Review: Harvest Moon 3D: The Tale of Two Towns (Nintendo 3DS)

Harvest Moon 3D: The Tale of Two Towns
Genre: RPG/Dating Sim/Farming Sim
Developer: Marvelous
Publisher: Natsume
Release Date: 11/1/11

Harvest Moon is an odd little franchise, as I’ve mentioned in the past. It’s equal parts farming simulator, role playing game and dating simulator rolled up into one series that’s been going strong for a decade and a half now, and has managed to inspire its own spin-off series, Rune Factory, to boot. Now, I’ve never quite managed to get into the Rune Factory franchise, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Harvest Moon franchise, largely because farming is a pretty enjoyable way to spend your gaming time. Further, even though the franchise tends to repeat itself from game to game, it’s still a fairly advanced franchise mechanically even now that offers a lot of charm and depth in a small package. I’ve personally had the chance to review Harvest Moon DS Cute and Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness for the site, but I’ve played through more than a few of the games outside of that despite, and perhaps because of, the similarity between games. The Tale of Two Towns is the newest entry into the Harvest Moon series, and the first to appear on the 3DS, though as I mentioned in my E3 preview, aside from the 3D effects it’s functionally similar to the DS game of the same name. As with other games in the franchise, it also manages to hold true to the conventions of the series with some new additions tossed in, so fans know what they’re getting into, but does it do enough to reach out to new players or burnt out fans? Let’s take a look.

The Tale of Two Towns allows you to select your character (male or female) from the beginning, but the events of the game are the same regardless. While riding into town with your horse and cart, your character has an accident and blacks out. When you come to, you find you’ve arrived in the vicinity of the towns of Bluebell and Konohana, two rival towns with different crop outputs and a grudge dating back for a long, long time. After picking your town of residence and meeting the locals, you end up getting a visit from franchise staple the Harvest Goddess, who tells you that the towns hate each other because they’re competitive jerks, so she blocked the tunnel off that they used to use out of spite. Of course, she now feels bad about it, and of course, she needs you to clear the tunnel out for her… but not before you get the towns working together again, by cooking up a dish so tasty that everyone loves it, and each other, for the routine cooking festivals that both towns throw. Now, this core plotline is really more of a “this is the main goal you want to accomplish” bit that most of the Harvest Moon games throw at the player; rather, the game is more about the day to day social interactions you have with the townsfolk as you do things for them and try to build a farm, make friends and marry someone in town, if you wish. As is the norm, the characters in town and their day to day interactions are charming, and the different characters are internally consistent and developed well enough that you’ll feel like they’re a bit more than cardboard cutout people. The plot is also simple to get a hold of, mentally, so anyone can really jump into the game and, while you won’t find a glorious multi-faceted storyline with complex twists and turns, you will find a game world and characters that are likable and fun to deal with.

On a visual level, The Tale of Two Towns looks… basically like most of its predecessors, as it’s more or less a direct port of its DS counterpart, so it’s not the most visually impressive game on the console, but its charming all the same. The game uses a semi-3D visual style that mixes 2D and 3D elements together to make for an aesthetically interesting game world, though it’s also one that’s been used in the prior games. Characters are represented with 3D models and hand-drawn 2D character artwork, which all looks cute, and the various flora and fauna you’ll encounter also looks as it should. The 3D effect in the game isn’t particularly involved, however; while some of the elements in the game world will pop, like trees and such, the effect is mostly apparent when looking at prompts and conversations, as they pop out more obviously than anything else does. This is fine, but not necessary, and you won’t find yourself needing or getting any sort of significant impression from the effect, to be honest. Aurally, the game sounds pretty good, as the in-game music is a cheery mix that fades in and out as needed and keeps the light-hearted tone of the game well in mind. The sound effects in the game are also well assembled, and fit the game nicely. There’s no voice acting to the game, unfortunately, and while this won’t be a significant problem for franchise fans who will be adjusted to this, newcomers might find it disappointing, especially in light of the sort of improvements something like Devil Survivor Overclocked featured when transferred to the 3DS.

Now, as mentioned previously, Harvest Moon as a franchise (both in the core games, and to a certain extent as well with the spin-off titles) pretty much incorporates a fairly universal gameplay style, but if you’ve somehow managed to miss the games until this point, allow me to try and sum it up as best I can. The game elapses in a series of days, in this case thirty per season, and in those thirty days each season you’re essentially tasked to run your farm to the best of your ability and make a profit however you can. On the farm itself, you can plant, water and harvest crops as well as care for and reap the profits from various types of animals (cattle, sheep, chickens, etc). By properly maintaining your farm, you turn a profit from whatever you ship out from it, which in turn allows you to upgrade your facilities and work tools, as well as build or buy all sorts of neat tools and upgrades for use on the farm. If farming all day doesn’t sound like your cup of coffee, you can go fishing, chop wood and break rocks for materials to sell or use for building, claim various and sundry consumables from around town to sell, chat up the locals (and try to woo the beau of your choice), cook meals, collect bugs out in the fields, and more. Once you’ve progressed a good ways into the game, you can also find a mine to dig around in, get married, have a child and more, depending on how much progress you make with the villagers and in the towns. In short, it’s a pretty in-depth experience. Mechanically, you can move around with the D-Pad or analog stick, A is your default interact button, B is your default cancel button, X (or tapping the appropriate icon on the touch screen) opens your rucksack, AKA your inventory, Y puts away whatever you’re holding equipped or in hand, and the right trigger allows you to equip a tool without using the touch screen. You can also use the touch screen for map monitoring and inventory management as needed if you’d rather, which makes it easier to move and manage things all around.

Now, while the basic mechanics of the different Harvest Moon games are usually similar, each game also comes with its own modifications to make the game feel like its own special experience, and The Tale of Two Towns is no exception. One of the biggest additions this time around, of course, is the layout of the game world, as there are now two towns to deal with on a day to day basis instead of the normal single town you live in. In the beginning, you’re given a choice of town to live in, though you can also choose to move at the end of each season if you wish. The town of Bluebell is more aesthetically European, and focuses on the benefits of raising farm animals for profit, meaning you’ll start off working with animals and have to visit this town if you want to raise animals on your farm in general. The town of Konohana is more aesthetically Asian, and focuses on the benefits of growing crops for profit, meaning you’ll start off growing crops and have to visit this town if you want to grow crops on your farm in general. Both farms also come with specialty upgrades, like bee hives, fish ponds, and more, depending on the specific farm. Both towns also feature specific shops that cater to the needs of the town, and while several shops (like the pet shops and food vendors) are similar, the farm shops are unique to each town. In the beginning of the game, buying materials from the other town will carry an increased price for being a member of the “enemy”, more or less (due to the grudge between the towns), but as you repair the feelings between towns, this will also slowly disappear. There are enough differences to make choosing your home town interesting, but not enough to punish you for the choice by losing out on the opposite side, so you can basically go with whatever you’d most like to farm to start and go from there.

The Request System also changes up a good bit of how you’ll make friends and influence people, among other things. Now, in the beginning you’ll be introduced to the Request System by the local mayor both as a way of introducing you to the system and as a way of teaching you the basics of the game, but as you progress through the seasons you’ll find that the different townsfolk want more requests completed than just simple “COME LEARN HOW TO DO THIS” requests. Most of your standard requests will be some variation of “give me this item/perform this task,” and when complete they both add points to your request level (the higher the level, the better requests you can take on) and improve the opinion of the person you took on the request for. As you progress you’ll also see requests pop up that allow you to upgrade your tools, improve your farm, clear out the destroyed tunnel between the towns and even earn all sorts of fantastic rewards, like tools and outfits, by clearing them. You can still give gifts to people and chat them up in order to make friends, of course, but the Request System is a very profitable way to make friends and help out both towns, so it pays to keep an eye on the town message board just in case someone needs a hand or two.

There are also a few other changes made here and there that make for some interesting mechanical additions. You’re now able to attach a cart to your horse for transporting items around as a sort of extra inventory storage when you need to transfer a lot of goods in a hurry. You can also upgrade your horse and cart as needed, so if you find yourself needing more space to move items around you’ve got options available to you. Farming is also a little more developed thanks to the ability to make irrigation paths to plant your crops in, allowing you to water and fertilize them quicker and easier than normal. You can also befriend wild animals on the mountain pass, which can potentially net you neat gifts from the critters if they like you enough, as well as acquire pets for your amusement or an owl who will fly you down to towns from the mountaintop if needed. There are also recipes to learn, as well as a mine you can access later in the game if you’re so inclined, for profit or material benefit as the case merits. You can also make use of online play to grow crops that your friends can harvest, allowing you to either farm in their online crop field for crops out of season (in theory) or to collect funds from them doing so in yours. The 3DS version of the game also works with StreetPass, allowing you to give items to and receive items from other players, should they have items to provide in their StreetPass setup. You even get an extra petting mini-game with your farm animals, allowing you to improve their relationship with you much easier than the DS game offers, as it lacks this option.

The single biggest issue against The Tale of Two Towns is that it is, once again, another Harvest Moon title, and as such, if you’re tired of or never liked that franchise, you won’t find much to love here, as the game doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything like that. Beyond that, however, it also bears noting that while the Request System is a novel way of getting the townspeople to like you for some reward, the actual “two towns” concept the game is based on just makes it annoying to get items you might need at times in the game, but otherwise doesn’t add much to the experience. It’s also annoying that the game has regressed in some respects, such as the game not allowing you to save at any point but when you’re ready to go to bed, or having to take deliverables to a shipping box in the center of town instead of having one on your farm. It also bears noting that the game has lockup issues which may or may not be tied to the petting mini-game for improving pet moods, which is unfortunate as, aside from that and the marginal StreetPass support, there’s not a lot of benefit to acquiring the 3DS version of the game over the DS version, which is significantly less expensive in comparison.

Basically, Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns is another update to the series that adds elements to and subtracts elements from the prior game, and the end result is a game fans and newcomers alike will enjoy, though it still won’t impress those who are burned out on the games. The concept of dealing with two feuding towns and trying to mend their dispute is a cute one, and the characters are compelling enough to carry things along, despite the lack of any sort of real narrative to the experience. The game looks fine on an aesthetic and technical level, though it’s not doing anything to push the 3DS, and the game sounds pretty solid as well, even without any sort of notable voice work attached. The game is mechanically simple to play, but there’s a wide variety of things that can be done in and around the towns, and new features like the Request System add some interesting variety to the game in comparison to its predecessors. The game is very much similar to its predecessors in many respects, of course, but beyond that, the two towns concept adds little but mild annoyance mechanically, and the game changes the save mechanics and shipping box locations to a point that frustrating at the absolute best case. Further, the game adds very little of benefit from its DS counterpart, as the StreetPass functionality is only marginally interesting, the 3D visuals aren’t very involved, and the petting mini-game added to the 3DS version is believed to be causing lock-up issues. For fans and newcomers, The Tale of Two Towns is a worthwhile investment if you have a 3DS and you want to take advantage of the extra features, and while it’s not going to impress anyone who’s burnt out on the series, and it doesn’t present the kind of DS to 3DS upgrade of something like Devil Survivor Overclocked, it’s a solid enough release to be worth considering.

The Scores:
Graphics: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: GREAT
Originality: POOR
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE


Short Attention Span Summary:
Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns is exactly what it seems like at first glance: a cute Harvest Moon game with some changes here and there that will appeal to fans and engage newcomers, but won’t convince burnouts to come back around. The feuding towns concept is cute and the characters are engaging enough to carry the game along, and while the game isn’t a technical marvel and the 3D isn’t stellar, the visuals and audio are charming enough to sell the game all in all. The game is mechanically simple to understand and very functional, but there is a large variety of things to do and tasks to take on, as well as new elements like the twin town dynamic and the Request System to keep things interesting for those who’ve been this way before. The game is still a Harvest Moon game at the end of the day, of course, and while the additions are nice, the feuding town concept can get annoying and some changes are not at all for the better, such as removing the ability to save without going to bed or sticking the shipping box in the middle of town. Also, the game doesn’t do much with the 3DS features offered to it and the petting minigame added to this game seems to cause system locks. If you’re looking for a fun and engaging 3DS game, The Tale of Two Towns isn’t a bad one by any means, and while it’s not going to bring departed fans back into the fold, it’s one of the better games in the franchise and well worth a look for everyone else.



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