I’ve got a pretty strong affinity with all things Harvest Moon. When I heard that Yashuhiro Wada, of the original Harvest Moon was making a game, and then saw the aesthetic, then I was signed up. It was like something written in stone, something awakening deep inside me. Birthdays: The Beginning is a title that makes sense after you’ve played it, bit really makes little sense before that. It didn’t matter to me though.
Birthdays: The Beginning is a sandbox game based on terraforming a barren world to sustain life, and fiddling with the ecosystem so you can promote interesting and more complex life. You’ll start out early with protoplankton and zooplankton, but by the end you’ll be spawning domesticated cattle, plants such as wheat, and humans. It’s an extremely complex juggling act if you’re trying to sustain multiple forms of complex life all at once, because where dinosaurs require an extremely hot world of 40C+ degrees, many mammals need a much cooler temperature of around 20C. The simple explanation is that the more water in the world, the warmer the temperature, and the more land, the cooler. Items can be used to manipulate this too, which becomes very important later.
Almost everything is done through the manipulation of height. As you level up, you can extend the range of your tile, meaning you can manipulate more at a time which makes things a bit less tedious. You’ll also receive more energy, the resource burned when raising or lowering terrain. There are two main ways to replenish this, one is through items called Recovery leaves, which are given out sporadically, but I end up with loads of them by the end. The other is to switch to Macro mode, where you can speed up time and watch the world evolve, which also causes your energy to replenish. This doesn’t really become a problem once you’re in the swing of things, but early on it’s a bit of a pain.
There is more to the creation and survival of life too. At its absolute core, life requires three things: a food source, temperature, and an environment. That’s their basic needs, but there’s more unspoken rules that the game doesn’t show you in any way. I’ve played quite a bit of this game now, and I still couldn’t tell you what most of the animals eat, or a good way to spawn evolutions (other than using items), or why despite having almost all the needs down pat, why I couldn’t get a creature to mutate into its more resilient form. Whilst there is a library that shows all the places for creatures so you can see their predecessors and work towards those goals to create life, there’s no way to see those more interesting information. For example, the very first life ‘real’ life form requires a huge amount of zooplankton, but on a larger map it doesn’t tell you that you need oxygen from water to spawn them, so you need to raise the amount of water to around 20% of the total map, which is no easy feat.
At its absolute core though, this is an extremely relaxing game. There’s a great deal of irony in me saying that seeing new life appear and ‘capturing’ it (scanning it and adding it to the library) releases a little burst of happiness into my primal lizard brain. In the same vein, there’s a twinge of sadness when a lifeform goes extinct. Both of these things you’ll see a lot of. Even so, I could waste hours and hours just playing around with the world, watching it thrive and grow, and new life come and go.
I’ve seen a lot of the work my wife does in the sweets decorating world, and as I played I thought the cutesy design of the creatures reminded me a bit of sugarcraft. The inhabitants of the world are these smooth, colourful, adorable creatures. They don’t interact with each other at all, and their pathing AI is often pretty dumb; more than a few times I saw giant creatures perched on a single tile of a mountain, or flying creatures fly directly into walls and never move. It’s not a huge deal, but it does make the world feel a little less alive, and more that you’re viewing a diorama or theme park with automatons.
Birthdays: The Beginning is a sweet game. I love the adorable look of it, and I love playing around in the world and birthing the 285 individual members of flora and fauna. I won’t deny the camera is annoying sometimes, and the lack of information the game gives regarding some mutations and evolutions is infuriating, but put that aside and there’s an intensely chill game you can just kick back and really enjoy.
Birthdays: The Beginning was received as a download code on PS4 provided for review purposes. The entire campaign was played, around half the challenge missions and around five hours of free play.