3DS XL & Harvest Moon: A New Beginning

harvestmoonFor Christmas I got myself a 3DS XL and the first game I bought for it was Harvest Moon: A New Beginning. I’ve been playing it off and on since Christmas and figured it was time to talk a bit about it and about the 3DS itself.

Generally speaking I’m pleased with my new gaming hardware. The 3DS XL is “fun” in a way that few game consoles are. I mean even without loading a game into it there’s stuff to do, like put your Street Pass friends to work clearing a dungeon. Luckily I got Angela her own 3DS XL so we can be each other’s Street Pass friend. You can put the thing in your pocket and take a walk and earn “Coins” that you can use in the same game. You can send goofy notes to your friends. It’s a nice system. That said, the 3D aspect feels like a gimmick and neither of the screens can hold a candle to the one on the Playstation Vita.

My only real gripe with the 3DS so far is that even in it’s XL format it feels a little small when it comes to the controls. My right thumb, in particular, cramps up a lot from hitting the face buttons; it’s not a system I could spend hours using. But since it’s a handheld I probably wouldn’t anyway.

Now, on to Harvest Moon. If you’ve ever played a Harvest Moon game you’ll feel comfortable here. Same old basic game: you have to re-build a farm, planting and harvesting crops and raising animals. In the meantime you have to befriend villagers and help the town grow and ideally, find yourself a spouse. If you haven’t played a Harvest Moon game this likely seems really boring. It’s a quirky genre, for sure. Kind of a mix of virtual world and survival game (though you can’t actually die as far as I know) and I guess dating simulator.

This particular Harvest Moon changes things up by starting you with an intact though small farm and an almost empty town. You need to liven things up in order to get people to move in. So you have both a farm and a town to rebuild. That’s the good news. The bad news is that for the first 25 or so “days” of gameplay you’ll probably be bored stiff. Most of the other Harvest Moon games I’ve played have made you clear out debris from your fields as a first step while trying not to exhaust yourself. A New Beginning gives you a pristine farm and very few chores to do.

You get up at 7 am (I think?) and head out to tend your crops. You’ll have that done by 9 am or so, after which the only thing to do is walk through the woods collecting bugs, logs, rocks, flowers and herbs that you’ll later need to build things or to use as gifts. This is fun the first few times but then it starts to feel like a chore. Generally for the first few days I was going to bed (and thus ending the game day) by 1:30 in the afternoon.

After a week or so you get a cow and that actually makes things worse since you have to push the cow out of the barn in the morning and push him back in at dusk. Cows are happier when they get to graze outside. It’s nice to have one more thing to do but once you have a cow you can’t go to bed super early because you have to leave the cow outside until near dark (I assume that the longer they are outside the happier they’ll become). There were times when I’d put the 3DS down and read a book while I waited for time to pass!

To make a long story short, the game is pretty dang slow until the 25th day of Spring in your first year. That’s when an architect moves into town and then you can start buying blueprints and building new features, and the game becomes much more enjoyable at that point. But wow, what a slog to get there!

In fact I’ve just gotten there and I’ve been trying to scrounge up the Mint I need to build a Chicken Coop so I can buy a few chickens to raise. Don’t ask me why I need mint to build a chicken coop but it’s nice to have things to do other than tend the handful of crop patches I started out with. I can also now edit the farm to move things around, which means there’s a reason to chop down trees and so forth. And I really want to craft a Bell so I don’t have to push the cows all over the place.

I guess this post isn’t going to sell you on Harvest Moon: A New Beginning but I just wanted to share the fact that the 25th of Spring is the date you have to drive through the boredom towards, in case you happen to be playing and gave up before then. I would’ve given up had I not been warned in many reviews that the game is super slow at the start.

Rune Factory Frontier – Intro (Wii)

A while back, Wiqd, Tesh, Ysharros and a few others were talking about what a Harvest Moon MMO would feel like. It’d been a long time since I played a Harvest Moon game but I remembered the series fondly. All that talk got me reminiscing.

Before I knew it, I’d ordered Rune Factory 2: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, for the DS. When I mentioned this to a friend, he told me he’d been enjoying Rune Factory Frontier on the Wii. Being a crazy person, I picked that up as well.

And I’m glad I did, because honestly I found RF2 to be a bit overwhelming. RFF, on the other hand, eases you into the life of farming and monster bashing…wait, monster bashing? In a Harvest Moon game?

Yup, it appears the series has expanded beyond its non-combat roots. Harvest Moon used to be all about running a farm (unless my memory is playing tricks on me). It was more or less a time management game where you had to balance raising crops with befriending villagers (and eventually finding a spouse). Along the way you’d have to chop wood in order to get lumber to increase the size of your house, and so on. Or at least, that’s how I remember things.

Rune Factory Frontier still has you tilling the land, socializing, expanding your house, fishing, gathering wild herbs, but now you can also go out monster hunting. And time management is still a huge part of the game, in two ways.

First, your character has Hit Points and Rune Points. Virtually every action, be in tilling a plot of land, or swinging a sword at a monster, uses up Rune Points. When you’re out of Rune Points, these actions start using up Hit Points. When you run out of Hit Points, you pass out and wake up the next day at the infirmary. So Time Management Thing One is managing your Rune Points.

Time Management Thing Two is that time is always passing while you’re out and about. You wake up every morning and as soon as you set foot outside, time starts to advance (time stands still inside buildings, for some reason). At some point, you’ll need to go to bed. Sleeping replenishes your Hit and Rune Points, fully if you get enough rest. So when to go to bed is up to you. Get there early and you’ll be fully refreshed. Stay up too late and you’ll start the next day partially depleted, or worse, get sick and end up starting a day with 50% Hit & Rune Points.

At the start of the game, there isn’t a lot to do, nor are there many villagers to talk to. You’re given a run-down farm to use, some seeds and some cheap basic farming gear. Your job is to till the fields (initially 1 ‘square’ at a time), plant the seeds, then water them. As you do all this, you’ll gain skill levels in almost every action. The higher your level, the fewer Rune Points it takes to carry out that action.

With your free time (and early on you’ll run out of Rune Points with plenty of daylight left to burn) you can run around and get to know the villagers, who might give you simple quests, or new farm tools to use. Getting a cheap axe lets you start to chop branches for lumber. Getting a cheap hammer lets you pulverize the pebbles in your field. Both of these actions clear the square for future tilling. Both also has a Skill Level attached.

It won’t be long before you find your first dungeon, at which point you can start hunting monsters (which drop craft materials), mining ore, or even planting crops in the dungeons. Eventually you can tame the monsters, at which point they’ll go live in a barn (which you’ve had to purchase) where you need to brush them every day to get them to like you. Once they like you enough they can be put to work helping around the farm.

I have to say, this is the first game I’ve played that has me brushing a goblin in order to get him to harvest my crops.

You can expand your house with a forge, a kitchen, an alchemy lab, and other ‘crafting stations’ and use the materials you’ve gathered to make better, more efficient tools and weapons. For instance, once you upgrade your watering can you can water 3 squares at once using a ‘special move’ that uses twice the Rune Points of a regular 1 square watering. So a 50% increase in Rune Point efficiency, plus some time saving.

All the while this is going on, the days are passing, new people are moving into the village, and hopefully you’ve been starting to woo a future wife.

At which point we hit one big drawback: you can only play a male character, who can only woo a set number of “heroines” as a future wife.

But hopefully you can see how the game branches out as you play more and more. Suddenly there are too many activities per day, and you have to figure out where the best place to spend your time is. When you wake up to find it raining, you’ll rejoice since it means all the time and rune points you usually spend watering crops can be spend on clearing the field, or dungeon diving, or going fishing, or crafting… still too much to do!

There are 4 seasons, each 30 days long. Different crops grow in each of Spring, Summer and Fall (nothing grows in Winter). Different dungeons allow you to grow different seasonal crops all year long. So inside the “Green Ruins” it is perpetually spring. But you have to fight monsters (using Rune Points) to go in there to tend your crops.

This is going to be a LONG game. I’m 13 hours in, and only on day 23. That is, I’m still in Spring of my first year. There are flowers that take 100+ days to grow (obviously they can only be grown in dungeons where seasons don’t end).

And at 13 hours, I still feel like a complete newbie, still learning to do new things, still meeting new people, still figuring out new relationships and mechanics.

In a very real way, this is scratching my MMO itch. In fact, I got into the Free Realms beta this weekend, and tried to play it, but kept getting drawn back to Rune Factory Frontier instead. If you’re a big fan of crafting systems in MMOs, it’s really hard to resist the appeal of trying to get deep enough into the dungeon to get some copper so you can upgrade your sword, and doing it quickly enough that you can get home to bed early enough that you’ll have enough energy to tend the crops (which you’ll whip up into delicious food for sale) the next day.

Harvest Moon games are often a hard sell, as they can really sound boring. But I find them remarkably compelling. I thought the addition of dungeon crawling would dilute the experience, but it really doesn’t. Having to schedule a dungeon outing, in fact, adds to the experience of the game.

Only 13 hours in, but so far, two thumbs up.