Harvest Moon 3D: The Lost Valley is a big test for Natsume, as they not only publish the game, but develop it as well. Natsume is out to prove they can still produce a solid Harvest Moon title without the help of their usual developer, Marvelous Entertainment. Marvelous has gone on to develop a rival title called Story of Seasons, which will be released later in the year. With Natsume taking their training wheels off, will Harvest Moon 3D: The Lost Valley live up to fans’ expectations? Or will The Lost Valley be more of a lost cause?
Lost in a snowstorm, you encounter a harvest sprite at a nearby shelter. The harvest sprite informs you that the valley is stuck in an endless winter and that all of the villagers have left. It is up to you to help the harvest sprites to revive the harvest goddess and return the three seasons to the valley by collecting the season crystals. As you restore the seasons, you will unlock villagers and harvest sprites that will help your cause. The Lost Valley, like most Harvest Moon games, is a pretty slow starter. You’ll spend most of the first few seasons focusing hard on specific tasks so that you won’t be stuck in a winter wonderland for the entire game. Once that is completed, which takes pretty much the entire first year of the game, the game becomes more enjoyable.
The main feature in The Lost Valley is terraforming. For those of you who do not know what terraforming is, it is essentially being able to modify your environment the way you like. This style of gameplay was made famous by Minecraft, and there’s no suprise that Natsume is trying to capitilize on it’s popularity. The beginning of the game has a major focus in terraforming, which has it’s perks for experimenting with it. When modifying the land you can divert streams to irrigate your crops. The farming in The Lost Valley is more enjoyable than previous games in the series. Crops will grow differently depending on the height of the plots that you plant on. They also will grow differently depending on the other crops you plant beside them. Experimenting and coming up with unique crops is one of the more enjoyable aspects of The Lost Valley. Caring for animals has also improved. When your relationship with your animals increases they will unlock “moods”, which are skills you can set for each animal.
While these new features are refreshing, they come at a major price. Many of the features that have made the Harvest Moon series so addictive and endearing have been stripped away. An extremely surprising element that was left out is the fact that there is no village. There are no shops or no houses for the occupants of the valley to live, instead these “villagers” wander the valley or loiter in front of your house like a pack of hobos. Character interactions have been simplified also. Instead of showering the bachelorettes/bachelors with gifts, you instead need to focus on listening to their repetitive one liners daily and waiting for them to request favors to build chemistry. This chemistry rating is rated as a percentage, instead of the traditional heart meter from previous games. Arguably the biggest aspect to be removed from the game is the character customization. Unlike the previous Harvest Moon title, you are stuck being between a generic boy or girl.
As expected with most new features, the controls definitely could use some work. To begin sculpting the land, you must be in developing mode. This mode is initiated by pushing the Y button, which brings up a button layout on the touchscreen. In this mode you can dig up the land, fill it in, and till the land. This can be a little confusing when farming since some controls require you to be in this mode and some tasks like planting seeds, watering, and harvesting are just regular button commands. Once you get used to these controls you’ll find it may be a slight improvement over previous titles where you had to fumble through your inventory to equip tools.
While these new features are refreshing, they come at a major price.
When playing Harvest Moon 3D: The Lost Valley, you’ll quickly find something very ironic about the title, that being that there is no 3D. The lack of 3D graphics combined with the mediocre, cartoonish design almost makes The Lost Valley seem like a Nintendo DS port. While the soundtrack is the same upbeat cheerful music you’ve come to expect in a Harvest Moon game, the sound effects for most tasks such as chopping down trees and watering crops, can be incredibly annoying. Sadly, The Lost Valley is more enjoyable with the game on mute.
While the terraforming and other new features are welcome additions to the Harvest Moon series, many long time fans will feel like The Lost Valley comes up short in many ways. The Lost Valley does eventually grow on you and become enjoyable, but sadly it takes several hours to get to that point, and many fans will probably set it aside before then. Let’s hope Natsume gets back to the drawing board with their planned DLC for The Lost Valley, and redeems themselves from this disappointment.