Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town
Developer: Marvelous Inc
EU Publisher: Marvelous Europe
Localisation: XSEED Games
Genre: Other, Lifestyle, Simulation
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 10/07/2020
A code was provided for review purposes.
In the last month I have: renovated my house, developed a relationship with my new girlfriend, enjoyed meaningful walks out in the open air and spent some time quality time with the people that matter most. Oh, and I’ve been tending to crops and looking after the animals on my farm. That’s right; I’ve been playing STORY OF SEASONS: Friends of Mineral Town.
Instantly recognisable and faithfully recreated, this latest release from Marvelous Inc. is a reimagining of a cult classic from the 2000s. Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, an original Gameboy Advance release, is an important part of farming simulation history and Marvelous have seen fit to give it the makeover treatment. While early impressions would indicate that it is merely paying homage to a fan favourite, it soon becomes apparent that the subtle quality of life changes and reworked visuals aim to do no less than this game deserves: make it accessible and appealing to the masses.
We’ve all witnessed the recent success of games such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Stardew Valley, among others. They deliver on a promise to transport a player to a different way of life and offer the unique opportunity to immerse yourself in a living and breathing world that is both chirpy and colourful. Townsfolk enjoy your company and have all manner of wisdom to share, quests and activities bring purpose to your day, and, most importantly, you are given the freedom to play in a way that suits you.
The original Harvest Moon released on the SNES in 1997 and is arguably the most significant influencer on all farming and life sims that have come after it. Carefully combining the trials and tribulations of successfully running a profitable farm with the challenges that come with integrating yourself into an already established community have ensured it offers an element of realism and wholehearted goodness – the likes of which only a few games can achieve.
It is this that perfectly surmises all that this reimagining is about. The early days in STORY OF SEASONS are spent restoring order to a farm left in disarray – weeding, chopping wood and tilling the soil. From the outside looking in, these could easily be perceived as mundane tasks that a player must do to reach the good stuff. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a throwback to a simpler time, one where graft and gratitude are all that is needed to be successful. With each swing of the hoe or watering of a crop, you know that it will yield the desired results in due course.
As you begin to determine a routine to farm life, you can venture out into the town and begin building those important relationships that bring new meaning to the experience. Offering gifts and advice to the townsfolk improves their feelings towards you, and, in turn, it opens up numerous possibilities to advance ‘storylines’ or even your relationship status.
There is a hidden complexity to these relationships which begs to be explored, with special timed events being unlocked as you progress. For example, visiting the church between the hours of 10 am and 1 pm on a sunny Sunday morning would cue a cutscene between my love interest, Popuri, and a few of the other villagers. Selecting the appropriate response during dialogue meant that my bond with Popuri grew stronger, as it did with the other characters who were present. Naturally stumbling upon these isn’t easy, but when you do, it makes this interactive world all the more meaningful.
This event is just one of many that I could call upon to showcase the depth and detail of this title. It’s simplistic on the surface, and the game can be played as such but digging more in-depth offers up game-defining moments that are just reward for the hours that can be spent playing STORY OF SEASONS. Days quickly turn to weeks and then seasons in-game, and there is often a desire to play one more day as you try to make a profit and build a life for yourself.
It would be common to believe that a game from almost 20 years ago would need to do a lot to become a game that can withstand the next 20, and STORY OF SEASONS is no different, how Marvelous have sought to achieve this though is in subtle yet significant ways. Of course, the visuals have seen a drastic upgrade and are in keeping with the signature style of Harvest Moon games. There is an extra layer of polish that is missing, particularly in character animations when removing items from your bag or laying down fodder for your animals. Still, these feel inconsequential when viewed as a whole. The game has retained the charm associated with Friends of Mineral Town while also making sure that drastic visual improvements have been made.
There are other quality of life improvements that aren’t as obvious to the untrained eye. However, they make all the difference. A new ‘Easy’ mode has been introduced, allowing players to start the game with a larger sum of money to get things off to a positive start. As well as this, romantic relationships can now be formed regardless of gender. These, when coupled with the new and improved control scheme and 2D/3D field cursor options, highlight just how accessible and inclusive the game is.
Naturally, no game is without fault, and STORY OF SEASONS still has some unusual quirks. While they may have been a part of its charm the first time around, changing them for this reimagining would have provided an additional touch of realism. For one, time stands still when in buildings and caves. This is of benefit to the player but has always seemed an odd design choice. There are also days lost to bad weather where you can’t leave the house. You can plan ahead by watching the weather report on the TV, but when the time comes, there is little to do in the house apart from a spot of cooking.
The other caveat is the number of real-time minutes that pass by during each in-game day. It can often prove to be too quick, and as such, events can be missed or time misspent as you try to juggle everything that game has to offer. It can also mean that you don’t achieve as much as you would like either. Sometimes, I found myself committing to watering all my crops and tending to the animals, which then meant by 6 pm my character had run out of stamina, and the rest of the day was redundant.
Going to sleep for the night felt like a waste but attempting to achieve anything more felt like a waste too. Slowing the in-game clock ever so slightly could have changed this, or even giving players the option to dictate the clock speed themselves would be a welcome inclusion. During opening hours, this can prove to be a hindrance. Fortunately, a balance can be found as you progress.
Knowing this game like the back of my hand has meant that reliving it all over again has been an absolute joy. There is something here for everyone, and regardless of how you choose to play, there is enjoyment to be found at every turn. For a newcomer, it will take some time to find your feet, and the game doesn’t always hold your hand through it, but perseverance and an inquisitive mind will uncover all of the many secrets hidden in the town. For seasoned veterans, it is the game we all know and love, with an added helping of allure.
Friends of Mineral Town was one of my favourite games ‘back in the day’ and the STORY OF SEASONS reimagining has planted it firmly as one of my favourites all over again. It is everything I wanted it to be, with its addictive gameplay loop proving that games don’t have to be bold, daring and dark to be successful. It’s the perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch, and while there are still moments where the game could be better, the overall experience is one that I wholeheartedly recommend.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase STORY OF SEASONS: Friends of Mineral Town from the Nintendo eShop.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.