Harvest Moon: A New Beginning hands-on

Forget about all that FarmVille crap from those bad people at Zynga. Harvest Moon is where it's at! The original farming game not only helped create a unique spin on the RPG, but it made the acts of social interaction, romance, and manual labor actual fun. The next entry in the series, Harvest Moon: A New Beginning, is headed to the 3DS this year, and Natsume hopes to deliver the same brand of farming simulation that fans of the series have fallen in love with, all the while evolving everything that gamers have become accustomed to in order to add a new layer of depth to the experience.

Gameplay evolution seems to be the main focus of A New Beginning. Everything you know about the series, from crafting to socializing, is being tweaked to allow players to do more with it. Customization is a huge part of A New Beginning, and it will be incorporated into practically every aspect of the game, starting with the character creation process. You'll be able to take your custom character around town, exploring and collecting a wide number of items both new and old. You'll also be able to snag seemingly trivial items such as weeds and plants, as well as important and rare objects that can be used to upgrade not only your items but also your living environment.

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You'll have to tend to your field, plant and grow crops, and take good care of your livestock. Thanks to the customization element, you'll be able to improve the quality of both your field and your barn, and you'll have the opportunity to create snazzy items such as a custom fish trap to snag those water-dwelling critters in style. And though it wasn't being shown off in the demo at E3, A New Beginning is totally going to include a mechanical panda that you'll get to ride around. So awesome! The game boasts a major do-it-yourself element that will allow you to create a lot of the items you use. It's this emphasis on customization that will likely make A New Beginning the deepest entry in the Harvest Moon series to date.

One of the many tropes in the Harvest Moon series has always been the relationship system. Some welcome changes will be coming to this aspect of the series in A New Beginning, as well. You'll actually have to work toward a relationship this time around. In order to woo that special gal or guy, you'll first need to become friends. As the two characters grow closer, you can give the object of your affection a special item and turn that lovestruck fool into your significant other. The major evolution in the relationship system doesn't end there; it continues with the characters themselves. For example, if you've already got someone hooked, you better not hit on anyone else, because your loyal partner will get jealous, and we can't have that happening!

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Despite the major changes and enhancements being introduced in A New Beginning, several memorable Harvest Moon elements will remain. Classic recipes and older items will all return to the game, you'll still propose to another character using a blue feather, and you'll get to see all of the awesomely adorable animals that have been around since the beginning of the series. Speaking of animals, two new critters are being introduced: Llamas (finally!) and yaks will appear in A New Beginning. Yak milk, anyone?

I had a lot of fun checking out Natsume's latest farming RPG. A New Beginning looks to be exactly what its name indicates: This indeed seems like a new beginning for the long-running Harvest Moon series. A lot of gamers, even longtime fans of the franchise, have become pretty jaded toward it over the last couple of years. It really looks as though A New Beginning is attempting to recapture a strong fan base, and with so many nuances, enhancements, and additions planned, this game may really be worth watching out for on the 3DS later this year.

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