The Harvest Moon franchise has never been one to rush into things. Yes, the Rune Factory series is quite a unique spin-off, but the main franchise has firmly held the course. For Natsume’s latest entry, Harvest Moon 3D: A New Beginning, they are actually adding a rather significant, new idea.
At a glance, things look normal; you take on the role of a young man or woman who inherits a crummy old farm in a crummy old town and it is your job to fix it all up, court a wife, have kids, and live happily ever after in agricultural bliss. Plenty of the past core mechanics, such as farming, raising livestock, fishing, gather wood, conversing with towns folk, and so look to be familiar but now everything is wrapped up in a nice, new layer of customization.
Booting up a new game doesn’t just ask if you want to be a male or female, it asks you to decide what they look like by choosing skin complexion, face, hair style and color, and even clothing. Should you later change your mind about your hair or clothing, both will be available to change later thanks to a hair stylist and tailor who eventually move into town.
Character customization isn’t anything new nowadays, so in that regard A New Beginning is just catching up, but what is more important is everything else that is free to change. The Harvest Moon series has always been big on management of time and space, but this will be drastically changed with this latest entry. Players can now completely rearrange both their farm and the nearby town. Everything is fair game; the watering hole, your barn, every store, even your house – just pick it up, rotate it, and dropping it place.
Along with the customization, your options for crafting are also greatly expanded. Along with rearranging the world, you can construct other additions, such as benches and buildings that are unlocked through blueprints found and earned throughout the game. The addition of llamas and yaks also play into this, as their respective wool and milk differ in price and function from those of sheep and cows. Crafting also opens the door for new uses of crops, as well as the introduction of textile crops that go hand in hand with the aforementioned tailor.
Unfortunately, all this customization doesn’t really get to shine in 3D all that well. The game looks crisp, clean, and cute, but aside from the leaves blowing by overhead, it just doesn’t really pop off the screen that well. That being said, overall it does look good in its simple, charming sort of way.
The casual virtual farmer might not see these changes as very significant, but pretty much any change in Harvest Moon is worthy of consideration due the relative rarity of such occurrences. Character customization is always a great addition to add personality to a game, and the ability to such drastically alter the layout of the game world definitely has the theoretical potential to significantly change how the game flows. Now we will just have to wait for fourth quarter of this year to see how theory translates to reality.