Let’s get the confusing stuff out of the way first, shall we? There’s a reason why Story of Seasons looks an awful lot like popular farming sim franchise, Harvest Moon. That’s because it is Harvest Moon, just without the name. Not long ago, series developer Marvelous decided to drop its distribution partner, Natsume. While we don’t know why, we do know that Natsume would go on to publish its own game using the prestigious title. This didn’t go down well.
No doubt frustrated by the sudden change, Harvest Moon fans have been holding out for a spiritual successor, and it’s finally here with Story of Seasons. Even without a cursory online search of the game’s history, you can tell right off the bat that it shares the same DNA. As in any Harvest Moon game, you arrive in a idyllic countryside town, giving up the city life to run your very own farm. It’s no easy task, however, and one that takes hours of dedication.
To start out, players create their own in-game avatar before being given their first plot of land. This is where you’ll build the foundations of your farm, eventually expanding to different areas as you progress. That comes much later on, however, accompanied by an ever-growing raft of advanced systems and mechanics.
It sounds overwhelming, sure, but Story of Seasons does a great job at easing in newer players. Following a breadcrumb trail of tutorials, you’ll begin to gather all the tools and skills you need to get stuck in. Within no time, you’ll be chopping trees and breaking up boulders, quickly making room for plots in which to grow the various crop types.
Although the game’ overarching objectives only become relevant much later on in the game, you’ll no doubt find yourself looking to optimise the farm’s financial standing. By visiting the trader’s market on select days, you’ll be able to sell off any produce and other miscellaneous items, using this money to invest in more tools, buildings, seeds, and animals.
Being able to visualise what you need to do in order to get ahead comes naturally. However, the actual minute-to-minute gameplay is at risk of warding less patient players away. Although a lot more streamlined than previous Harvest Moon games, the daily grind of watering plants, milking cows, and running other frequent errands begins to drag quite early on.
This is compounded further by the game’s pervasive need for timekeeping. As in real life, shops are only open at certain times of the day. Similarly, villagers won’t just stay in one spot forever, making some of them quite hard to locate when their icons aren’t visible on the map. Although a colourful bunch, I also found it a bit more difficult to bond with these characters, though this is perhaps due to me being particularly fond of old-time Harvest Moon pals.
Another aspect I found which is likely to divide opinion is the need to occasionally step away and pull up a walkthrough or forum post. As in previous entries, there’s a wealth of information which Story of Seasons keeps tucked away. This can be small things such as which gifts a villager is fond of to more impactful features like fast travel and the use of certain items. Mind you, this is something that fans of the series will be used to, and by the time it launches in the EU at the end of December, Story of Seasons will already have a ton of wiki pages and guides from the Japanese and US releases, for those players feeling a tad lost.
However, as touched on before, the core gameplay has been simplified for a new generation of would-be farmers. Instead of having to tend to each and every square foot of your allotments, actions such as watering and reaping have a much further reach, expediting the process nicely, and while some animals will still require individual attention, it’s a smart way of alleviating some of the pressure from players. That said, if you try to expand too fast without the relevant tools, you’ll be spending a good 50-75% of your time with the game performing the same daily chores as you wait until harvest.
Hand in hand with these slight changes are a number of small yet intriguing additions. Aside from regular farming, you’ll be able to partake in side activities such as beekeeping, mushroom cultivation and even going on safari. Story of Seasons also has a few options for multiplayer interaction such as Streetpass functionality and the ability to tour friendly farms.
It’s also a decent looking game all-round with some great soundwork, but I wouldn’t go much further in applauding its presentational qualities. Everything from characters and environments to animations is pretty basic when compared to what other studios are doing with the hardware, especially on newer models. Still, everything here is serviceable and for many that will do just fine.
If you’re the sort of gamer that hates to grind, then Story of Seasons is one you should avoid, despite how accessible the overall package is. True, Marvelous has scaled back some of the series’ tedious tasks but the option to automate the process for the lazy, more casual gamer would have been a nice addition. However, if you’re a fan of Harvest Moons’ more recent offerings then Story of Seasons should be right up your alley. There’s some initial monotony to get past initially, but it’s followed by a rewarding, content-rich game to be explored here and one that will warrant your attention whenever you get a spare few minutes to visit the farm.
Versions Tested: 3DS