Without giving away any surprises, I was delighted by my latest birthday celebration in the Harvest Moon game I am playing at the moment. Shocked... thrilled... I think that players will be well pleased!
I have been playing Harvest Moon and Rune Factory games for a few years now but I still am capable of being startled by new options in these games. The creators appear to have boundless creativity and enthusiasm and although they build on beloved characters and traditions, there always is something new and wonderful added to the mix.
I personally would recommend that players try to play ALL of the games in each series if they can find them. A number of players have been asking whether they should invest in Sunshine Islands or Island of Happiness. I think it would be a mistake to dismiss Island of Happiness at this point. Much of my pleasure in exploring Sunshine Islands is derived from my experiences in Island of Happiness. The two games are similar in many respects but each is unique. I don't see these games as being progressively better, but rather as a continuing saga.
Long ago, when I explored the Library in 'More Friends of Mineral Town', I was able to appreciate the books about Forget-Me-Not Valley because I had played 'A Wonderful Life'. HM DS and Cute DS drew upon previous games set both in Mineral Town and Forget-Me-Not Valley. Island of Happiness introduces many new characters but still includes references to Mineral Town and indeed, characters from Mineral Town visit the Island annually. Frantic Farming, a different sort of Harvest Moon game, still has wonderful Events that involve the characters from Island of Happiness. As for Sunshine Islands... well, more about that later.
Players have begun to discuss Rune Factory 3 but I should hate to play any future Rune Factory game without having played the original Rune Factory, Rune Factory 2 and Rune Factory Frontier. All these games are linked by a common history.
I have to confess that I enjoy the sense of familiarity I experience whenever I explore a new Harvest Moon or Rune Factory game. I am glad that I have some idea of what I can expect... but the little surprises and changes are very exciting as well. The creators of these games appear to have a very fine sense of balance where any new game is concerned. Without jettisoning the traditional aspects of Harvest Moon and Rune Factory that fans have grown to love and expect, they always introduce enough new surprises to keep our experiences fresh and exciting.