It wasn’t until I sat down to write this review that I realised that Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns was far from my first foray into the life simulation/farming genre. In fact, I’ve spent a great deal of time engrossed in the Animal Crossing games, but despite covering similar ground, they’re very different games. Some of these differences make Trio of Towns great, while others are what make it flounder.
First of all, this is literally a Harvest Moon game, and I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s a similar game that fans of that series will love, This is the latest entry in the Marvelous-developed Japanese series Bokujō Monogatari, which had been localised in America for years by the company Natsume as Harvest Moon. A few years ago, Marvelous decided to part ways with Natsume, but without owning the Harvest Moon name, their localisations now go by the Story of Seasons name. In other words, if you’re a fan of that series, you can probably just go ahead and order your copy now.
Story of Seasons, like the many games that came before it, is a life simulation game with a focus on farming, finance, and romance. A lot of the game involves taking care of crops or raising farm animals, but there’s just as much that is focused on the connections you make with people, and which eligible partner you decide to try and make a life with.
You play as a farmer freshly implanted into a tight-knit community of three neighboring towns, each with a distinct theme and real-life inspiration. You start off only being able to navigate the Wild West inspired Westown. Things start off fairly limited, with the gates to the other two towns are initially too damaged to walk through, and stay like that for the first few hours of the game. With only one town, a couple of crops, and a handful of side-jobs to do like weeding, package delivering, and so on, I found myself doing everything available to me almost instantly for most of the first season of the game.
Small beginnings lead to bigger and better things, though.As your days go by, you’re slowly introduced to new activities and functions, like being able to fish, raising farm animals, mining ore, or chopping wood for lumber. Eventually, shipping enough crops to Westown, doing enough jobs there and spending enough time with the citizens will increase your Town Link Rank. This gauge exists for each town in the game and performing tasks to fill it up unlocks new shop items, new events, and the remaining two towns, as well as even further activities and options. Once I got into the meat of the game, I found that most days ended too soon for me to get everything I wanted done – there’s just never enough hours in a day, is there?
You really get as much out of the game as you put into it. A lot of the systems are deep, intricate, and a tad overwhelming at first. If you just want to plant some tomatoes and water them until they grow, that’s fine, but you can also start experimenting with fertilisers that increase the size of your crops, or boost their color or juiciness. You can probably go through the entire game without experimenting like this and still have a rewarding experience. The game never punishes you for keeping things simple, but often offers encouragement and natural progression in challenges that nudge you into dipping your toes into more complicated work.
For me and many others, the biggest and most important part of the game is the character interactions and the romance system. Unfortunately, this is where things get dicey. After spending dozens of hours playing this game, I hardly got any kind of romantically inclined events or dialogue. Sure, the restaurant owner Carrie would constantly flirt with me in front of her husband Brian, but I soon figured out she wasn’t a romance option, and my brief hopes of having an illicit affair were dashed.
A great tidbit for the romance is that clothing and hair options in the game are all wearable regardless of gender, so while there isn’t a proper same-sex romance option in the game, you can make your character male or female presenting, as long as you’re not phased by incorrect pronouns.
Once I did find myself exploring the game’s romance, I spent hours of the game doing dialogue, giving them their favorite gifts and more, yet the character relationships seem to move at a glacial pace in this game. In all my hours in the game, I saw barely five or six story events, and what little story I did witness was fairly barebones and uninteresting. Characters have varied personalities, but the writing lacks any kind of charm or wit.
A lot of the game feels very bland in that way, at least as far as aesthetic goes. This is a sharp looking game, especially compared to previous entries in the series. The design style and art portraits, however, all have this sort of basic, childrens math-textbook look to them. Even some characters with designs that I really appreciated just felt sort of bland in the way they were rendered. The music is just as uninspiring and has very basic rhythm or instrument work. When I think of how fondly I feel for the simple yet unique music of Animal Crossing, the audio of Story of Seasons just pales in comparison.
Story of Seasons has a wealth of addictive and detailed gameplay mechanics, and the focus on a strong gameplay loop with plenty of wiggle room is executed flawlessly. What it boasts in gameplay, however, is lost when it comes to bland writing, ho-hum visuals, and music that I often found myself muting. There’s some fun to be had here if you’re interested in romance and characters, despite these flaws. If you’re more interested in the farm management and agricultural gameplay, though, there’s an endless amount of fun to be had here.