Here are a few of my favorite things: Nintendo, Penny Arcade, The Legend of Zelda, Mario, Pokemon, Harvest Moon, Fallout, Dungeons and Dragons, books, dice, Professor Layton, Shadow of the Colossus, Minecraft, and so much more. I'm going to talk a lot about video games, I sincerely hope you don't mind.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

HM: A New Beginning is a Breath of Fresh Farm

I am a huge fan of the Harvest Moon series, and have been for years. My first foray into the series was a Rom of the SNES verision when I was in junior high and really, I was hooked from that moment on. I wrote up a huge piece on the series a while ago, if you'd like to give it a read, but today's post is going to be all about A New Beginningfor the 3DS, the most recent offering in this long-standing and well loved franchise! As a quick rundown (for those not in the know), Harvest Moon is a farm and life simulator that has been going strong since in the US since 1997. It features planting and harvesting crops, raising livestock, and finding a husband/wife all while revitalizing a rundown homestead and town. I promise it is more fun than it sounds.

harvest moon a new beginning livestock screenshot 
Chickens, cows, sheep, and more animals await you in A New Beginning.

The US version came out around Holiday last year, but I only recently got my hands on a copy. Two things to note right away: it was worth the wait, but also I shouldn't have waited at all because it is awesome. There are so many new features that I've been wishing for, hoping for!, in previous versions. I have also been repeatedly and sorely disappointed with the portable versions of Harvest Moon, so I can hardly even begin to explain my relief and all-encompassing delight at how much I love A New Beginning!

Natsume has stuck with the ability to choose to play as a boy or a girl to start, which I love, and A New Beginning introduces character customization! That's right: hair, eyes, skin tone, and outfit! Outfits and hair styles can even be changed later in the game once the tailor and salon move in! If you're a fan of the series, you'll have noted that I said "once they move in". So yes, the game doesn't start with every shop and/or villager available. And really, I like it this way! It's quite reminiscient of Magical Melody for GameCube (also available on the Wii as a port), which is my favorite version aside from Back to Nature for PSone. Players are tasked with revitalizing not just the derelict farm, but the town, too! Your hard work and commitment to socialization will bring in new characters, including an architect! Once the architect is obtained, you can then buy blueprints and build new structures. The first one that becomes available is a Newspaper shop, which when built brings a journalist to your town. Makes sense!

harvest moon a new beginning character customization screenshot 
Customize your character for the first time!

Unlike Magical Melody, however, players can choose the exact layout of the town, down to the pathways and decorations. This kind of customized freedom is completely unheard of for the Harvest Moon series! When I first started up my file I was a bit let down with how few people were in the town, but as I've made progress I've realized that there is SO much to do that it's really a good thing that the game is slow at first. This allows time for the player to get into the groove of the town and their own farm. As more people move in, more tasks are given to the player. If all of that were available from the start I really think the experience would be too overwhelming and complicated.

harvest moon a new beginning town customization screenshot 
Armed with super human strength, players can carry houses around town until they find the perfect spot.

One of my favorite aspects of A New Beginning is how easy and fun it is to forage in the forest and mountain areas. In previous versions it has been difficult to save or earn money, putting a damper on making fast progress. This game has areas FILLED with bugs and fish to catch, flowers to pick, and wild growth to harvest and sell. The best part is that every day there are new things! Magical Melody, for instance, would take a few days for items to respawn up in the mountains and the woods. This frequency of foragable items makes it easy to make fast money, gives the player more to do, and provides ways to refresh the energy meter without having to prepare food in the kitchen.

Speaking of the kitchen, you start out with one! Most versions of Harvest Moon have the player in an extremely bare house with no amenities, and they must work toward paying for expansions. As fun and fulfilling as that was (no sarcasm), I enjoy having storage and a kitchen right away! I'm glad to see that recipes are a consistent theme through the life of the series, and A New Beginning kicks it up a notch by making recipes obtainable through friendships! Just give players an item that they like or love each day (such as fish or flowers) and occasionally they'll give you something in return, such as a blueprint, tools, or recipes.

harvest moon a new beginning harvest sprites screenshot 
Can't forget the Harvest Sprites! They make a return, as does the Harvest Goddess!

Players will enjoy a save anywhere feature, too. That has really been lacking for a long time. One of the greatest features of the DS/3DS is the ability to close the lid and go about other business if life calls while gaming. Throwing in the ability to save wherever you are makes the game that much more accomodating to a variety of life styles.There are honestly too many new and interesting features for me to possibly cover them all here, although I wish I could. I haven't even made it through year one of my game yet though, so there are new and exciting things that I don't even know about!

My only complaint about A New Beginning is the same complaint I've had about playing as a girl in the Harvest Moon series: the bachelors suck. No, seriously. The first bachelor is Neil, and he has the worst attitude I've ever seen. He is a standoffish jerk who will literally tell you to go away because you're bothering him. Meanwhile there are three bachelorettes in my town who are nice, fun, and social, so if I were playing as a guy I'd have it made. Why does Natsume continue to make total buttheads as potential husbands? Should I even delve into this subject?

harvest moon a new beginning bachelor Allen screenshot 
I haven't met this bachelor yet, but I guess he seems nicer than Neil.

If you're curious about the Harvest Moon series, or perhaps you're a longtime fan who hasn't played A New Beginning yet, then I highly, highly recommend it! I truly believe that it is the best addition to the series to date, and that includes about five other versions for the DS. The graphics look nice, even though I generally don't like 3D sprites on the DS, I'm enjoying the music, and there's so much to do everyday yet the days are still long enough to get everything done. Natsume has really struck a perfect pitch with this one! It's about $30 if you can find a copy at GameStop, and around $40 online (for some weird reason).

Which version of Harvest Moon is your favorite, and why?


*header images from here and here


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