Harvest Moon is the most popular, longest-running series about being a farmer in a small town in gaming history…. probably because it’s really the only game series about being a farmer in a small town. Despite how boring raising fictional livestock and crops sounds on paper, it’s amazingly fun in application, and the series has a rather large group of incredibly devoted fans, myself included. People have used these charming games for everything from stress-release to time-management practice, and with their newest release on the 3DS, just in time for the series’ 15th anniversary (the first game was released on the Super Nintendo), game company Natsume is giving the Harvest Moon series a major over-haul.
From almost the moment you first start the game, it’s pretty obvious what they were going for with the ‘New Beginning’ in the title: this Harvest Moon is aimed at bringing new-comers into the series. The tutorial is the longest I’ve ever seen in an HM game, with three whole days in-game time being devoted to explaining the basic mechanics of the game. Granted, there’s always at least some tutorial in these games, but never to this extent; thankfully the Mayor (or whoever else might be explaining something to you) helpfully asks if you want to hear his explanation of how to do something or not, so Harvest Moon veterans can tell him to go away and let you get to farming. The game begins with the typical ‘you have inherited a farm and move to your new land, determined to bring it back to its former glory’ storyline that almost every Harvest Moon has used in some variation since the very first one on SNES. In this particular iteration, it’s not just your inherited farm that’s in bad shape, though, it’s also the nearby town; the constant stream of people moving out brings new meaning to the words ‘population decrease’. As such, you quickly find out that the Mayor is counting on you to not just fix the old farm, he’s pinning all his hopes for the town’s revival on you as well.
This brings us to the main new thing that A New Beginning is bringing to the Harvest Moon series: customization. You can build shops, houses, and even decorations and roads for not only your farm, but your town as well. Where all these items are placed is also entirely up to you, the player. The manifestation of yourself in game, the character you play as, is also customizable. Most Harvest Moon games have allowed you to choose between a girl or a boy character (at least in the more recent iterations), and some have even had a couple different types of characters for you to choose from, but no other HM game has ever allowed you this level of choice before. You can choose your character’s hair style, hair color, and you can even choose what type of face your character has! You can also change your character’s clothes at will later in the game, once the clothing shop opens up. It’s like they got Sims in my Harvest Moon…. but I’m not complaining!
As you build up your town (which you can’t do until the end of the first month, by the way, so veteran farmers be patient!), new villagers will move in, bringing with them new shops and services that you can take advantage of. The Mayor will also give you certain requests to ‘level up’ your town. Even though you can build anything you have the blueprints and necessary materials for at any time, these requests will be specific, such as building 10 shrubberies and placing them in town Knights That Go ‘NIIII!’ style. Monty Python jokes aside, there’s a good reason to follow the Mayor’s requests, as each time your town ‘levels up’, new materials, shops, blueprints, and even characters will be unlocked.
As the number of characters increase, something much more important increases as well: your dating pool. Harvest Moon: A New Beginning has the same ability to court and marry another character as all the other games in the series do, but like everything else, this system has also received a small over-haul. Instead of just giving gifts to your chosen future spouse every day until they love you enough to say yes to your proposal, A New Beginning makes you first be friends, then be boyfriend/girlfriend and date for a while, then get engaged, and then finally get married. Of course, this is still accomplished with the normal process of giving gifts and talking to the character everyday, but overall the progression feels much more natural, and it increases the amount of cute dating events you get to see. My only complaint with the new system was that it seemed to be really easy to get the character’s ‘heart level’ (how much they love you) to raise, and it progressed really quickly. I was able to get my chosen boy to a red heart and marriage in a year’s time in-game, with a few other boys being at a purple or blue heart just from me randomly talking to them. At first I was a little upset that it seemed to be so easy to get to marriage, but I forgave Natsume once I realized they over-hauled the marriage system too. In most previous Harvest Moon games, getting married had little benefit beyond being able to see cute little romantic event scenes, and to later have a baby. Your spouse did nothing but wander around your house all day, taking up space. In A New Beginning, your spouse will eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with you at the table in your house, with lunch giving you back some stamina so you can go work on more farm chores. They will also help you with your chores on the weekend if you ask, and in general just do more than stand around being a glorified house decoration, which is awesome. Also awesome about the new marriage system? When you’re engaged, your spouse will bring clothes to your house and ask for your help in picking out their dress/suit, and you can also choose your own wedding clothes as well. Cute overload.
Overall, with all the Harvest Moon games I’ve played over the years, I have to say that A New Beginning is one of my favorites. I loved the new characters in the game, I loved the new dating/marriage system, I loved all the cute little romantic scenes they added, I loved all the festivals you could compete in and participate in with your fellow villagers, and the new village and farm building system is fantastic. Being able to build up my farm and town gave me something to work towards other than ‘I will have the most animals and crops on my farm the world has ever seen!’ The only thing that bothered me slightly was the ridiculous amount of tutorials, but that’s tempered by the fact that you can skip them, and they probably really helped new-comers to the series. Considering that it’s looking like it will end up being the best-selling Harvest Moon title ever in Japan, it must have worked.
Harvest Moon: A New Beginning doesn’t have a completely set-in-stone release date for the States yet, but according to Natsume it should be releasing this year. Some sources have been claiming that it might be releasing at the end of October, but whether that’s accurate or just a place-holder date remains to be seen. Regardless, look forward to a truly new Harvest Moon game before the year’s end. I highly recommend it; it lets you make shrubberies.