Harvest Moon: A New Beginning

Once upon a time, Harvest Moon came out for the SNES.  And I played the shit out of it.  In Harvest Moon, you were given a dilapidated plot of land and told “go forth and become profitable”, so you laboured to raise lucrative crops and upgrade your buildings to maximize your efficiency.  Players cried out that they disliked that the game force-ended after two years and they could not continue nurturing their successful farm, and so Harvest Moon 64 was created.

And I played the everloving shit out of Harvest Moon 64.  Same idea – you have a farm, you have to make the farm not suck… but now the town is full of people with far more fleshed out plot points, and the game doesn’t just end.  The festivals are interesting! You can marry people!  And your wife helps you on the farm!  And you have choices!  And social circles!  And you unlock more of people’s plots and find out their deep backstories if you get them to trust you! Holy shit!

Sadly, every Harvest Moon game past that has expanded more and more on that concept until the actual farm was a tiny distraction, and the bulk of the game was spent running around giving gifts to people and trying to ensure your spouse doesn’t divorce you in a fit of rage.  I’ve played almost every one of them and I got more and more disinterested with every successive one.  I don’t give a shit about this dating simulator… I want to grow some motherfucking turnips and upgrade my barn, bitches.

And maybe someone heard my profanity filled ranting… because along comes “A New Beginning“.

The first month of New Beginning is literally that.  You grow turnips and there is not a god damn other thing you can do.  Except collect bugs.  And cook turnips.  You don’t even start with a fucking axe or storage shed for wood!  On one hand, I’m a Harvest Moon veteran and the prolonged tutorial really annoyed me (I know how to walk from place to place and use a mini map.  I want to explore the town on my own terms, thanks… ugh).  On the other hand, the town literally consists of three people, so having the game start rolling gently downhill with turnip seeds and a social circle of three people is a breath of fresh air compared to the “Here’s your farm!  Soooooo… you can just use these automated things to water your crops so that you don’t have to worry about all that while you head into town and meet the 500 people you’re going to have to please this month!”

I like starting from nothing.  I like having the game build gradually.  My best memories of Harvest Moon 64 are of finally reaching milestones to upgrade the most advanced buildings and excitedly seeing how my farm had changed.  I can’t even describe how excited I am to unlock more blueprints, and I feel like that’s something that was really missing from some of the more recent sequels.  This feels like a throwback in all the right ways, while still maintaining some of the more interesting advancements (like: being able to choose a female protagonist!  Crop quality!), and holding a really visible progression track in that you literally build the town up from a couple of houses in an empty field to something more similar to recent Harvest Moon towns.

It really does move too slowly, though.  Even someone who is completely new to the series might find it slow.  The entire first month serves as a tutorial, and one of the events that happens is someone buys your first cow for you!  So I carry along, pampering my cow and making it like me, and I already had the milk up to 2 star quality when the game comes along and gives me a helpful tip saying “You can MILK your cow! And sell the milk!  And then you can buy MORE cows with that money!”  How fucking stupid does the game think I am?  He gave me the milking machine when he gave me the cow!  Okay, maybe they need to cover bases in case a 5 year old is playing or something, but how hard is it to add a little trigger into the code saying “Has_cow_been_milked: YES” and then skip the god damn tutorial about milking.

It really hurts replay value, too.  I’m annoyed with the tutorial month as a veteran of the series, when some of the tutorials at least highlight some of the changes in this version.  I can’t even imagine having to sit through this as a veteran of this exact game, knowing all the mechanics in detail already.  It really would have been smart to provide some way to opt out.  If people fuck up their farm because they skipped a tutorial, that’s what the internet is for!  Not to mention all of this shit is stored neatly on a bookshelf in your house, so you can refer to it at any time.  WHY do I have to sit through your banal explanations?  Fuck you.

Once you get past the insufferable tutorial month, you can actually do things, and not only that, but it might even be innovative for a Harvest Moon game.  Near the end of the month, an architect moves into town and you can purchase blueprints from her, which allow you to build items.  A lot of these items are cosmetic – benches and flowerpots and other sorts of decorative items that do nothing but make your farm and town look pretty.  Some of the items even work as coordinating “combos” which give your area a bonus, which means people will like it more, or the items you produce nearby will have more quality, or whatever.  That’s great for the Animal Crossing/Farmville crowd, but what about the rest of us?

In addition to the fluff stuff, you can build things to upgrade your farm.  The storage shed and chicken coop are some of the first things you unlock, so if you were getting pissed about carrying around branches and rocks, never fear.  As a side note: Here is a big tip for you – DO NOT SELL OR BREAK DOWN YOUR BRANCHES AND ROCKS.  The unbroken versions of them are also required for many buildings.  Collect them all and hold on to them until you absolutely need the broken down version.  Lumber is easy to get by chopping down trees; branches must be found by other means.  I erroneously assumed trees would break down into branches and merrily chopped all my branches into lumber.  Fortunately I figured it out quickly and held on to the rest of the branches I found during the month, but I might still have to scrounge a bit to get enough.  Similarly you may want to hold on to any “mine” type items because it takes a bit to unlock that.  Actually, just hold on to fucking everything unless you absolutely need to make some cash or whatever.  Extra hint: you won’t actually need cash until you unlock blueprints anyway.

Here’s the big thing though – you can also get blueprints to upgrade the town.  This is new and exciting… no longer are you focusing solely on your farm while a bustling town sits nearby and wonders why you are neglecting your socializing.  You need to actually build the town to get people to move in.  Socializing with people leads to unlocking more blueprints which leads to more people to socialize with and more items to craft and sell on your farm.

The game is lighter on ‘story’ than some of the predecessors, which honestly is fine by me.  The storylines of the games were never great, and I was interested in building my farm.  That’s what the story of this game is – build the farm and make the town successful.  It’s a bit open-ended in that way, which I think is a good move for Harvest Moon.  Don’t try to shoehorn story into the game when people clearly only care about building farms, raising quality crops, and chatting up townsfolk.  The customization works nicely to this end and I think it makes a stronger game overall to focus on the building and quality aspects.

There is also a pseudo “level” systems, wherein the more you do of an activity the better quality your products are.  Some examples are cooking and fishing… the things I make now have extra quality stars and the fish I catch are getting bigger and higher quality.  Although I got mega super bug catching titles because there was nothing else to fucking do during the first month, to the degree where I even got a letter saying the next town over knew me as a butterfly whisperer, and as far as I can tell it did fuck-all; the same bugs still spawn and they still sell for the same amount because bugs don’t actually have quality associated with them.  So I don’t really know what the point of that was…
I also kind of suspect I’m getting screwed, because I can whip up a batch of 20 turnip soups after my crops mature, but it wasn’t until a few days later I got the level up for cooking 10 items, so I think it counted the batch of 20 as one cook.  I haven’t bothered to experiment with cooking 20 turnip soups one by one though… it’s just not worth it.

So if you like Harvest Moon and have been disappointed with recent titles, or if you like building shit, or if you like decorating a farm with fences and benches and petting chickens once a day, or you like the feeling of progression of unlocking new things to build or craft, or you like talking to people and trying to fucking date one of them (if you’re a girl protagonist, most of the guys in the game seem to be douches – fair warning)… you might like this game!  It’s great because it’s a throwback to everything that made Harvest Moon great in the first place, but without trying to “fix” a winning formula.  If only it gave you a bit more freedom to experiment at the start it would be perfect.

Now if you will excuse me… I have to go milk my cow.

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About tagracat
I am not a professional, I don't get paid to review shit, I am just opinionated and I seem to have some sort of disorder that results in spewing my opinions onto the internet. I enjoy writing long-winded posts about things and sometimes I like to pretend people want to read them, so a blog seemed an appropriate place to stuff it. But mostly I just like writing about things.

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