The Harvest Moon series, now what are perhaps known as the Story of Seasons series, have spawned a number of spin-off games that diverged a bit from the series’s usual DNA. But today, I want to focus on a hidden gem that has long since laid dormant on the PlayStation 2 and the PSP: Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon, as I think that even as we head into 2024, it is a must-play hidden gem for the PSP.
In Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon, you play as Life. Well, okay. That’s just his default name, but you can customize that however you’d like. You are an android created by Dr. Hope, one of the town’s most renowned scientists. Your job is to hopefully restore the long forgotten Easter Ruins, a temple that has long been forgotten.
As is perhaps typical from a Harvest Moon type of game, you must cultivate crops in the farmland, as well as hone your skills to progress the story. Here’s where Innocent Life plays a bit differently however—while most, if not all farming games—have this concept of “no time limit”, Innocent Life has a bit of an “invisible timer”, with an ending cutscene determining whether or not you manage to prove yourself.
Every Sunday on the calendar, you must go back to the laboratory to perform some maintenance, where Dr. Hope will inform you of some new developments in the town. Each season has a total of 35 days, and in general, I find Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon to be rather difficult to pick up without a guide, because there isn’t much indication on what to do next, other than Dr. Hope’s small hints.
As you collect the various colored Gems throughout exploring the realm, you can place them in the pedestals atop your farm, and if you get four of them lined up in a square, special traits will be applied to the plots inside the range of said gems. For example, surrounding your fields with Blue Gems will retain the water from the soil for much longer. In the overworld, you’ll also have doors with colored gems etched on them, which will only open once you’ve had the gems properly placed in the pedestals.
It’s worth noting that there are two versions of the game, the original on PSP and there was a Special Edition released for the PS2 (known in Japan as the Hope edition), but I have never personally played it. The only difference that I remember is that the PS2 version adds in some new items and is overall more challenging to get the good ending, and there’s also a ledger that keeps track of your adventures.
Since Life is well, an android, you cannot romance anyone—that is just not an option, but I didn’t find that too big of an issue. After all, the game’s narrative themes center around proving yourself to the townspeople, and let me tell you—it executes that extremely well. Getting the bad ending is an absolutely tear-jerking thing to see, which I would tell, but I don’t want to spoil the experience.
You also can’t really customize Life’s look or gender, so “he” will always be referred to as male and have that same appearance as you see on the cover. As the name probably implies, you can also see a lot of the futuristic aesthetic in the game, but somehow, the developers still manage to maintain that cozy feeling that many farming games are known for.
Besides farming, you have access to a really wide area of exploration, with a buggy vehicle you receive from Professor Hope after you’ve cleared enough of the storyline. You can also repair a robot companion that will automate some of the farming chores, though this does come with the caveat of not being able to increase your skills.
That being said, if Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon ever got a remake, there are a couple things that I would love for it to fix. The biggest issue is that the D-pad movement of the PSP can be a bit finnicky when watering your crops. Furthermore, the map is confusing to understand where you are, because all it shows is a big render of Volcano Island, with a vague indicator of where you are. A proper objective screen would also help to keep track of all the villager requests, because they are really easy to forget if you’ve done them or not.
But as of right now, if you want to play an absolute gem from the PSP, then I would definitely recommend it. You can also play the PS2 version if that strikes your fancy, but farming games on the go have always striked a perfect balance of just plopping yourself in bed and just tending to your crops and animals.