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Natsume always has a diverse catalog of games to show at E3, but the cream of each year's crop is undoubtedly Harvest Moon, the premier farm-life simulation series that's been offering players quiet pastoral pleasures since 1996. This year, after having just produced their first in-house Harvest Moon with last year's The Lost Valley, Natsume announced a follow-up called Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories, and we were able to stop by Natsume Acres to spend some time with a very early build of the newest title in the Harvest Moon stable.

Walking up to the Seeds of Memories section of Natsume's farm-themed booth, we were in for two surprises right off the bat. First, instead of the 3D models we'd seen in The Lost Valley, Seeds of Memories was sporting an overhead, two-dimensional look that resembled the Super Nintendo original more than it did any modern Harvest Moon. Second, the showfloor demo was running not on a Wii U, but on an iPad. Even though the E3 build was running only on iOS - one of the game's four platforms, along with Android, PC, and Wii U - it still gave us a chance to check out how Seeds of Memories is shaping up in its early stages, and to talk to Nastume's Community Manager CeeCee about the state of the farm.

Heading into the demo, the first thing we noticed was that several of the characters from The Lost Valley are back. We saw rhyming bard Gilbert, tough guy Brutus, and village sweetheart Emily, along with several other familiar faces - though since Seeds of Memories isn't a direct sequel, these returning characters will have slightly different personalities or new jobs within the game. Brutus, for instance, has switched professions from miner to carpenter, while Gilbert will happily teach you to fish, if you so wish. All of the bachelors and bachelorettes from The Lost Valley - including recently released DLC datables Luke and Andrea - are back as marriage candidates, along with at least one new belle and beau, for a total of five each.

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Even with the returning characters from The Lost Valley, however, what we saw of Seeds of Memories seemed to share just as much with classic Harvest Moons. Terraforming is gone, for one thing, and though Natsume hasn't revealed exactly how farming will work in Seeds of Memories yet, we were told it will be both "traditional and flat". The overhead viewpoint isn't the only callback to the original SNES Harvest Moon, either; a three-way fork in the road connects your farm to the east, a mountain to the north, and town to the west, and Chestnut Town's layout - with homes and businesses arranged around a central square - will be instantly familiar to former 16-bit farmers as well.

These obvious nods made us smile, but the older Harvest Moons' influence shone through in some subtler points, too - in fact, bringing back The Lost Valley's inhabitants was inspired by the recurring casts of older games. "With Back to Nature, Harvest Moon 64, and Friends and More Friends of Mineral Town, you have that consistent cast, and everyone really got to know them", CeeCee explained. "When we talk to people and ask 'What do you love about those classic games?', it always comes up that they got to know a character over more than one game, and that's really the motivation for bringing that [Lost Valley] cast forward in Seeds of Memories".

In terms of gameplay mechanics, details are still scarce, but we at least know that mining and foraging in the mountains are making a return, along with gifting to get your affection levels up. Sheep, chickens, cows, and your trusty dog are all confirmed as well - back in their Lost Valley style - along with a new animal addition: a wild bobcat which players will be able to befriend.

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There's also the titular Seeds of Memories, which will help restore the townspeople's memories as you collect them. While they weren't featured in the E3 build, they sound a bit like an agricultural achievement system; you'll earn Seeds for "everyday activities, like raising a cow, or planting 100 turnips" - though those are just examples, and might not be real Seeds in the game - with the idea being that Seeds will offer smaller milestones along the way as you work towards the main goal of the game. "We love the idea of an overarching goal, like restoring all the seasons in The Lost Valley", said CeeCee, "but we also like these mini-goals - we want activities that are longer, but some bite-sized ones as well".

The controls on the iOS build we played were touch-to-move and tap-to-interact, which worked fine, though we fully expect that the Wii U version will employ traditional controls. Admittedly, it felt a bit odd to play Harvest Moon on an iPad, but any quirks of the mobile version shouldn't mean much for Wii U ranchers - we were told that there be parity between the Wii U and Steam versions, while the iOS and Android versions will offer a different experience.

The demo we played of Seeds of Memories was very early on in development, but one thing we took away quite clearly from our time with the game is that the house of Harvest Moon has definitely been listening. They've taken plenty of feedback to heart, and after breaking the mould with The Lost Valley, seem set to combine that game's style and setting with a return to classic Harvest Moon roots. It's still a long way off from sprouting, but we're excited to learn more about Seeds of Memories as it buds and grows along the way.

Be sure to check out our other hands on features from E3:

Image Credit (2 & 3) - VGI.co.id