It's been out for a while now (released November 6th, 2012 in North America), but this one takes a long time to get into, and I find most Harvest Moon games to be best enjoyed in small bursts. Harvest Moon is a bit about monotony, and trying to play through in a marathon can get mind-numbing, no matter which entry in the series you're playing. With A New Beginning (abbreviated to ANB for ease), this is even more true, as this is one of the slowest paced Harvest Moon games I have ever played.
Mind you, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. A big reason as to why I enjoy these games is as a method of unwinding and relaxing. Having plenty of time in your virtual day to complete all your tasks is a god-send to a completionist like myself. It really pares down the need to sacrifice your daily farm duties for more frivolous but necessary endeavors, like making friends with the locals. Only a few other games have had time slowed down this much (Animal Parade for the Wii, and Magical Melody for Wii/Gamecube come to mind), and I can really appreciate not feeling rushed when I'm trying to relax.
However, the part that really drives me nuts is how long it takes you to settle into your town and find prospective marriage candidates. Getting hitched was almost always one of my first endeavors in these games, as I love getting to know the characters and building my own little life. I tend to do the same thing in games like The Sims. Building families probably appeals to me because it's a reflection of what I want most in my personal life. The initial background of ANB intrinsically counters this play style by dropping you into a town with virtually no residents and setting your goal to rebuilding the town. It's a new twist on an old storyline in these games, but it means you start out with only 3-4 people you can get to know at all, and only two of them are woo-able (one for each gender).
As your town grows, so do your options, but this is where my second gripe comes in: as a female farmer, the first two options I have are both total raging douchebags. Yeah, they're spun off as the tough guy and the narcissistic guy who are "really sweet once you get to know them." But seriously, Natsume? I'm not inclined to give a damn to start with when one of them asks why he has to see my face first thing in the morning (yes, Neil actually says this) or with the constant feeling that I should be so lucky that god's gift to women is willing to talk to me. I'm not sure whether this is just a case of anime tropes being blown out of proportion and getting in the way of real character development or severely piss-poor translation work, but it was definitely an immediate turn off.
Mechanically, there are some new things added to the game that really make it feel unique and refreshing. The major draw for anyone is definitely the town building. As I mentioned, it's your goal to restore this town to its former glory. You'll build new buildings for residents to move in, new landmarks, and even a garden to host tours out of - and every last one of those tasks is your own to pursue or ignore. This is on top of all the regular fare, such as animal husbandry, farming, and the festivals you've grown accustomed to winning if you've played the other games. You'll always come back to working on restoring the town, however, as that's your major goal and I found I was alright with that. The town is completely customizable, down to where you place the last brick. It's pretty cool that no two towns will ever quite be the same between two players.
It takes a long time to get to this point, and the one mechanic that I dislike the most is that it also takes a ridiculous amount of hording to do so. If I have one piece of game advice, it's DON'T SELL ANYTHING. Seriously. You will find uses for weeds you find out in the woods, including for mandatory missions to advance your story. Heaven forbid you sell any honeycombs in your first Spring - the Harvest Moon subreddit is riddled with threads asking for players to trade these mundane items to them because otherwise, they'd have to wait an agonizingly long two seasons minimum to progress. Something about this screams bad game design to me, particularly when every previous game has trained you to sell everything for a fast profit.
Here's my last point on mechanics - money is practically meaningless, especially so if you use multiplayer. When you jump into a multiplayer lobby, you'll meet up to 3 other farmers out in a field with their animals. After trading around whatever item you happened to bring into the game, you then get to go milk or shear the animals they brought with them multiple times for bonus profit. Most players will bring their happiest or most prize-winning animals, which can result in a massive profit in very little time. The game counters this with the requirement for hording gathering items. Money can't buy you progress, but you'll need enough money to get by and it's almost expected you use multiplayer to get your profits rather than do anything on your own.
Overall, A New Beginning tried to do something new, and that new mechanic is intriguing. I enjoy the town building and I like the idea of making my new home really feel like it belongs to me. The concept needs some tweaking though, especially in pacing and mechanics, but truly balanced game play has rarely been found in any Harvest Moon game so I'm not sure it's worth expecting it in a future title.
It's a good game with a lot of room for improvement, and I think it's brought some excellent new flavor to the series. Let's just hope the next entry is much more polished, with fewer bugs, better translations, and more appealing characters.
- Great new mechanic in building your town and placing structures
- Slow time clock makes for easy going play
- Plenty of new content in produce and products for the dedicated farmer
- All your usual fare of activities are present, plus new features
- Nice throwbacks to other recent games, such as mail fliers about events from other towns
- Characters not terribly compelling, making marriage prospects slim
- Unlock system for the town extremely slow, progress is made at snail's pace
- Multiplayer not meaningful, feels like a crutch or cheating as it's ridiculously profitable
- Repeated unskippable movies make for frustrating day to day activities
- Miscellaneous bugs and poor translation errors showcase lack of polish
Rating: 2.5 Cows out of 5 (Average)