It’s been a long, long time since I first played Harvest Moon. I must have been nine or ten at the time, having watched for hours as my friend tended to the myriad crops and animals populating his farm. What struck me most was the bound folder sitting in his lap which he’d occasionally refer to. It was a handmade encyclopedia bursting with knowledge, a bulky tome charting everything from tool upgrades to character birthdays. After spectating so intently, I was finally treated to a very brief hands-on and knew right away that I needed this game in my life.
A few months would pass by before I discovered a lone copy nested within the bargain bin of a local supermarket. Five pounds was a lot of money to part with back then, but it was worth every penny. Needless to say, Harvest Moon: Back To Nature is easily one of my favourite games of all time yet, strangely enough, I’ve never played any of the sequels.
How does Story of Seasons slot into all of this, I hear you ask? Well, for all intents and purposes, this is a Harvest Moon game in all but name. Known in Japan as Bokujo Monogatami, or Farm Story, the series was renamed by Natsume when localising the first game back in 1996. Thing is, they still hold the rights to the Harvest Moon name, forcing franchise developer Marvelous to rebrand its latest international release.
Although some saw this as a shifty move on Natsume’s part, they aren’t entirely to blame for the name change. In 2014, Marvellous effectively cut its ties with the publisher after handing distribution rights in North America over to its own subsidiary, XSEED Games. In response, Natsume released Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley which not only tanked amid negative reviews but has also caused confusion among fans. Of course, up until a few weeks ago, I had been blissfully unaware of all this, and even after loading Story of Seasons for the first time, I’m still hesitant in labelling it as “the new Harvest Moon”.
For starters, the artwork has changed a fair bit since my last stint with Back To Nature. Although eccentric and still brimming with personality, the many villagers you come by no longer sport that charmingly squat physique. Still, they each slot into familiar archetypes including craftsmen, store clerks, doctors, mayors, and other farmers. This roster of NPCs is padded out even further as you start to factor in their families, lending Oak Tree Town some rural authenticity.
Despite a new name and setting, the premise here is very much the same as past games in the series. Fed up with regular life, you escape to the countryside to adopt a derelict ranch that’s in dire need of some love and attention. After chatting with the various inhabitants of Oak Tree Town, you’re soon equipped with the knowledge and equipment to begin renovations.
Even as a lapsed Harvest Moon fan, it felt like a wee bit of a slog as I tapped my way through lines of tutorial dialogue. The stabilisers soon fall away, however, giving you free reign to expand and explore at your own leisure. Over my first week of game time, I’ve begun to re-familiarise myself with the various aspects I fell in love with all those years ago. Whenever starting Harvest Moon, there was always that initial stage of clearing the stray trees and boulders obscuring your crop fields. Here it’s exactly the same though many of the series’ older systems have been noticeably streamlined.
In Story of Seasons, the selection of basic tools available felt somewhat overpowered, at least to me. Instead of having to hack out crop fields one grid square at a time, the hoe can now bang out a three by three plot in no time. Other actions, such as watering and harvesting, have also been simplified, helping to move things on much quicker.
It feels like a far more approachable entry to the series and one that will no doubt resonate with newcomers to the series. Aside from demystifying a number of the series more vague aspects, there’s also a new “Seedling” mode. That said, there are plenty of throwbacks for veterans to pore over, as well as more interesting features we’ll outline in further detail when our review goes live later this month.
Until then long-time fans should know that, despite the rebrand, Story of Seasons is still a Harvest Moon game through and through. Although it’s yet to wow me to the same extent as Back To Nature did all those years ago, there’s still plenty of time.