Tending the farm on the 3DS.
It is quite strange to be thinking about a game as relaxing and harmless as the latest Harvest Moon offering, Harvest Moon 3D: A New Beginning, while the rest of the gaming world is raving about the violent extremes of Grand Theft Auto V. Two games at different ends of the spectrum, yet both arriving for gamers to enjoy at around the same time (here in the UK at least, this latest Harvest Moon has been around for a while already in other countries). So, with that in mind, have a cup of herbal tea, kick back and prepare for a slower pace. The crops need to be planted and the cows need milking, there is no time for street races and drive-by shootings.
The Harvest Moon games have been around for ages now, tasking the player with running and expanding their own farm. Over the years the gameplay has changed, but not substantially. However, this latest title in the series is subtitled “A New Beginning”, so can we expect a complete direction change for farming?
Well, things start in a very similar manner, with the player being introduced to the farm in Echo Village that they have to turn around and make successful. Unusually though, Echo Village is pretty much devoid of life, except for a couple of merchants and the helpful tutorial giver. Did everyone hear you were coming and decide to leave? It matters not, as making a success of your farm and the surrounding areas will bring back the residents and give the player someone else to talk to.
And thus begins the tutorial. This is surely New Beginning’s biggest stumbling block, as the tutorial drags on at an incredibly slow rate for far too long. If anything were to drive away new players, it would be a tutorial like this. Everything that the player needs to know is explained in great detail, but at a pace as slow as watching crops grow. Still, with a bit of patience players can look forward to things getting substantially better once the tutorial is finally passed.
The early game, while the tutorial is worked through, is very light on content and things to do. But as the tutorial is passed and the player starts encouraging the villagers to come back, things start to get really interesting and, after the slowest start in history, New Beginning reveals itself to be the most content packed Harvest Moon ever.
The core game of running the farm, by sorting out the animals and harvesting crops, meeting other people and giving them gifts, and finding the perfect husband/wife, all remain and are improved upon by the addition of plenty of options, such as new animals and new crops. Building relationships with the returning villagers will lead to rewards, which in turn lead to more opportunities. The addition of new basic content is expected in a Harvest Moon sequel, but newly added to New Beginning is a huge level of customisation.
The customisation in Harvest Moon 3D: A New Beginning is sure to please the Animal Crossing crowd. The player will find themselves able to completely customise and move around their farm, redecorate the farm house and change their little character in a number of ways, such as a change of clothes. But as certain villagers set up home in Echo Village, the player will find themselves constructing buildings and designing clothes. They will even be given quests to create very specific buildings, and can then reap the rewards of their creativity.
Of course, it is entirely up to the player how much they invest in all of these distractions. The ongoing search for a partner, socialising with the newcomers, exploring the new areas of the village and the high level of customisation is entirely optional. If the player wishes, they can watch the internal clock tick away and enjoy the changing of seasons as they cash in on the crops they harvest and the produce from the livestock. The choice is theirs, but once they get through the long, dull tutorial there are plenty of choices.
Another choice would be to indulge in a bit of multiplayer farm action. Unfortunately, the multiplayer mode, which is available in both local and wifi form, is rather limited and involves the player taking items to trade and animals into a small farm with a friend. Trading then goes ahead and the player can have some fun caring for the animals. There is not a huge amount to do, but it is a nice opportunity to be sociable and make some cash.
Visually, the game looks nice. It is not cutting edge and has lost some of the previous charm in its transition to the 3DS, but it looks nice enough. There is surprisingly little use of the touchscreen, aside from a few menus, with the lower screen taken up for the most part with a map. It is certainly handy, but a game like Harvest Moon is just crying out for some touch controlled mini-games.
Harvest Moon 3D: A New Beginning starts with a mighty slow uphill battle of a tutorial. However, once the drawn out early game has been passed, New Beginning proves itself to be the best, most content packed Harvest Moon game thus far.