challenges of such an unusual setting? Unfortunately for gamers, Innocent Life doesn't really do anything new -- its setting is mostly wasted in a solid but ultimately meaningless story that suffers from serious pacing issues. It's clear that, like the title suggests, good intentions were at the core of the development process. However, some glaring issues with execution prevent it from being the must-have title it deserves to be.



The story appears to be surprisingly complex at first. You play a young robot boy, created by the fatherly Dr. Hope. Supposedly, the world has lost its respect for agriculture and nature, and the gods look down upon humanity. Dr. Hope creates you and sends you to a small farm in a remote part of the village in an effort to save the townspeople from impending doom: a volcanic eruption that can devastate everything.

This relatively heavy-handed story echoes of classic anime inspirations, such as Astro Boy. As an "Innocent Life" robot, your character will slowly develop more human characteristics, quantified in traits such as "love" and "humor." Supposedly, your robotic tendencies will help you avoid the corruption that has plagued the hearts of the native island inhabitants, and will help you learn exactly what is necessary to save the island from certain doom.

Considering how idyllic the environment is, one couldn't possibly think that the world is troubled in any way. People make passing mention of the volcano, but it appears that society operates without any fear. The picturesque scenery is complimented by some truly beautiful music, creating for some of the most relaxing experiences on the handheld. When you begin to farm and maintain a routine, it's hard to remember that there is a point at all to the game -- and unfortunately, the game doesn't do much to rectify that.



The repetitive nature of farming routine, and the incredibly slow moving pace of the story make for a title that simply isn't as engaging as it should be. The basic farming mechanics are fun at first. Certainly, harvesting your first crops is quite empowering. However, the process reveals itself as a little too shallow: simply plant seeds and water them every day. Without any strategy or significant difficulties to face, the practice inevitably becomes a chore. Rows upon rows of crops will need to be watered, and that requires players to simply press Triangle over and over again.

There is some variety, especially when the seasons begin to change. However, until Spring passes, players will be forced to farm every day, with almost no progression in the story. The peaceful setting of the introduction is admirable, but it's tiresomely boring. Villagers offer no new dialog, and the game becomes very stagnant in its opening hours. Thankfully, a robotic companion will eventually join you, allowing many of the more tedious aspects of farm-caring to be done automatically. Unfortunately, that assistance doesn't become available until nearly ten hours into the game -- a point in which most gamers may have given up on playing altogether.

Patient gamers will be rewarded with some semblance of plot progression at that point. More than a dozen hours later, players will finally be tasked with a quest to appease the gods and save the island. There are even a few minor plot twists to spice up the game. However, even with the burden of such a responsibility, the notion of pressure or doom simply does not resonate throughout the title. Crucial moments in the story are told through events that are as robotic and lifeless as the game's titular character.



If players can solve the unexplained and cryptic gem system, they'll begin unlocking seals around the island, which in turn will open up a surprising amount of places to go and things to do. In fact, the latter moments of the game feel somewhat overwhelming, especially in lieu of such a restrictive opening. As the game progresses onwards, farming becomes much more automatic, freeing the player to explore the beautifully rendered environments and unlock the mysteries of the island. The real question is whether or not players will be motivated to even bother.

The game clearly had much more potential, as seen by the game's many admirable qualities. The graphics are solid: although far from the most advanced on the platform, the vivid art direction makes it more than easy on the eyes. The controls are easy to understand, and fairly intuitive (although some issues with the grid-based farming system do arise). The ability to save at nearly any time, and the lack of visible load times, make it one of the most technically capable titles on the handheld. Innocent Life is so impressive that we'd love to see other RPGs take advantage of the engine in the future.

Regardless, the slow pacing and inconsistent story make this a difficult game to recommend. Most players wouldn't even give a farming title a second glance. Harvest Moon fans may be drawn in by the title's unique charms, but Innocent Life fails to give all but the incredibly patient any reason to look in the first place.

PSP Fanboy Score: 6.5

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