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.
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.