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Harvest Moon: A New Beginning review

Build it and they will moooooOOOOOooooove in

New Beginning? Try slow beginning. Actual crops can be planted, grown and harvested in the time it takes the latest Moon to creep through its tutorials. It's not even covering new ground. With a boy (or girl) taking up farming to turn around Echo Village's ailing fortunes this isn't our first rodeo. Not that we could rodeo if we wanted to: animals don't unlock for two bleedin' weeks. The world is empty for almost an entire season (four hours or so of game time) leaving you to wake up, finish your chores and climb back into bed by 9am.

But - and it's a prize-bovine-sized but - pushing through the opening hours sees the seeds of frustration bloom into the wheat of contentment (or something). Echo's initial sparseness is part of a story that sees your hard work tempting villagers to settle, each bringing new features with them. Tailors and hair salons improve character creation, a bait shop helps hone your rod work, a travel agent opens up distant lands for exploration and a pet shop introduces the surly cats and dogs no clichéd farmyard should be without.

The key migrant is Rebecca, whose blueprint shop introduces town planning into the mix. Shaping Echo is the crux of Harvest Moon: A New Beginning, with clear milestones triggering the next influx of villagers and all the improvements that entails. Building doesn't rely on the non-existent charity of others (*casts stink-eye at Animal Crossing: New Leaf*), either. Collect the resources and you get the reward. After years of micro-managing a plot of land it's liberating to craft an entire world. Doubly so when you realise that shifting nearby scenery involves picking it up, Hulk-style.

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Wheat And See

It's miraculous how quickly A New Beginning turns a failed crop to bountiful harvest. Building adds purpose to your farmer's life and expands what can be done with the farm itself: shops begin to stock more seeds and you begin to introduce soil types and new animal breeds. Maybe you spin your operation out into honey production, complete with its own rules about the impact of hive placement on bee productivity. Removed from the context of the wider game, it's Marvelous' densest farming sim yet.

Why take it out of context, though? Moon's magic is in its interlocking parts. The way, for example, a healthy income funds a healthy social life, enabling you to win friends, or woo suitors, with fancy gifts. Or maybe they play hard to get, forcing you to grow, hunt or catch ingredients needed for a favourite dish. In turn, friends may gift you beneficial upgrades and a spouse can be put to work on the farm, helping to automate more tiresome chores. Factor in prettying up Echo with hundreds of builds and it's a mammoth time-sink.

Life isn't all rosy after that slow spring. A brand new 3D art style lacks character compared to DS's cartoon-y iterations, and attempts to highlight three-dimensionality with tumbling leaves only shows how flat the world looks. It suffers from framerate issues, too, which, annoyingly, are concentrated around the farm itself. That said, if you can stomach the opening four hours, you can stomach anything and there's an awful lot here you'll want in that figurative tummy. Patience has always been a virtue in Harvest Moon, in this version more than most.

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4 comments so far...
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  1. Zuhzoo Wednesday 25th Sep 2013 at 07:16

    This game does have a painfully slow start, even for harvest moon...! That said I never went to bed at 9am, just spent the day getting everything from the mountain and then watered my plants the second time at night. I skipped most of the tutorials. Hate the unskippable cut scenes that you have to avoid.

    Definitely agree that when Rebecca's shop opens, the game becomes a lot more interesting with town planning. I am getting to mid-summer of year 1 now and am enjoying it a lot more, and have quite a few villagers. Fishing and fish trapping are probably my favourite activities, and can get you a lot of money for early on.

    At the moment, for me this one definitely beats the DS harvest moons, although the slow start really could put newcomers off...

  2. roj_rules Wednesday 2nd Oct 2013 at 20:45

    This game is brilliant. They've cut out the frustrating bits and made it all accessible and fun. not in a easy way either, you still have to balance everything but it's feasible to do so now. No longer do you have to reload every second to get the best result in order to earn enough money to buy stamina replenishing medicines. In this game you can play the game without googling every single thing and still have a rewarding time of it OR you can use a mix of whats obvious and Google the things you haven't worked out yet for a jump start into the bulk of the unlockable gameplay. It's splendid and gorgeous and charming and customizable in just the right amount.

    Everything's not there at the beginning, that's true. Personally the way each new faucet and character is introduced made me warm more to it. you can learn the ins and outs of the town because you create each new addition. it feels more personal. it feels like you're making more of an impact. it feels good to give gifts to people and not like a chore, as I have thought in previous games. It's very addicting. I bought it while feeling somewhat disillusioned with harvest moon and expecting an evening of fun with it which would soon wear off, I have been playing this every spare moment. I feel so attached to it. I can't stop farming. I have to do my dissertation! Even this comment is me trying to shovel more harvest moon in my life when I'm supposed to be researching... So yes it's brilliant and they've streamlined it (not by taking out tutorials but by taking out all the normal unnecessary faff before you get anywhere) and if you liked any previous harvest moon game for the gameplay, charm and the story. This is definitely the game for you.

  3. NintyFan90 Friday 4th Oct 2013 at 17:41

    The standard tutorial in any Harvest Moon game sees you getting to grips with your new farm and being introduced to several characters. However, this tutorial is a rather long process. It's not until the end of Spring where one of this game's focal points is introduced and that is when HM: ANB becomes a great addition to the Harvest Moon series. I've previously played HM: SI (Sunshine Islands) and I can say that there has been many improvements made to this new game which includes nullifying the freshness rating of food and products which means in ANB, food never expires even if you just happen to leave your cooked meals in the fridge and forget about it. Speaking of the fridge and cooking, the fridge and kitchen is available as soon as you enter your house which is fantastic. I'm not so sure about previous versions of Harvest Moon but in the games I've played (Harvest Moon DS and SI), you could only get a fridge and kitchen after buying them which meant you needed to keep your foraged items in your rucksack.

    As I said earlier, one of the main focal points is the blueprint system where you are able to design the way Echo Village looks depending on your preferences by using blueprints to construct supply sheds, barns, benches, roads and other items. I like this feature as it makes your own farm and the village unique. As roj_rules said before me, there's not the constant need to look at the guides available on the Internet as I remember I was always referring to guides for SI. Although, at times, I have looked at Fogu's unofficial guide to get some tips on how to improve the rank of your crops and the gifts that the bachelorettes and villagers like. Overall, if you're a fan of the series I recommend you get this game as it's definitely better than some of the DS games as Zuhzoo stated.

  4. Opiaz Wednesday 9th Oct 2013 at 20:43

    Harvest Moon is by far one of my favourite gaming franchises of all time, rivaling Pokemon, Resident Evil (until they started punching boulders), the Legend of Zelda and Mortal Kombat. Once the game eventually becomes restocked again, it'll be mine :twisted:

    In my opinion, Friends of Mineral Town and A Wonderful Life were the best ones.

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