Preview: Harvest Moon: A New Beginning

Has it really been 15 years since Harvest Moon first came to the US as an oddball title for the Super Nintendo?  That’s a long time to be harvesting crops, milking cows, and running all the dozens of other tasks necessary to drag a run-down farm back from the brink of failure.  The series has had a near-annual release cycle, puzzle and RPG spin-offs, and a whole menagerie of promotional stuffed farm animals for those who reserve it.  (A yak this year, or giant stuffed cow if you order the fancy version off Natsume‘s web site.)  Harvest Moon: A New Beginning doesn’t shake the formula up too much, but there is one big addition to this year’s model- customization.

A huge amount of Harvest Moon’s world is yours to play with.  Whether it’s the look of your character, male or female, or the town layout, you can adjust things to your heart’s content.  Buildings can be picked up and plopped down where space is available, and you can accessorize the town any way you’d like.  Benches, light posts, trees, and much more can be spread around to fulfill all your urban planning needs.  More importantly, the most useful buildings can be put near the village entrance to save trudging across town just to go shopping.  As you progress through the game you’ll open the usual upgrade paths, but with buildings, tools, animals, crops, and even decorations for your house, there will be tons of options to choose from in creating your own personalized corner of the world.

There are other tweaks to the overall formula as well, although not quite so sweeping.  There are a couple of new animals, some new crops, a new visual style, and, most interestingly, a new dating system.  Instead of hitting on every hit-on-able character in town, eventually giving the blue feather to the one you decide to settle down with, you’ll be dating a single individual, leading to new events.  While technically it’s possible to date two people at once, jealousy will be a factor.  Cute and idyllic as Harvest Moon is, these characters work with worryingly sharp farm implements, so that’s probably best avoided.  Although now I kind of want to play Stephen King’s Harvest Moon.

While Harvest Moon: A New Beginning doesn’t look to be a complete reimagining of the series, it’s still loaded down with plenty of new features to freshen up the experience.  The farming heart of the game remains intact but the customization options promise to bring plenty of variety to the classic formula.  The day to day tasks of Harvest Moon have always had a deceptively playable rhythm to them, whether it’s tending crops and livestock, running around inside and outside of town, or just casting the fishing line to see what you can hook today.  Harvest Moon has always been a gentle, relaxing series, even when the in-game work piles up, and sometimes that’s perfect kind of game to escape to.