Story of Seasons – Review. New Name Same Great Harvest Moon
Marvelous AQL has been bringing us their lovely farming/life/dating simulator for years, and after all these years do they still have what it takes to continue reinventing the wheel with this series? Well let’s find out as today I review Story of Seasons for the Nintendo 3DS. First of all I would like to thank XSEED for providing me with a review copy of this game, having multiple save files has helped me a lot in writing this review.
What I should mention first in this review is what I love so much about this series and why I think it’s so great. Harvest Moon has always been able to take me into another world in which I can live a day to day life in a town with new people and become a part of that community as the town’s local farmer. Now on paper this probably doesn’t sound like the most fun idea a video game could possibly have but trust me each game has managed to execute itself in a way where it makes it fun. Each entry into the main line series always brings something new to the table and improves, and sometimes forgoes, things it has established in previous entries. And Story of Seasons is no different. This game brings a breath of fresh air into the series and builds upon many of the great things established by A New Beginning and even fixes a lot of the things I found wrong with it.
Let’s first talk about what this game does with the traditional Harvest Moon gameplay. The first thing we should probably talk about is the farming. Everything in this game has pretty much been reduced to a single button touch when it comes to tilling your field to watering your plants. All you really have to do is hold down the A button and you will continuously use whatever tool you currently have in your hand. You can hold it down and in a short time cover an entire field with seeds or water an entire field, however, at the tools base level you will be holding the button for a few seconds for the tools to go completely in effect. This can be remedied by upgrading your tools, the further along your tools are upgraded, the less stamina you will use up, and the less resources they will use up as well. Now some people think this over simplification can be a bad thing, personally, I think this is fantastic. I love being able to hold down one button and be able to cover my entire field in a matter of seconds. I also enjoy that when you harvest your field you harvest all nine crops at one time, and they become neat boxes sitting on the field waiting to be picked up. I know simplification sometimes can be a bad thing but I feel in this case it helps the cause.
The next aspect I would like to talk about is how trade venues work. In this game you are not able to ship out your goods whenever you like for the good first portion of the game. This is very unlike most of the previous entries in the series. Instead you have to rely on the different trade venues that come into town during different days of the week. This means you are really only able to ship out your stuff to be sold anywhere between one and two times a week (I did have the off week when they would show up 3 times but that was uncommon) this forces the player to try and plan out when they want to harvest or start growing their produce so it will be ready in time for the trade venue. I will admit at first I did not like the lack of convenience that I had from previous Harvest Moon games, but I eventually got used to the change, so much so that I would strategically plant all of my crops so that their harvest times would coincide with when the venues are in town. This is important because crops, once harvested, are given a “fresh” tag meaning they are at their best and sell for their highest value. However, after a few days they lose that tag and sell for a slightly lower value than their fresh counterpart. This makes timing of when you harvest your crops key, unless you have a fridge to store the fresh produce. You also unlock other trade venues from around the in game world in which you can interact with. The game emphasizes international commerce with other countries, the more you trade with the different venues you unlock, the more things you will be able to buy from them in the future. I feel like this gives a good incentive to shipping with the many different venues that you will begin to unlock throughout your play through, and in return have the ability to ship things out a lot more often.
The next thing I want to cover is one of the other important aspects of the Harvest Moon franchise, the social aspect of it. In my opinion the thing that has always attracted me to the Harvest Moon series has been the social and life sim aspect of it. While I do enjoy the farming, there is just something gratifying about befriending the vast variety of people who live in your town. Each character is unique and awesome in their own way, and no one character is the same. Each character has their own backstory that you have the ability to explore, almost every character feels important in their own way.
I actually had a hard time picking a bachelorette to marry since they all had great different characteristics to explore, and seeing as you would have to go through a long process of breaking up with one to start dating another it’s not practical to try and view all of the girls events in one play through. It felt rewarding to get to know each character in the game better, and starting a family in this game felt very touching. I applaud this game because it continues the trend of actually raising your children and getting to know them better as a character. That was always a pet peeve of mine in earlier games as the family aspect of the game was only knee deep and was never fully explored until A Wonderful Life, I am glad that in Story of Seasons they are continuing this trend in a better way than that of A New Beginning. Overall each character interaction felt unique and awesome and you could tell the localizers had a lot of fun with this part of the game, shaping each character into a memorable experience and getting to know each one better, without spoiling it all I can say is that there are many feels to be had throughout some of these interactions.
Now the next thing I want to get into is the new gameplay mechanic known as Conquests. Throughout Oak Tree Town there are several plots of land. Each one of these plots of land give special bonuses for certain crops that are grown there, such as one field will grow root crops like onions and potatoes better than your main farm land, or you can raise bees to collect honey.
To start you are given one plot of land, while rival farmers in the region all have their own plots. You lease each plot so to speak, and at the end of each lease period you have the option to go and claim another farmers land. This is where a Conquest is instigated. You are pitted against anywhere between 2 to 3 of the rival farmers in a battle to claim a new plot of land. However don’t let the name fool you, you aren’t fighting each other with swords and shields, this isn’t Rune Factory after all. Instead you are pitted against each other in a few different competitions. Some of these include choosing to battle it out in one of the local festivals, where the winner of the festival gets the land; or competing with who gains the highest profit from shipping at the trade venue. These conquests are a great way to build up friendship with your rival farmers, and get in a good habit of shipping out mass amounts of goods. To me it seemed kind of pointless to have the festival option as more times than not I would test my luck of shipping the most amount of goods than going head to head in festivals. As you have more room for error with the shipments, however if you feel confident in your abilities to have the best cow in town or the prized pumpkin at the crop festival, then go ahead and give that a try. Overall, I believe the conquests are a great way to get rid of the “now what” syndrome a lot of Harvest Moon games have to offer, as you have to be pro-active at maintaining your fields, because once your lease is up and you forget to renew it your plots become fair game to any of your rivals.
The last thing I want to cover is this games multiplayer. This game offers an online and local multiplayer in which you are able to visit your friend’s farms and help them raise the quality of their crops or help out with their animals. This can also be used as a way to trade items with your friends as when you go to a friend’s town the host is there to give you a gift and you leave a gift with them for visiting. Now, I understand that the whole online multiplayer aspect for Harvest Moon is somewhat new, but I have to say the multiplayer did get rather boring and at times felt kind of pointless to partake in unless I had a friend who wanted to gift me an outfit that she made for me. But I do appreciate the thought of having friends being able to give gifts to you for visiting.
Overall, Story of Seasons is a solid entry into the Harvest Moon series. It just goes to show that Marvelous AQL has not lost their spunk when it comes to creating these games. The new gameplay mechanics are great and entertaining, the writing of the character dialogue is fantastic, and I applaud XSEED for giving this game so much life in the localization process. The only problem I truly had was that this game suffers from the slow start up time a lot of Harvest Moon games have been having in recent years. By this I mean it basically feels like the entire first year is nothing but a major tutorial that can take up to several hours to complete. This may be a problem to fans trying to get into the series for the first time, and a bit of an annoyance for long time fans such as myself. But with how this game plays, it seems like it is somewhat unavoidable. Another problem I had is that I also run into my fair share of bugs and frame rate issues. There are times where the frame rate in the game dips quite a bit, however it does not make the game unplayable and it’s just a minor annoyance. I did notice when playing the game on the New 3DS the frame rate drops were not as common as on my regular 3DS. As for the bugs, I would hope they are patched in some way in the future. None of them are game-breaking, some are kind of humorous. An example being, if you tie with someone in the conquest it messes up the results, but you still come out as the winner.
To wrap this up: I love this game. Story of Seasons was one of my most anticipated games of 2015, and the game delivered in every way imaginable. It fixed a lot of issues that I had with A New Beginning and incorporated a lot of new and fun ideas that kept the gameplay fun and imaginative. Mix that up with some great writing from TV shows and the characters, you have the recipe for one of the greatest games in the series. Old time fans of the series will enjoy the feel and new ideas this game brings to the table, while fans who are new to the series will easily be able to jump into this game, as the game actually has an easy mode for newcomers, they just need to get past the slow start and they are home free. This will be a game I will be playing for years to come, perhaps even when the next Story of Seasons game is announced for Wii U or 3DS.
+Great character writing
+Fluid and streamlined gameplay
+So Much to do
+Re-invents the wheel for the Harvest Moon formula
-Frame Rate Issues
-Slow Start at the beginning