One farmer, two towns, three dimensions!
Harvest Moon is a series that has remained virtually the same over the years. Sure, each game has added some new elements like unique animals, exotic locations and different quests set upon you by the ever-present Harvest Goddess, but the fundamental design has never strayed too far from its origins. If you've played any previous games in the series you'll know what to expect here.
At the beginning of the game, you meet the mayors of two villages on opposite sides of a mountain—Bluebell to the west and Konohana to the east. It seems the two towns, which once were quite neighborly to one another, have fallen into a rivalry over a cooking dispute, and the Harvest Goddess has closed up the cave tunnel that connects the two. Now, the only way to travel between the two towns is to hike over a mountain, and the Goddess feels guilty about her actions. She tasks you with first rebuilding the broken friendship between the towns, then reopening the tunnel between them.
You get the choice of which town to move into—Bluebell is an old English style village of cottages that specializes in raising animals, while Konohana is inspired by Japanese architecture, with curved tile roofing and paper lanterns, and focuses instead on growing vegetables. The opening storyline and missions differ slightly depending on which town you live in, but you get the option to swap locations at the start of each new season.
No matter which town you choose, the opposite town's farming commerce (livestock or vegetables) will gradually become available to you and tools will slowly increase the number of activities you can take part in. You can also break up the daily routine of chores by foraging in the wilderness for plants, bugs, fish,and many other items to use or sell as you see fit. Each town has a bulletin board where the locals will post requests for help, usually in the form of fetch quests for particular items. These help develop the characters' personalities quite nicely, and reward you with increased friendships, rare items and, in some cases, a new tool or story development. You can accept missions from both towns regardless of which one you live in, making the trek all the way across the mountain worthwhile.
Once a week, the two towns will compete in a cooking contest, which you can either enter or spectate in, and the resulting judging of the contest will slowly repair the broken friendship between the two mayors. There are also the usual festival events, mining mini-games, eligible wife/husband characters to pursue, and animal breeding elements that we've come to expect in a Harvest Moon game.
The art style, true to the series, is gorgeous, with some of the prettiest scenery yet seen in a Harvest Moon game. The mountain paths in particular have lush, sloping terrain that zigzags with climbable ledges, slides, zip lines and multiple levels of paths to explore. The character models are simple yet match the setting well, and their 2D profile drawings are crisp, colorful, and very pleasant to look at, with the exception of one... interesting cafe owner in Bluebell.
Some useful new elements come into play in this game. Calendars now show the various characters' birthdays, making it much easier to keep tabs on when to give things to the villagers.
The shipping box will also now show the exact price of an item you want to sell before you sell it, allowing you to know how much money you'll make the following day.
You can now walk through other characters and livestock, which might now seem like a big deal, but anyone who has been pinned to the wall by a horde of chickens while trying to make sure each one is fed and cuddled each day will see the great benefit in such a small change. Wild animals can be befriended as usual, and pets now play a larger role than before, with dogs and cats helping out on the farm by rounding up animals and taking them out to graze for the day. The new owl pet can quickly fly you between the towns, cutting travel time. New animals that can be raised include alpacas and bees, the latter allowing you to construct several huts to tend to with different grades of honey to harvest.
There are a few drawbacks as well. For all the space in the two towns and the mountain between, the game's world seems rather small, with fewer places to explore than in previous entries in the series. There is a small but very obvious lag in the framerate at times, and for whatever reason they've reverted back to the old saving system, in which you can only save the game once per day, as you go to bed. Recent titles had allowed you to save at any point throughout the day but in Two Towns, if you suddenly have to turn off your 3DS, you lose all the progress since the time you last woke up.
Furthermore, there are only two shipping boxes in the game—one in each town. It was so helpful to be able to deposit eggs, milk and other products into a shipping box within the animals' barns, but now you must load your limited pack space and trudge to town in order to sell your stuff. Once items are deposited into the shipping box and the lid has been closed, the box is mysteriously emptied on the spot, giving you no option to have second thoughts and retrieve it before morning.
While not exactly problems in the game's design, they do provide more work for you to manage and most of these issues were fixed in previous titles such as Tree of Tranquility. It feels like a slight step back.
The 3D depth is used very lightly, with varying results.
Character profiles, dialogue boxes and menu options pop out into the foreground, and it works nicely. Most of the time the depth works well on the field too, as trees rise higher than buildings and characters come forward from the ground. However, the effect here is slightly buggy and you'll sometimes have people looking like they're floating, or sinking down into shallow graves in the earth. It gets particularly disorienting when your farmer catches an insect and holds it high—sometimes his head is layered closer than the bug itself, looking like the locust has tunneled into his skull. Ultimately, though, the subtle enhancements do add to the game and the game does look better with 3D turned on.
When compared to the original DS version, this game is almost identical, but there are some noteworthy additions to the 3DS version. Naturally, the game has been upgraded to make use of the higher resolution and wider top screen. There's a new mini-game called Petting Time, which allows you to caress your livestock and raise their friendship levels faster. Finally, the 3DS version is StreetPass enabled, letting you trade items with people you pass.
It's just a nitpick, but the 3DS version's intro movie is mirrored from the original DS one, which wouldn't be a problem except that there's a large close-up of milk bottles with the word “MILK” written backwards across them, on which the camera holds for a good 5 seconds. An odd oversight on the developers' part.
Unfortunately, there's also an occasional bug which locks up the game that only seems to appear in the 3DS version, but with the amount of time the game gets saved compared to the rare crashes, it's not a huge drawback, and the additional features manage to make Harvest Moon 3D the better of the two versions.
All things considered, the game is cute and fun, with lots to do and see even if it feels like a slightly miniaturized, watered-down Harvest Moon experience. The story is interesting and the new setting of Konohana makes for a very unique feel to the familiar activities. While the 3D can be a little quirky at times, it has some of the prettiest art yet seen. It's clear the series is still going as strong as ever, and I look forward to the next entry.