For every sim, there is a season
As a fan of both casual and intermediate simulation and farming games, the Harvest Moon series has always been a mainstay for me. I grew up on several different iterations of the Natsume-published entries beginning with Harvest Moon GB, dabbled with PlayStation 2 releases, and graduated to portable DS titles that found me clearing derelict farms of trees and debris and dating the farmer of my dreams.
Story of Seasons, the latest “proper” entry in the Harvest Moon series, is the first modern farm sim to channel the glory days of my youth.
Story of Seasons (Nintendo 3DS)
Publisher: XSEED Games
Released: March 31, 2015
The alternative moniker isn’t indicative of a “reboot” of the games or anything like that, however. It simply represents the fact that the Harvest Moon name has changed hands from previous publisher Natsume to XSEED Games. Developer Marvelous has crafted a game that’s much more deserving of the title than Natsume’s recent effort Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, and fans have something meaty and entertaining to look forward to within.
But first, a bit of a history lesson. Harvest Moon’s life began on the Super Nintendo, where it was known as Bokujō Monogatari, which roughly translates to “Farm Story.” It was a novelty then as it is now: a game where you spend your days taking care of cows and harvesting crops as the seasons gently roll through spring, summer, fall, and winter. The goal, ultimately, is to build a house, woo a girl (it was always a girl in the early days), and settle down into a peaceful, pastoral existence.
Story of Seasons is an interesting amalgamation of what made these games exciting upon their descent into western culture interesting back when I was younger and continues to make them addictive in a modern setting. As it happens, there’s also an astronomical amount of things to do. This has to be the biggest, most sprawling farm sim game related to Harvest Moon I’ve seen so far, in terms of both management aspects and activities to perform. Harvest Moon: A New Beginning is similar in many ways, but it seems Story of Seasons has expanded on it significantly.
Luckily the beginning of the game isn’t so complicated, only offering you the chance to figure out who you want to use as your avatar throughout your adventure. It’s good to begin with something you can manage that’s as simple as deciding who you want to be. You can choose to play as a male or female farmer, both tasked with heading to the sleepy Oak Tree Town, in dire need of a skilled farmer to care for one of the town’s sprawling ranches.
You’re neither skilled nor a farmer when you start out, but that’s what makes Story of Seasons so exciting: throwing caution to the wind and heading out to pursue a new profession in an unknown place to help a town in need. There are plenty of other farmers in town to help show you the ropes and ensure you know all there is to know before you plant your first seeds. Together, all four of you can hopefully restore Oak Tree Town’s Trade depot back to its former glory, with the right amount of crops and care.
There’s a long road ahead of you, though, and a ridiculous amount of training required before you can even set foot in your own farm. It’s off to Eda, longtime resident of Oak Tree town, to act as your mentor as she prepares you to plant, water, and harvest crops, raise farm animals, how to use and upgrade tools used around the farm, and important information like your Health and Stamina. It’s a wealth of information that can feel like a slog to get through at first, and can feel overwhelming at first. This is absolutely not a fast-moving game. You’ll need some patience to take in all of the little things that you’ll find truly add up by the end of your farming internship, but sticking to it feels extremely rewarding.
That’s where Story of Seasons tends to differ from Natsume’s “traditional” Harvest Moon games the most. Rather than arriving at a farm and getting started immediately, you’re given extensive training before allowed to set foot in a farm that’s in any way yours. Even your starter area is adjacent to Eda’s, as if the folks at Marvelous don’t quite trust you with your own area yet, supplanting new features and other additions as you go along.
Unlike similar titles in the past, you’ve got more to worry about than if you watered your crops for the day or if your character is looking a bit haggard while tending to crops out in the rain. Your character’s Health and Stamina play central roles in keeping your farm efficient and productive, and there are plenty of ways to satisfy both requirements beyond simply going to bed. For instance, you can eat a small meal, head to a hot spring, or rest in order to ensure your health is restored, but losing it is another deal entirely.
This time around even if you do something as small as walk outside during a torrential downpour, you’ll see your health drop, just as you would if you decided to stay up late in-game. In this, it lends a more realistic lilt to farming life. Along with the stamina points, represented by the number of hearts your farmer has on-screen, it communicates the message that farmers are still fragile, often weary human beings who need time and training to work themselves to the bone and keep themselves healthy. Luckily, the two difficulty modes (Normal and Seedling) offer options for players looking to keep things light.
Seedling Mode finds stamina consumption levels lowered by 50%, which makes for a completely different experience when starting out, as do the positive multipliers on store items, prices, stock, and more. New players may consider Seedling Mode as a viable option when becoming acquainted with Story of Seasons, as there are alterations between that and Normal Mode that are indeed a boon for newbies looking to get started quickly and with fewer frustrations.
Speaking of making things easier, farming feels much more convenient than before. You can work with a 3×3 area when working with watering, planting, and the like, and you can hold down your action button while walking to continue with what you’re doing. If you want to water crops you can keep walking around. If you’re planting seeds, your character will scatter them in the air. It all feels quite intuitive. Controls work with you rather than against you. The only way you might falter is if you find yourself struggling with the in-game tasks constantly thrown at you, and the multitude of extra assignments available to take on.
Managing your farm becomes simpler the more you learn about doing it, but there are still several things to keep track of, including your farm house, animals, the crops you’re tending to, and special sheds that can be used to convert raw materials like dairy products and the like into useable food items like cheese or yogurt. You can make clothing, pottery, seasonings, engineer seeds and crops, and more at the Maker Sheds, all of which are extremely important when your farm is up and running proper. There’s a large variety of crops to keep up with as well, including special Super Mario Bros. crops like Super Mushrooms and Fire Flowers. These are interesting, cheeky additions that feel right at home on the 3DS, and when you harvest Super Stars to ensure the crops you have remain fresh.
Aside from working on the farm, there are multiple interactions you’ll have with villagers and other NPCs. Some of these can lead to special relationships that can end in marriage and children, and others will give you gifts, interact with you, and befriend you as you make your way as a farmer in Oak Tree Town. These help keep things light, but also act as reprieves from the toil of day-to-day proceedings of planting seeds, harvesting crops, exporting goods for sale, and ensuring your farm remains profitable. Much like real life, offering a chance to interact with others, build relationships, and participate in events and activities beyond that of simple hard work provides several benefits. You’ll find as a player that you’ll appreciate these personable interactions as much as the satisfaction of cultivating a successful farm.
Story of Seasons looks fantastic, feels great, and offers an overabundance of things to do and places to see. It’s a farmer’s paradise, though its almost excruciatingly slow tutorial and internship will take a large amount of patience to get through if you’re to see all the game has to offer, and there is a lot. Expect to clear your calendar for this excellent portable farming sim, as you’ll be spending several hours turning a profit to impress the townsfolk of Oak Tree Town, your future husband or wife, or even your friends playing alongside you.