Developed by Marvelous AQL. Published by XSEED Games. Available on Nintendo 3DS. Review copy provided by the Publisher.
The war of the farming simulator has begun. A scene once dominated by Harvest Moon now has major contenders added to the line-up, and one of Harvest Moon’s biggest competitors comes from its own corner. Natsume and Marvelous, the former being responsible for Harvest Moon‘s western localization and the latter its development since its inception, have split ways due to differing visions for the future of the series. With Natsume owning the Harvest Moon name in western markets, Marvelous has moved on with a new title, Story of Seasons, the next addition to Japan’s Bokujō Monogatari series, while Natsume has developed a wholly separate entity under the Harvest Moon name, The Lost Valley.
While Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley returns to simple story-telling, its center focus is world building and customization reminiscent of Minecraft. Story of Seasons, on the other hand, focuses more solidly on resource management and overarching story-telling, as well as building connections to expand your world. Its economic approach to farm building revolves around trade, the relationships you make along the way, and how you manage them. If resource management of all kinds piques your interest more than Minecraft-style world building, Story of Seasons may be the Harvest Moon for you.
Beginning character creation is simplistic, allowing you to make choices for your gender, hair and skin color, and face type. You will also choose your birthday and name. Once those choices are made, the game begins with your first farm. On a chilly winter day, a pamphlet arrives in the mail announcing new farmers are needed in Oak Tree Town. “Help Oak Tree Town grow as you work the land” it claims, and with that, you pack up your belongings to leave the hustle and bustle of city life for the harmonious lifestyle with nature as a farmer. With visions of green pastures and cute animals in your head, a new life awaits you in the countryside.
Your first encounter is with Guild Master Veronica, who manages the day-to-day operations of the town, such as running town events and posting job openings. The guild oversees trading and commerce within the game, which is what you will use to derive profit from all your hard farming work in order to buy items from the General Store. The guild also handles the renting of public fields, allowing you to expand your daily production. Since each rented land parcel is best-suited to growing certain types of crops, as well as crops you can’t grow on your own farm, what production it expands will be random.
You are then introduced to Eda, a grandmother figure who allows you to stay with her while your farmland is being prepared. This will be your tutorial to the game. Here, you receive your starting sum of money and a tour of home and farm life. You’ll then be immediately set out to collect items around the farm, just to get your inner hoarder’s juices flowing. Ultimately, this is a great first start in getting your bearings on what a simple farm looks like and how it’s set up. Story of Seasons comes with a robust booklet of instructions, but you can skip it. The tutorial lasts around 2 hours and offers more than adequate instruction to get you prepared.
Once the tutorial period is over, you are set up with your own farm and home within it. Your home acts as your central base, which can be decorated any way you like. That said, there are a few pieces of basic furniture that provide necessary functions that you will use throughout your playthrough. First is your toolbox and storage box, where you can store important tools like hoes and sickles, or collectible items when they are not in use – a hoarder’s essentials. Your bed advances time to the next day and restores your stamina and health dependent on how long you sleep. The calendar and bookshelf give you the inside scoop on upcoming holidays, competitions, and birthdays, while the closet holds all your clothes and accessories, allowing you to re-customize your character at any time. No self-respecting city girl would allow a change of seasons without a change of hairstyle, and while you can take the girl out of the city, I know firsthand that you can’t take the city out of the girl.
Along the way, you’ll meet the town’s resident bachelors and bachelorettes. If you think you’ve escaped another romance mechanic by playing a farming simulator, you’d be wrong. With each bachelor and bachelorette, you can amass the Affection resource, just like with the animals. Once you’ve gained enough Affection with an individual you can date them, but only one of them at a time, because as the game’s instruction booklet proclaims – “This isn’t THAT kind of game!” Don’t let the handsomely rugged Fritz fool you, that dip in the river “because it’s hot outside” is simply a great rural pick-up line. Once you’ve been dating the same individual for a while and build up enough Affection, you can get married, and even have children.
At its core, Story of Seasons is a resource management game. Farming is a daily set of individual chores, all dependent on your resource management ability. The overarching resources you must manage are your Stamina, Health, and Money. One of your main resources is Stamina, which gets reduced as you do work. Stamina is intrinsically tied to your health, the second resource that you must manage. Running out of Stamina in any single day will cause you to pass out from exhaustion and will advance to the next day. This will cause your Health to be reduced by one, and the lower your overall Health, the more Stamina each chore requires. Once your Health is lowered, you can increase it by eating food either made in your kitchen or purchased in town, or by visiting the clinic. Visiting the clinic and purchasing food require Money, which you can only acquire by shipping the crops and livestock materials produced by all your work at the town’s Trade Depot.
Story of Seasons can get slightly tedious with the repetition, but this is a farming game, what did you expect? Within a few days, you’ll quickly settle into your own routine. The game gives you enough stamina to allow you to tend a multitude of fields while taking care of your starter cow, and enough time to be finished with your chores by 11am. This will give you the rest of the day to wander the town, hunt collectibles, attend the day’s events, and even fish at the river. You’ll slowly advance the story and your romance. If that doesn’t strike your fancy, you’re in for a number of consecutive days where you have nothing to do but your chores, rinse and repeat, which can quickly get old for many.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a first-class hoarder in video games. If you’re like me, you’ll appreciate Story of Seasons‘ collectible items, because there are a ton of them. You can collect a wide array of insects on the roads and fields, giving you something to do as you traverse the town. You’ll come across different insects depending on the season and if you catch bees, you can put them straight to work on your farm making honey. You can also fish the rivers and gather fish and items there, giving you more fodder to ship and trade with, padding your bank account and providing food for your character.
Story of Seasons may be a niche title, but it gets everything it does right, down to setting the default speed of your character to a run, because let’s face it, we all end up holding down the run button any way. During your journey into the mountains, you’ll find rocks and sticks laying on the ground just waiting to be picked up by you. Most of what you pick-up can be sold for money, so collecting items is never a waste of effort. Even the items you can’t sell can be repurposed into supplies to build additional farm buildings and items. You’ll find that your supplies will build up at around the same rate as your money, making the game’s pacing feel natural, if a little slow.
There are a few elements that may frustrate those who are not used to the franchise. Stamina immediately seems too low at the beginning of the game, seemingly depleted by actions that don’t line up in terms of time requirement for that action. For example, chopping a single tree down for the three out of four lumber you need will require you to get to bed for the day. Few things are as frustrating like having to go to bed by 2pm. It almost makes me wonder why the clock isn’t set to advance faster.
Ultimately, the game portrays the importance of nature and animals in our lives. You will see the clear, beautiful river which keeps the soil rich for farmer’s crops to grow. You will stroll through the lush forests, commenting on the sweet taste of the air so different from the city, and experience the unique power of the seasons. You will also gain the love of your animals as you see to meeting all their needs through the humane treatment long lost from many of our modern day farming practices. All of this, it is stressed, is nature’s beauty and is the town’s greatest treasure, partially entrusted to you to help preserve. Hell, you can’t even throw trash in the river – not even once – without risking the wrath of everyone in the town.
Story of Season’s overall tone is fresh and friendly. The town and everyone in it is successful because of everyone’s hard work and attitude, and the attitude of everyone you meet is friendly and positive. Overall, this makes the game a joy to play, and nothing less than a refreshing place to escape, merging your city slicker in-game mentality with the game’s real life experience. Between its upbeat music and the wonderfully cute NPC character design, one would be hard pressed to stay in a bad mood for long.
Bottom Line: Story of Seasons is a refreshing game offering a positive place of escape, and while it is definitely a niche title, it gets everything it does right.
Recommendation: Story of Seasons is a must-have for anyone into the Harvest Moon series or simulation and resource management games in general, especially those looking for a fun, casual experience with a little side story to escape all your farming with. If in-game grinds and repetition is not your thing, you may want to give this title a miss.[rating=4.5]