Review by darkrangeresp
"A New Beginning, Natsume Gets It Right This Time"
HARVEST MOON: A NEW BEGINNING:
Well, another year goes by and another harvest moon game comes out from Marvelous and Natsume. This one marks the 15th year for the series of more than 20 in the series not counting the spinoffs like rune factory. Every year, it seems that it's a recycling of the same idea with a new cute idea and a new coat of paint. However, a new beginning really is a new beginning in the harvest moon universe. It takes the series in a surprising new direction.
You arrive in Echo village, a deserted wilderness that used to be a thriving town. When you arrive, you are one of only 4 people who live in the town. The main goal of the game is to rebuild your father's run down farm and the village as a whole. This should sound familiar as the run down farm is the main theme of every harvest moon game to date. The idea of rebuilding the town is a recycled element from Magical melodies back on the GameCube. However, this time around you really rebuild the town from the ground up and customization is the name of the game or the new gimmick this time around. You will literally build and arrange every, shop, house, structure, road, bush, bench and everything else that goes into the town and on your farm by the time you are done.
Graphics and Sound:
I am going to hit on these two elements first, since the rest of this review won't flow as well if I leave them below. The graphics are blocky and carry a real cutesy style to them. Keep in mind this game's intended audience is any child with a 3rd grade reading level and pose able thumbs. The graphics don't look spectacular, but you need to keep a few things in mind. First, this is a 3ds game, not a PlayStation 3 game. There are limits to the hardware's rendering capabilities. This is Natsume's first real attempt at a 3d harvest moon on the system and the graphics do look respectable. Also, the 3d effects flow nicely off the screen and add several layers of perspective to the game. When it's raining for example, it looks like your character is playing in the distance behind a wall of falling water.
Another really well done aspect of the game is the camera controls that are mapped to the dpad on the 3ds. This lets the player zoom in and out around their character and control the tilt of the camera if you need to see around or behind something. The other element to keep in mind is the sheer number of sprites and elements that are available in this game. If you get tired of looking at something, you can simply replace it with something else or move it someplace on the map where you won't have to see it. The character customization is just enormous and well beyond anything that has previously appeared in a harvest moon game. If you calculate it out, there are over 1,000,000 possible ways your farmer can look and you can alter them later in the game as well. Overall, the graphics are fairly strong given the amount of sprites the programmers had to animate and the limited capabilities of the system's rendering capabilities.
This is another element that this game doesn't hit with a lot of strength. The sound effects hit their mark well enough in response to what you are doing. However, outside of 2 or 3 tunes for cut scenes and festivals, you will spend a good deal of time listening to 1 of the 4 main themes. The game has one main song for each season and it plays from 6 in the morning until the middle of the evening. The songs are pleasant enough to listen to and don't drive you insane, but a wider variety could be appreciated.
If you have played any harvest moon game before you should be right at home. Once you get the camera where you want it and have a few game days under your belt the controls are easy to pick up and work well. You move with the circle pad, control the camera with the dpad and the other buttons use your tools, let you jump, and interact with the game world. The controls are designed to be easy to pick up. My only gripe with the controls, is that all the actions are mapped to the A button and there is not quick menu for the contents of your rucksack other than your tools. Still, it's a small price to pay for such a wonderful harvest moon experience.
This is where the game really shines. It's nothing overly new from the rest of the series. You still have an in game clock in the upper corner measuring the passage of time. You get up; water and harvest the crop's; take care of the animals; give gifts to your neighbors; buy more stuff for your farm and go collect extra resources from the outlying areas. This aspect of the game play is what you have come to expect from any game in the series. However, where the game really shines is when you get into edit mode. It's something you have to wait until late in your first spring to unlock, but it's worth the investment. Once your workshop unlocks is when the game really gets interesting.
A New Beginning contains over 300 blueprints that you either have to purchase, find, or befriend your neighbors to acquire. Once you have the blueprints, then you have to collect the resources necessary to construct them which, can be a task all in itself. Once you have all your objects constructed, you can enter edit mode and pretty much put anything anywhere you want. This is similar to the way magical melodies let you have most of the map for yourself, but at a whole new level. For example, if you don't like your house where it starts, you can pick it up and dump it on the other side of your farm. You can put your fields, barns, fences, etc. anywhere you want. This doesn't stop with just your farm. You can literally do this with the whole town.
If you want the spouse you are wooing as your next door neighbor or the store you visit every day across the street you can move them close. Hate that annoying guy and don't want to see or talk to him? You can move him way out in the boonies. There are also over 150 objects that serve no purpose other than to enhance the aesthetics of your town and allow even more customization. If you get bored with the way your town or farm looks, you aren't stuck. You can move then and start over from scratch at any time.
The game is easy to pick up and the learning curve isn't too steep. However, there is just so much to do that it will keep you busy for quite a time to come.
Once of the biggest issues with any harvest moon game over the past few years has really been the pacing. Quite a few of the more recent harvest moon games have had the problem where if you have a guide and attack the game head on it ends too shortly. By the end of the second game year you have everything of significance and aside from a few very expensive piece of nonfunctional bling, there really isn't any way to improve your situation further. So, you slog through a third game year watching the odometer better known as your wallet turn as you try to raise enough money to buy everything the game has to purchase. On the other had with games like the recent Tale of two towns, the game holds you back and doesn't let you get all the top level upgrades out of the hole.
However, in that case, you come to the problem that by the time the upgrades become available. You have already made enough money that the upgrade is a moot point at best. This artificially lengthens the game with no real purpose. This aspect of the game has proven to be a real problem for Natsume and marvelous over the last few years. This time however, they nailed it. I mean that both sincerely and perfectly.
The game does start out slow. It starts out really slow. You have to muddle your ways through several lengthy tutorials and play a miniaturized version of your farm until late you first spring. Once you get through that little hiccup, the flood gates open and the possibilities just pour down from the sky. All the resources you need to make this game flow and have fun are available early enough to keep perfectionist happy. There really isn't anything that you cannot afford to have the first few game days it becomes available. There is just so much that no matter how much you optimize your resources you just cannot keep up. The game does keep you bottled up and held back through staging the flow of the game and what is available. But, you won't really notice since you are so busy working you your current local goal.
This game really has a cliffhanger progression. Just when you think you have reached your goal and have everything maxed out. Suddenly, a whole new horizon opens up and you realize how far you have come is just the first leg of the journey. Just when it seems you have your situation under control, the game seems to double in size quite literally. The map is enormous, bigger than any other portable harvest moon to date. On top of that, there is so much to collect and explore. The game has at least 300 to 500 blueprints, 300 or so recipes, around 100 outfits for your character just to start. The way you get these things is so diverse as well. The game has over 30 crops and more than 15 types of animals you will have to raise. Not to mention, every two seasons or so, you are going to reset the layout of your farm to better meet the goal you are currently trying to complete. I have gotten through 1 game year at this point and I already have around 7 hours in edit mode alone.
If you are looking for the most game for your buck, outside of a mmorpg this is a good an excellent choice. You could easily expect to sink 200 plus hours into a single play through and even more. Better yet, the game is portable, and it has a save anywhere save any time function. This lets you pick it up and put it down any time you want. You can play it for 10 minutes while you're waiting for your mother waiting in line at the grocery store. At the same time, if you have a block of time this game is addictive and will keep you sitting for hours on end. The only thing that will probably get you to put this game down is the fact without an extended battery or a power outlet for the ac adapter, your 3ds only has a few hours of battery life.
As will all harvest moon games, there is a ton of replayabiliy. You can always start over from the beginning and do it all over again. However, once you have played through the game the first time and know all the tricks and secrets, you will reach the end of you second play through much quicker. Also, once you have met all the main goals in the game, you could also play past that point for a few more game years to be a completest and achieve every possible thing. After 2 or 3 play throughs, most of the games in the series get old and tend to die off.
This game really lends itself to replayability. Will all the customization available, and all the different angles you can play to gain your fortune; you could replay this game for 10 run throughs and have a different experience each time. Despite that fact, with all the content available, I doubt anybody will get through more than 2 to 3 play throughs before the next game in the series hits sometime next year.
While this game is top notch, I do have a few gripes with it that I think are only fair to share with you. The first problems I have already touched on are the tutorials and the slow start. They are long and not optional unfortunately. Also, later game there are several cut scenes that get repetitive as you meet each new villager for the first time. However, these are minor annoyance and won't really detract heavily from the gameplay.
The second issue I have is with the menus and item handling in this game. Every time you pick something up, it's automatically put into your back pack. You cannot hold it or eat it without taking it back out of your pack. Also, the only way to get something out of your pack that isn't a tool is to open the menu and scroll down the list to it. This is one of the major annoyances with the game. However, this feature alone isn't bad enough to detract from the whole experience.
My final issue with the game is the festivals. Not that the festivals are boring or not fun. My problem is that there are too many of them. Every animal has its own festival, along with the classic harvest moon holidays and a crop festival at the end of each season. There are 6 to 8 festivals a season once you unlock all of them. Between all of them and all the stores open and closed weekly rotation, it sometimes takes 4 to 5 game days before you can buy something you need.
Other than these and the fact that there are only 6 or 7 songs that you are going to hear more than once. The game really well balanced. Don't let these things stop you from getting this game. I am just making sure that I covered the bad with the good on this game.
The Final Verdict: 9
This game has everything and the kitchen sink. It is definitely a title you will want to own. If you rent it, you won't want to put it down and you will like spend more renting it to complete a run through than what you would pay to own it. With it being on the 3ds and having a save any time feature, it's perfect for killing a few minute or a lazy afternoon of fun. If you like game similar to Animal Crossing, The Sims, or any simulation genre, pick a copy of this up you will have a ball with it.
If you are new to the harvest moon series and have always been curious about it, this is a perfect title to jump in with. Alternatively, if you are a series fan who has been turned off by the last few entries. This is the game you have been waiting for to get back into the series. Seriously, though if you have ever wanted to play harvest moon regardless of your age or familiarity with the series, don't miss this game. You will get your money out of it.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/12/12
Game Release: Harvest Moon 3D: A New Beginning (US, 11/06/12)
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