Birthdays the Beginning Review A New Beginning
Developer: Arc Systems
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4
ESRB Rating: E
Release Date: May 9th, 2017
“Birthdays the Beginning” is the latest brain child of Story of Seasons (formerly known as Harvest Moon) creator Yasuhiro Wada. Instead of living life on a farm, raising your own crops and trying to start a family, you are now tasked by an unknown deity to create entire ecosystems of life (on a cube,) in hopes of being able to return home. Quite the drastic turn, I know. That said, I think the stark departure from what he is known for was quite the interesting idea.
The gameplay of Birthdays is a bit hard to grasp at first, but once you get the hang of it, it can become a bit easier. You are instructed to create new life on this cube or “birthdays,” as the deity puts it. How you do so is truly up to you; though you may want to listen to the tips the little deity has for you so you can lead your ecosystem on the right path. The gameplay really boils down to you molding the terrain to your whim, and observing the passage of time by hopping between Macro and Micro mode. As time passes, you are unable to alter anything and must let nature take its course; but you can stop it at any time to go in and change things around in the ecosystem. When you are changing things in the ecosystem you have to keep abreast of several variables, such as temperature on land, in the water, moisture levels, overall air temperature and more. Many different organisms only appear under certain conditions, and it’s your job to try and find the balance for them to thrive in.
This sadly leads to the game’s main issue. The game does a very poor job of explaining to you the many different mechanics the game has to offer. Outside of telling what conditions an organism needs to survive and thrive in, the game doesn’t really tell you how to ideally achieve these conditions. I would often do my best to create new organisms so I can get further in their evolutionary tree, only to find the changes I made led to a quick extinction. Granted, the game warns you when a creature is going to go extinct, but the game fails to inform you as to what you are doing wrong. This was really problematic because according to the ecosystem, the creatures had all of their ideal living conditions. This can be extra troublesome due to the mechanic where, if a certain organism goes extinct, you can lock yourself out of many branches on the evolution tree. Thanks to one extinction I was unable to proceed with the mammal line, and thus I had to restart the entire campaign and try again, as it was easier than trying to alter the ecosystem again. This is where having multiple saves come in handy. While I don’t like my hand being held for a games tutorial, I feel like the game could have done more to lead me in the right direction outside of vague hints in the game’s option menu.
Birthdays the Beginnings is broken up into three game modes: Campaign, Free and Challenge mode. The campaign mode is a short story explaining how the avatar got to where he is, and serves as a tutorial to the game’s mechanics. The free mode is basically your playground in this God game, giving you free reign to create whatever you want, and the challenge mode is a set of challenges in which you must create certain organisms in a time limit under harsher environments. The challenge mode is where a lot of the game’s replay value is, as it puts all your skills from the campaign and free mode to the test to see if you, the player, can adapt to the changes you may not be used to. Free mode and challenge mode are also unlocked after making it through the campaign, so you can easily import your cube from the campaign into free mode to continue working from there.
One thing that is kind of odd with this game is the control setup. Using keyboard and mouse controls almost made this game a tad bit unplayable at times, which is odd seeing as this is a simulation game and for me (at least) that is the most optimal way to play. I was able to remedy this by plugging in my Dualshock 4, however, I still had some issues. It was very hard at times to pinpoint movements because of how odd the cursor moves around. I would often raise the wrong area because of the cursor, or I would be unable to capture a new organism because the cursor’s movement moved out of the way of the specimen.
Despite some of these issue, I found myself having a great time with the game as I got the hang of everything. Sure, I was still clueless at times as to why certain organisms would go extinct when everything is suiting them, and it was also odd that I was meeting requirements for another organism to progress, they refused to keep going no matter how long I let time flow. Speaking of time, I found it best to not aimlessly let time flow, and to stop it when new organisms sprout up, or existing organisms begin to mutate and or move, so you can adjust the terrain around to continue their healthy lifestyle. It was with this that the game had a nice layer of depth to it, as when a change in the environment helped create newer organisms I couldn’t help but feel proud.
On a final note, Birthdays the Beginnings is a very charming game visually. The environments change depending on how the ecosystem unfolds, and you can easily create your own Garden of Eden type of area. It was also adorable to watch the different animals and people go around the ecosystem, and it gave me a sense of accomplishment of “wow, I created this thing.” While the game may feel like a fight with its own mechanics, once you overcome it you just can’t help but feel accomplished. The soundtrack is also very relaxing, and will change with the ecosystem as well, the music will go from barren to life filled as you bring more into the cube.
Overall, Birthday’s the Beginnings is an interesting new IP from Wada-san. While it fails to capture the same magic as the “Story of Seasons” series has managed to, he was still able to create a game that could be seen as (almost) as relaxing. Despite some control issues and fighting with the game’s own mechanics, I found myself really enjoying this game. That being said I feel like any issues in Birthdays could be fixed and refined in any potential sequel. But for a game that is only $29.99, you have yourself an enjoyable game you could probably end your day with. The game is brimming with content and replayability and the game manages to give you an awesome sense of accomplishment every time a new Birthday is celebrated.
PC Specs: AMD Radeon R9 390, Intel Quad Core i7-3770 CPU @ 3.40GHz, 16GB of Ram
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