[Review] Harvest Moon: A New Beginning
If you’re not familiar with the Harvest Moon series (Ranch Story in Japan), you should be. First debuting on the SNES in 1996, the series has since spanned over 30 titles across virtually every game console. What makes Harvest Moon stand out from other video games? It’s simple yet addicting gameplay, of course.
The goal of each game varies but the means to accomplish it is always the same; you take on the role of a young rancher who inherits a farm and must plant crops, raise livestock, fish, mine, and befriend townsfolk. Leave it to the Japanese to make something as mundane as farm work and ass-kissing fun, right? Most titles in the series also allow you to marry one of many eligible bachelorettes (or bachelors in the titles that let you play as a girl), which is arguably the series most interesting feature. In order to woo your boo, you simply have to converse with them and shower them with their favorite gifts. If only love were that simple in real life. …Or is it?
Harvest Moon: A New Beginning for the 3DS is the latest entry in the series and the first true 3DS Harvest Moon title, preceded by Harvest Moon: A Tale of Two Towns which was developed for the DS and released alongside a port for the 3DS. A New Beginning is noteworthy for its exciting new features, including for the first time the ability to fully customize not only your player and farm, but the town the game is set in as well.
This first for the series is definitely a game changer and adds a nice sense of personalization to a series that has long been lacking it. Although the game doesn’t make full use of the 3DS’s 3D capabilities, it does have some nice 3D effects. Each season features some kind of 3D falling nature element such as cherry blossoms for spring and snow for winter, and the face graphics that display when talking to townspeople really pop.
Speaking with Rebecca, the blueprint maker. Looking quite gangster with her bandana.
While a majority of Harvest Moon games are in fact fun for way longer than they should be, they do inevitably begin to feel a bit stale, and considering each new game has the same core gameplay as its predecessors, an innovative twist in each new installment is a must. If you ask me, A New Beginning’s heavy spoonful of customization seems to be exactly what this series needed to keep from going down.
My only real complaint about the game is that the customization system is extremely strict about where you can place objects. Pretty much everything has to be in its own square and not everything is made to be flexible. I can never seem to get fences to connect properly unless they’re forming a perfect square or rectangle, and objects such as a potted plant don’t look as good sitting out randomly in their own square as they would say right beside a house.
Another curious design choice is the elimination of the ability to rearrange furniture in your home. Every object in your house is in a specific spot and cannot be moved as in Magical Melody, Tree of Tranquility, and Animal Parade. There are a few additional things that you can add to your house, however, such as a vase to display flowers in and a pet food dispenser that allows you to keep a dog or cat in your home. (Normally they are kept in a special Pet House on your farm.)
You can also change the wallpaper and flooring, granting you a tiny bit of flexibility. In a game where customization is such a large factor, it’s really odd that they decided to forgo customization in the one area that they had already been allowing it.
Gathering bugs and building materials. That is one big grasshopper.
Despite its few shortcomings, the town/farm customization is still a lot of fun. I’ve spent hours using that feature alone. Building objects to place is as easy as buying a blueprint and then collecting the required materials. There are a lot of design choices for things like fences and archways such as wood, stone, and brick, and there are a ton of decorative items.
You can get special blueprints by visiting exotic locations via a Travel Agency such as Snow Land and the Ancient Ruins. Luckily, the game also gives you a much larger rucksack than normal which is vital to collect the ample amount of building materials.
This is probably my favorite Harvest Moon game to date, although Animal Parade is close behind. If only A New Beginning allowed you to wed a character of the same gender, I could die a happy man. Yes, yes, I know, Harvest Moon DS Cute had a “Best Friend” system, but let’s face it, it’s about as exciting as a civil union. Unless that’s your thing. But I digress.
Customizing your character. Umm, that’s not blond.
Oddly enough, although you do pick a gender at the start of the game, you later have the option to restyle your character with the alternate gender hairstyles (once you unlock them), allowing you to look like either sex. What’s more is there is no gender stipulation at the tailor, allowing you to buy male or female outfits regardless of gender.
Which makes me wonder why they bothered to make you choose a sex at all. What would be the problem with placing no boundaries on gender and letting you marry any eligible character? Considering the already open customization, it really wouldn’t have been that far of a stretch.
To be fair, if you really wanted to wed a marriage candidate of the same gender you could just start the game as the one gender and then later change your appearance to the opposite one. The only real indication of your gender choice is on the save menu and then on the game map, which either shows a generic male or generic female icon to indicate your gender and current location. If you can look past that, party on.
Alan moving into the village. He’s totally going to be my gay lover.
Speaking of the marriage candidates, the “relationship” system in the game is a tad more realistic this time around, allowing you to actually date your potential life partner (through the implementation of more “events” between you and said marriage candidate) instead of just buying their love like a common sugar daddy. To officially start “dating” a candidate you simply have to (no not update your Facebook status, although we all know its not official until its on Facebook!) buy them a ring and present it to them once their heart level has reached the green stage.
After that point, you continue raising their heart level to the red stage and as is tradition, propose using a Blue Feather which you also have to purchase. The candidates themselves are all pretty diverse, each with a vastly different look and personality.
I ended up marrying Michelle, the cute pink-haired magician whose house was a major pain in the ass to build. Unfortunately married life in the game is not as intricate as it was in Animal Parade. Your wife and child won’t be able to help you with farm work, and you won’t be able to take them on walks.
Your child, which can be a boy or girl, also has a generic hair color this time around instead of adapting the hair color of your chosen spouse. Another unfortunate change is there are no rivals in the game, meaning that the other candidates never eventually marry someone else or have children.
Visiting Sakura Land, one of the game’s exotic locations.
Other new gameplay features include online play where you can trade items and gather produce, the ability to catch bugs, never-before-seen festivals and crops, and the addition of the yak and llama to the animal roster. Yaks can be milked like cows and llamas can be sheered like sheep.
One of the most interesting (and potentially most annoying) features is the addition of Gardening Tours. Every month you have the option of taking part in a Gardening Tour which has you build a garden by placing flowers and other decorative objects on a small plaza. If it’s done right, you get a monetary reward. On paper it sounds pretty fun, right? Well, it would be if the game wasn’t so picky.
Several townspeople show up on the day of the Tour to judge your garden, and boy do they. If it doesn’t fit the game’s standards, they react pretty negatively and less people show up for the next one. The key is placing objects that belong to the same theme together, which sounds easy but the game doesn’t do a very good job of explaining exactly what objects should go together, or even what objects are best to use. Another thing to remember is you can’t reuse a major percentage of the same objects the next month, either.
Luckily the game only requires you to do three Gardening Tours in order to fulfill one of the Town Restoration plans. A reasonable strategy is to try and tough out the first three and then wait to do more when you’re further along and can construct better objects for it.
Make it rain! …No seriously, you can make it rain using a geyser.
Overall, A New Beginning is an innovative entry in the Harvest Moon series and features a number of welcome additions. The customization aspect adds a lot of gameplay time and gives you something new to do when the other areas of the game start to become too tedious. If you’re a fan of the Harvest Moon series or looking to try something new, it’s a solid addition to your 3DS library. Here’s to hoping we’ll see another new title on the Wii U!
If you’re having trouble in the game or need a few extra pointers, definitely check out the website below: