I can tell you from the get-go that Birthdays the Beginning won’t be for everyone. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad, but rather that it provides such a unique experience that it’ll be a bit of an acquired taste. Basically, you get to create your own cube-shaped world and see how the ever-changing environment shapes the life that forms upon it. It’s a unique premise, but what would you expect from Yasuhiro Wada, the creator of the incredibly popular ‘Harvest Moon’ series?
It makes for some addictive gameplay, but does it really offer enough to keep you engaged for the long-term? I’ll happily admit that I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent with the game so far, but you’ll certainly need a lot of patience if you want to see your lifeforms reach the end of their evolution cycle…
So the bulk of your time in Birthdays the Beginning is spent manipulating your cubic world, with the game giving you the full freedom to sculpt the environment exactly how you please. You’ll be raising mountains and lowering oceans to put together your own little paradise, but be warned: everything you do has an effect on the environment, with temperature rising and dropping based upon how you craft the world. This actually has a big effect on things too, with the temperature determining what life will blossom in your world. You’re given an indication of what requirements are necessary to create life, so it’s up to you to ensure you have a suitable environment. It starts off small with little tiny organisms in the sea, but you’ll eventually see dinosaurs, animals, and even humans roaming the land. It’s a pretty good representation of real-life evolution, except you’ve got full control over it. How awesome is that?
All of this takes place in the game’s story mode to begin with, tasking you with following a series of objectives with the end result being the re-creation of the evolutionary history of mankind (or a near enough representation anyway). This effectively gives you guidelines at what you need to do, with certain species expected to develop as you grow your world. It isn’t as easy as just lowering and raising the land though; there’s an actual ecosystem for you to develop that’s full of little intricacies, with a surprising amount of depth to what changes are made to your world. You’ll find plenty of neat little items that can assist you with crafting a suitable environment along the way though, so you’ll never feel a tremendous amount of pressure – it’s certainly a relaxing experience and one that’ll never stress you out.
Once you’ve spent a few hours with the game you’ll see plenty of species come and go (every time you evolve a new species it’s considered a ‘birthday’ – it’s kinda sweet), with the circle of life certainly in full motion. Every little change you make to the environment has a lasting effect; some creatures will prosper in a warm climate for example, whilst others will suffer and slowly disappear into extinction. That can have lasting effects too, especially since some species depend upon the existence of others in order to thrive. Ensuring that each species you develop is able to survive your environment is the goal though, with micromanagement vital in producing an effective ecosystem. It’s incredibly addictive and mighty rewarding though, especially when you see each cute species making a home in the stunning little worlds you create. It’s hard to put it all into words really; Birthdays the Beginning really is a unique and thought-provoking title that demands care and attention.
It can be a little hard to grasp everything that’s going on in the game to begin with, with each element of gameplay coming at you thick and fast. Manipulating the terrain, seeing how this effects the environment, the evolution cycle of each organism – all of this information is thrown at you within the first five minutes of the story mode, so it’s easy to feel a little lost and intimidated by it all to begin with. Thankfully, you’re given all the time you need. Whilst time progresses when everything is in action, the creative side of the game freezes time and gives you the chance to figure out what exactly you need to do. It’s not that the tutorials are over convoluted or anything, but rather that there’s a steep learning process in place that demands you figure out the ins and outs of the game to not only see progress, but enjoy the experience. It’ll take a bit of time to get used to, but it’s worth it – naturally, Birthdays the Beginning is at its very best when you know exactly what you’re doing.
It’s easy to feel a little intimidated by the game’s HUD too, with seemingly endless information on show about your world and the lifeforms on it. There are plenty of menus to explore that detail the lifeforms on the planet, which is something you’ll need to keep a keen eye on if you want to maintain an effective evolutionary cycle in your world. There’s a lot of information to take in and even I found it too much at times – whilst I can appreciate the depth that the game goes into, having so much information right in front of you can be overbearing. Like almost every other element of the game though, all it takes is a bit of time before you’re in your comfort zone and able to figure out what exactly everything means and how you can put the information to use. It might put off casual gamers, but those who stick with it will eventually find the plethora of on-screen information vital for the lifecycles of their world.
Whilst I enjoyed the fact that Birthdays the Beginning had a story mode that taught you how to play the game, I had most of my fun in free play mode. You’re given the full freedom to create a world with no objectives to complete – everything is dictated by you, be it the size of your world or the life you attempt to bring to it. By the point you unlock free play you’ll be pretty comfortable with how the game works too, meaning you can sit back and enjoy seeing this ever-changing world develop right in front of you. It’s a pretty relaxing experience, with free play not putting any demands on the player but instead offering a more chilled out way to experience what Birthdays the Beginning has to offer, be it the exotic lifeforms or the different ways in which you can put your world together.
The flipside of all of this though is that you’ll spend a lot of time simply waiting and watching to see something happen. It can almost be an anti-game in that respect; you spend so much time doing nothing that it can be hard to fully engage yourself in the experience. I suppose it’s the most realistic god sim out there in that respect, with you simply watching how the life you create adapts and responds to the environment. This simply won’t entertain everyone though. There’s definitely a satisfaction to be had, but I don’t know how long it’ll last for everyone given that a lot of time is easily wasted doing nothing. That being said, I’ve spent a lot of time doing ‘nothing’ and actually enjoying it. Seeing the life developing is kind of addictive, and when it’s done with a good podcast being played in the background you’ll quickly see the hours zap away. Birthdays the Beginning really is one of those titles that’ll be incredibly divisive amongst gamers.
Birthdays the Beginning is an incredibly unique experience, putting you in a position where you can fine-tune the ecosystem of your own world and see lifeforms develop upon it. It’s incredibly addictive and can feel pretty rewarding too, though it certainly won’t be for everyone. There were too many occasions where you’re left watching on and doing nothing for the game to really appeal to casual gamers. It can really drag a little at times too, with it easy to be distracted by your phone or anything else that happens to be going on in the real world rather than focus entirely on what’s in front of you in the game.
I stuck with it though and found that I had a really good time. Seeing everything develop in front of you was pretty amazing and whilst I can appreciate it isn’t an incredibly accurate representation of the evolution cycle, it was certainly an entertaining one. I’ve spent a ton of hours with the game already and still see myself coming back to watch my little world grow and develop. It really is a unique experience.
I’ve already said a few times that Birthdays the Beginning won’t be for everyone and I stand by that. For me though it was unlike anything I’ve ever played, but in a highly positive way. I find it fascinating, not only in design but also as an experience to actually play. If you want to see hours drift away whilst watching a virtual world and lifecycle develop right in front of you, then Birthdays the Beginning is the way to do it.
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: 12/05/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC