Bree somehow managed to weasel her way into a game design degree, hasn't stopped playing Skyrim since it first came out and is unrelentingly thirsty for Nagito Komaeda.
PC, Nintendo Switch
July 10, 2020
I’ve been working alone on my farm for almost a year now, earning upwards of 2k just from sale of produce alone. Although the love of my life, Ran, still won’t even look at me, despite the fact that I drop by to give her fresh grapes every single morning. For the past few weeks I have packed away my copy of Animal Crossing and moved to a new town, a remake of the 2003 Game Boy Advance game, Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town (Harvest Moon now called Story of Seasons in the west). It’s been 17 years now since the original title first came out and this remake is surely going to draw in fans new and old alike.
The new art direction is very cute and the new 3D environments are bright and colourful. Those big round cows are the highlight of my afternoon when I pop by the poultry store to buy myself some more chicken feed. The characters have all had redesigns to fit the new artstyle, some of them are improvements but i would argue that the old designs are better for quite a few. Though I am happy to see the 90’s outfits have been redesigned because if Gray was still wearing an ugly cap everytime I spoke to him I’m not sure I could have handled it.
The remake changes very little from the original game and in places it does feel a little bit archaic, but overall the game holds up remarkably well. It starts the same way the original did (and as most farming sims do) with you being left a farm by your grandfather. Moving away from the big city to Mineral Town, the mayor hands over the metaphorical keys to the farm and you’re basically good to go. There are brief tutorials for each new action you attempt, but other than that the game lets you figure it out on your own. You’ll be planting whatever little seeds you can afford and spending the rest of your time foraging in the surrounding woods for gifts for other townspeople (or more things to sell if you prefer). In Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town you set your own goals, and whether you meet them is up to you.
“In Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town you set your own goals, and whether you meet them is up to you.”
At first, this game is somewhat daunting in its freedom. Even Stardew Valley has the overarching goal of restoring the Community Center, but Mineral Town doesn’t even have that. You make your own fun, so to speak. Your goal might be to buy the vacant plot of land in town, or to buy one of each type of farm animal, or to get married asap. Regardless of your choices, you’ll eventually find your groove in Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, and it will begin to feel like you’re checking things off a very satisfying to-do list. Wake up, water your crops, pat your chickens, give another gift to Ran, and spend the rest of the day fishing or mining. If, like me, getting into a rhythm gives you unending satisfaction, this game is really going to tickle your fancy.
There have of course been a couple of tweaks made to help mold the game into a more modern experience. While these updates are nothing groundbreaking, they do help the game feel more polished. First of all, I really liked the inventory management, you don’t need to open a separate inventory screen because it’s always already part of the UI! All items are mapped to the right joystick that you can use to scroll through whatever you have on hand, and tools are mapped to the left d-pad. I think having tools and general items separate is a great idea, because nothing is more frustrating than having an inventory full of tools that are necessary to carry around at all times. I have heard rumors of an elevator that can eventually be unlocked for the mines ala Stardew Valley. I don’t have it yet, but that is a welcome update because right now any progress made in the mines is reverted once you leave. Finally, the tweak I’m most excited about is the addition of same-sex marriage, meaning when Ran finally realises she loves me I’ll be able to make it official.
The characters as a whole are really great. They all have their own daily schedules and I find myself getting genuinely excited when I walk in on one of their personal cutscenes. It’s nice to see the characters interact with not just me, but also each other. The remake also received a new English translation and it was really well done. The interactions feel very real and well written, along with just plain funny sometimes. It’s hard not to fall in love with the whole cast of characters and want to befriend them so you can see more of those personal cutscenes and learn more about them.
One of my only criticisms is that the game feels very slow to start. You have very little energy and so until you can upgrade your watering can you’re only able to water a very small plot of crops before running out. While you could feasibly water crops and then recharge at the hotsprings over and over, it’s not a very satisfying gameplay loop that way. So you aren’t going to be making very much money until the second season, meaning you aren’t going to be able to buy many animals to keep on the farm either. I mean, it’s okay, but it doesn’t have as wide a variety of things to do as Stardew Valley does, meaning that there is more waiting between each milestone.
Another issue is the sound design. While the music is lovely and does wonders for setting the scene, the loops on the tracks are also very short so they unfortunately become grating very quickly. The footstep sounds for the main character also don’t change depending on what surface you walk on and the sound is quite loud. It sounds like a small complaint, but in a game where you are walking around this much it starts driving you a little crazy.
Apart from these gripes, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town only has one pitfall, and it’s the same one that every farming sim has these days. That’s the unfortunate luck of releasing after the amazing Stardew Valley. It is so hard not to make comparisons to that game while playing and Mineral Town just doesn’t feel quite as meaty, but that’s okay.
If you are looking for something new to play, there is plenty to enjoy here. The farming is still robust and the characters likeable. It has a casual ebb and flow that will find you playing for “just one more day” over and over. While not as advanced as some other farming sims out there, you’ll find yourself swept up in the routine very quickly and an hour or two will turn into five. It’s a game with a lot of love in it and is definitely worth a look if you’re craving some more of the great outdoors.