You Got Your Sims In My Harvest Moon!
As the creators of long-running series of farming and life simulation games, Harvest Moon’s developers continually have to work to create new games that feel fresh and interesting to fans. While the last few portable Harvest Moon games have changed things up with different themes, storylines, and varying complex farming and economic systems, nothing has refreshed the series quite as much as the changes found in the first exclusive 3DS title, Harvest Moon: A New Beginning.
Granted, for the first month of the game, everything seems quite ordinary and even dumbed-down from previous games in the series. It starts off with the player’s first-ever opportunity to customize the main character, choosing gender, skin color, facial expression, hairstyle, hair color, and starting outfit. After that, though, the custom farmer is dropped onto a huge, bare farm next to dying village that only has four (mostly elderly) residents. With the help of the mayor, the player starts farming, foraging in the wilderness, and making friends. It’s all quite typical for the series, and players will have difficulty filling the day with only a few villagers with which to interact. Never fear, though, for the first spring is merely an introduction to what will become a vast farming playground.
This month-long tutorial will be very useful to new players, and veterans to the series will just have to be patient, because the big payoff comes starting on Spring 25, when an architect moves into town. Suddenly, the player gains the ability to create new buildings, amenities, and decorations both for the farm and the town. In fact, every object except trees and boulder barriers can be picked up and moved around from the game’s edit mode. By the beginning of the summer, the player has been tasked with revitalizing the town and given a series of tasks that can be completed in order to beautify the area and attract new residents.
Building up the town will require a lot of money and resources, which the player can build up via selling many possible items, such as crops, cooked dishes, and animal by-products produced on the farm, or wild plants, critters, and fish caught in the wilderness. There are a few new ways to make money, such as fish traps that can catch several things at once, beehives to build and stock, and yaks to raise for yak milk. The basics of farming and foraging are easy to execute thanks to some of the best controls the series has had yet. The player character moves at a peppy pace via the analog stick, inventory controls are uncomplicated, and obvious indicators leave no question as to the area a tool will affect.
Once the player has bought blueprints, chopped trees, pounded rocks into material stones, and collected miscellaneous building materials, it’s time to start customizing the farm. Almost every object in the game can be created, improved, and manipulated in the game’s blueprint and editing modes. Editing mode is quite simple, with the player entering a timeless space in which the farm and town are set up on a grid. Picking up and moving objects is a simple matter of walking up to them and grabbing them. Yes, your cute little farmer can chuck barns and restaurants around like they’re made of Styrofoam.
Just about anything can be done with the player’s farm, as long as the requisite trees have been chopped down to make room for farm-related objects. Field segments (of 2×4 tilled squares) can be picked up and moved at will. Barns and fences can be located anywhere. Watering spots and shipping crates can be located wherever the player finds them most useful. A farm can be completely utilitarian or decorated with as much gaudy frippery as will fit within the generous item limits for the area. As the game advances, the player will obtain more and more blueprints from stores, friendly townsfolk, and even via fishing or mining them up.
The town offers a bit less room for improvisation, as the mayor has specific instructions for the kinds of amenities that will attract new residents. Still, houses, shops, roads, and other items can be placed anywhere the player desires. Achievement-oriented players can create the most efficient route possible through the town, while others will enjoy placing their favorite villagers near the farm and exiling the jerks to the town outskirts. Similarly to the farm, there are lots of decorative objects that can be placed around the town, though a lot of room will be taken up by objects that are required for town improvement.
On top of farm and town customization, the player will have the chance to collect new decor and furniture for the home and a wide array of new outfits to wear. These outfits can even be useful for wooing the spouse of the player’s choice, with a selection of six possible mates for both male and female characters. A down-home farm character, for instance, will be more attracted to a player character wearing overalls or folk outfits, while sophisticated city-types will be looking for somebody wearing more stylish gear. This time around, the player has the chance to actually “go steady” with marriage candidates, and can even dump a boyfriend/girlfriend and choose somebody new. As usual, the player can eventually get married and have a child.
With a town to build, a wide variety of crops to grow, plenty of livestock to choose from, wild animals to befriend, pets to raise, and villagers to date, A New Beginning could have called it quits and been a solid Harvest Moon Title. Instead, the developers added in a large number of festivals, which are steadily unlocked as new villagers move in. They also created a gardening minigame in which the player is given a special space and charged with creating a themed garden for the enjoyment of paying guests. There are also random events that happen as the player befriends different townspeople, magical music pieces that unlock new areas to explore, and a travel agency that sends the player and any existing family members to exotic locations. It will take quite some time to unlock the full array of activities available in the game, but that means players are almost always working toward something new and interesting while playing the game.
Many unusual items will need to be collected in order to build all the improvements needed to bring Echo Village back to life. In previous Harvest Moon games, it was possible to be stuck for an entire year when coming across a needed item that is only available in one season. This time, players have the ability to trade items around with a multiplayer feature that can be accessed via the title screen. Active Harvest Moon communities like Fogu are already bustling with trade activity, allowing players to gain items that aren’t currently available in their game.
Graphics-wise, A New Beginning concentrates on the ability to display a ton of objects on the screen at once, so while the game’s style is nothing special and nothing special was done with the 3D graphical display, the detail is fairly impressive. The crops look nice as they mature through several stages of growth, an increasing number of bees buzz around the hives as they produce honey over time, and the player can cram an impressive number of objects onto the town and farm lots.
The two major areas in which A New Beginning doesn’t shine are its music and its sloppy localization. There’s only one major musical piece per season, which plays in every area the character visits. These pieces are a bit too peppy to listen to for extended periods of time, and most players will probably want to turn the sound down. The music could use to be both mellower and more diverse, with different tunes for the farm, town, and wilderness (as is usual for the series).
The game’s English localization isn’t bad , per se, as it does a good job conveying the personalities of the townspeople and generally gives the player accurate information. It’s just sloppy. Players will frequently run into minor spelling errors or issues such as a character’s name being spelled in different ways. Many of the letters found in the player’s mailbox are written in straight-up garbled Engrish, causing me to wonder if placeholder text slipped through into the final product. Between the poor translation job done on Rune Factory: Tides of Destiny and the sloppiness in this game’s English text, Natsume’s editorial quality has been slipping lately. It’s a shame, as it causes the work of the game’s Japanese developers to look more amateur than it actually is.
Fortunately, the overall quality of the game more than outshines the mediocre music and localization issues. After the end of the spring tutorial, the pacing of the game’s day feels just right. There’s enough time to do plenty of things every day, but not so much time that the player feels bored. Travel time is swift, fixing an issue that a few recent Harvest Moon games have had in which the player spends too much time simply running from place to place. Most importantly, the multitude of available activities and the customization aspects of the game provide a fresh and enjoyable experience.
Harvest Moon: A New Beginning feels like a true reboot for the Harvest Moon series, and a good one, at that. The game cleverly works its addictive building and customization aspects on top of the basic farming, fishing, and ranching framework that have defined the series for so long. The “numbers game” has been dialed back a fair bit, making the game more accessible for new players and placing the focus on a custom rural living experience instead of on keeping track of a million complex systems. Rebuilding Echo Town feels satisfying, and the many different activities available to the player keep the game fun and interesting over the long term. With just a bit of patience in getting through its tutorial month, players will find themselves settling into this Harvest Moon experience for a good, long time.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Though lacking a consistent style and neglecting to use the system’s 3D well, the graphics are nicely detailed and support the game’s focus on customization. 4.3 Control
Placing objects in edit mode can be a bit touchy, but otherwise this has some of the best controls in the series. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
SOUND SENTENCE 4.5 Play Value
A New Beginning nails daily pacing, providing a huge variety of things to do. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|