Harvest Moon: A New Beginning Review
Harvest Moon: A New Beginning is a modest title. Under the guise of another Harvest Moon game that beckons you to break your back in order to put food on the table, A New Beginning delivers a multitude of additional features that previous Harvest Moon games have not offered. Much like the premise of the game, the first few hours will make you uneasy and uncertain about what kind of experience this will be, but I assure you, the fruits of your labor will be well worth the dragging and pandering tutorials.
As soon as you begin a new game, you are immediately asked to make decisions. You may now choose to be a boy or girl on the same cartridge, as well as the ability to customize your character, one that will more or less still look like a 6th grade child; there are no facial hair options here. Customization options are just as deep as they need to be: each sex has 9 different hairstyles, and each one has a hat option included. Every hairstyle had great texture and modeling, and the colors weren’t bad either. So despite running around, living alone, and having a full-time job as an 11 year old boy, I was confident I would make it in this colorful, mysterious world.
As most Harvest Moon games begin, you are the new resident in a village that needs your help. After spontaneously materializing near a town you are immediately told what you will be doing for several years. You are greeted by an old cowboy in an old duster that, in my head, would sound exactly like Sam Elliot, if the game had any voice work at all. Well, it turns out the old man is a frail old prune and collapses without any explanation. So you are thrust into the story, and there is nothing you can do but save the world – I mean town. You are then told how to move your character with the circle pad, and at this point, no matter how hard you want to give up or play later, you have to get through this. The game will fill you in on every detail, and the first three to five days may not even let you move around freely, but once that leash is broken, you will own this town, and do with it as you please.
You have to save the town. If you were expecting a compelling story with twists and turns, then your standards should be lowered; this game is all about tasks and planning. What are you going to do today? Well, that is entirely up to you. Occasionally, people will barge into your home at 6AM and force minor story elements into your life, but you really don’t have to listen or participate. The only thing that may constitute as a “story” is you attending events, you meeting people and you getting married. The most enjoyable part about the game is that no matter how much the townspeople beg for better accommodations, you are not forced to do anything. For the first year, I was a grumpy old hermit; I didn’t tell anyone happy birthday, I didn’t participate in any contests, and I didn’t listen to what anyone had to say. I gathered materials, raised my cows, and made a boatload of money. So if I want to be the shutout millionaire, I can absolutely do that.
A New Beginning is like a room that is slowly expanding. The game begins with very little to do, and very little options. Over the seasons, more and more items and events become available to you. Harvest Moon likes to introduce everything, and I do mean everything. If there are new seeds/tools/food items, you will be notified. If there is a new event like a competition of the cows, you will be told as soon as you wake up. It becomes very discouraging in the beginning likely due to a lack of crop varieties. The time it takes to grow these crops doesn’t feel very rewarding, but every single individual will choose how they make their money.
There is a hunger mechanic involved, but it isn’t balanced all that well. If I wake up to milk my cows, gather materials, and come home, I may have two to three hearts out of five. Eating food restores hearts, but once I go to bed I wake up with all my hearts. I can go weeks/months without eating a single thing. I was looking for a little bit of immersion in this game, and the hunger portion was more of an optional extension rather than a need. This flawed bit of attempted immersion was a letdown.
I abandoned my crops after a week and instead invested in six cows, all of which I could name. I didn’t grasp the concept of all cows being female; I named my first cow “Barry”, and I know she secretly resents me for it. When you are done harvesting whatever you harvest, you still have a lot of time in the day. Why not go to town? The town starts with just a few buildings, and the people themselves don’t hold conversations well unless you hand them free goodies. If you don’t want to spend time in town, you can venture into the wilds. Here in the wild you can catch bugs, pull weeds and flowers, catch fish, pick up rocks, and gather any and all materials.
At first, you may think you have the game figured out already. When you’ve had a few free days to yourself, things may seem mundane and ritualistic – but then the season changes and the room keeps expanding. After five hours of game play, the mechanics are still expanding. Shops are now selling new items, events are populating your calendar, and now you have to put several benches and lamp posts around town. Can you handle that? I now could see why everything was taken step by step, if the game featured all of its treasures from day one, people would be overwhelmed and overworked.
A New Beginning is like the opposite of a bait-and-switch. It looks plain, but then it changes and surprises you. It hides what it can do very early on, but in order to see these features, you have to stay for their opening. You can’t have your complimentary two days in a ski resort without first watching a two hour presentation on a time-share, and this is no different. Once the old cowboy hands you the keys to the town, you can pick up and move whatever you like, as long as it isn’t outside of town or your home. Finally, you can organize your crops in one area and your honey bees in another area. You can create a shopping district and a residential area. You can decorate the town with a constantly expanding list of decorative features – fences, roads, barrels, boxes, signs, trees, lamps, and much more.
While ANB has a light story at best, the plentiful and quirky characters more than make up for it. These characters may look simple on the surface, but I have my theories about them. Your first friend is the old cowboy; at least he told me we were friends. His name is Dunhill: he is the force that makes you the savior of the town. He tells you everything you need to do, and how to do it. After that you meet Hana, an elderly woman who runs a general store. She never said anything to me, but I got the feeling she was overcharging me when she casually mentioned a single truffle was just 1670G. There is no doubt she was taking advantage of me in the town’s time of need. After that you meet a cute young lady named Emma who promises to ship and sell any junk or treasure you dump in her bin. At first it seemed very harmless, but I’m sure she takes a cut of my profits, and she never really told me how much.
The next character is a scumbag, and it became apparent very early on. His name is Neil, and he’s just so much cooler than you are. This is a man who is so self-centered that he tells everyone to stop what they are doing once a day just so he can announce his animal shop is open. At least he doesn’t hide it, I suppose, but he really is the town scumbag (and he seems extremely hesitant on helping me at all). Once you get used to the folk of the town, you may use them as you please to get set up. Once you restore the town a little more, there will be even more residents. You will meet “harvest sprites” later on who don’t really seem to help you, just play games with your emotions. Once you learn about town restoration, it becomes an incentive to push on just so you can populate the town with more and more people. These people are not only conversationalists, but they often provide you a service, or indirectly help you in some other way. You don’t really need their help, but they are always there for you.
With Harvest Moon: A New Beginning being on the 3DS, I should take a moment to talk about whether or not the game’s 3D visuals look good or not. Well, like most 3DS games, it’s not bad, but it certainly isn’t game changing. In a colorful cartoony game like this, 3D doesn’t really make a difference, especially since the view is always tilted downwards. I should also mention the camera allows for a zoom in and out in most outdoor locations, you can even shift the camera a little to the left or right, but not enough for make a full rotation. Besides the 3D, the color really makes the game. It doesn’t matter how old a game is, if it has a world that is filled with color and lush atmospheres, it will stand the test of time.
Everything is designed simplistically, but neatly. The many varieties of plants and bugs all have their own 3D textures and when the seasons change, it’s like an entirely different world. You begin to realize the developers had to basically make four different world maps for all four seasons, and you start to appreciate the little details and how much time must have gone into a game like this. The characters are designed in a smaller, shorter fashion, so it feels like a little world in your hands. I feel that on handheld systems, the cartoon and colorful style really performs well because it isn’t very demanding. This style can often hide limitations without diminishing beauty of the world.
Despite the game being on the 3DS, the touch screen is more or less optional. Walking around with the circle pad and jumping over fences with B really increases the sense of freedom and adventure. Simply being able to jump in a game adds freedom to a game. Harvest Moon is a game where you will likely handle many different tools. There is an easy to use shortcut button for quickly selecting tools and objects. Just press the R button and a circle of tools will open. Cycle through until you see what you want and press A to equip. Even better, hitting X will automatically unequip whichever item is in your hands; this feature is a godsend when you’re constantly using tools or feeding your animals.
This game was not made to impress you quickly; it is not a quick fix, or a firework. A New Beginning is a well-structured pyramid that is made to withstand the test of time. Like the pyramid, it is simple yet elegant. The graphics will still look good five years from now, the gameplay will still be appealing after two years of playing a constant game, and the mechanics will not be found in any other series. This is a game to fill in the gaps, to occupy your time when you don’t feel spending it killing people, stealing cars, or solving mysteries. Sometimes you just want to sit down and do something else. Sometimes you just want to build a farm, sink in some time, and wait it out for that big reward. Harvest Moon: A New Beginning will show you what it means to start with almost nothing and literally own a town within the span of about 30 hours of gameplay. Harvest Moon rewards you when you invest in a goal, and the time it will take to get that reward makes it all the sweeter. We have been spoiled by instant gratification in games that hand us treasures; games that pat us on the back when we really don’t deserve it. A New beginning will have you proud of your work and leave you patting yourself on the back. It’s a game that will fit into your life, no matter how big or small.
Harvest Moon: A New Beginning can be purchased in the Nintendo eShop for $39.99 at any time, or at your local retailer.