Sometimes, you've gotta sit back and smell the roses. Other times, you think that's what you're going to do and you discover an intricate and deceptively challenging adventure instead. This is one of those times.
Story of Seasons may not be a familiar name to us, but the gameplay sure is. If you've ever played a Harvest Moon title (except for the latest), Story of Seasons is going to feel awfully familiar. The reason? The series formerly known as Harvest Moon was the localized version of Bokujou Monogatari. Late last year, Natsume released their first in-house developed Harvest Moon title, after Marvelous AQL-owned subsidiary XSEED was given the Bokujou Monogatari franchise. When this happened, XSEED, not having rights to use Natsume's Harvest Moon name, renamed the title Story of Seasons.
Like I said before, Story of Seasons is actually surprisingly hard! When starting the game, you'll be presented with "Original" mode, which is described as being for veterans of the series—a choice that might confused you if you didn't read the paragraph above. The second mode is sapling mode, for more casual players. I decided to start off on original mode. I'm not a veteran of the Bokujou series by any stretch of the imagination, but I figured "Hey, video games! I'm good at these!"
I was wrong.
While my farm didn't fail, I couldn't keep my livestock happy, I was barely feeding myself and I was usually out of stamina by noon. Developing a routine is key in original mode, keeping a constant eye on your stamina bar is even more important. But perhaps most important is making sure you're flush with cash. Things are generally fairly expensive in original mode; a single piece of lumber will set you back 1,500 bucks.
After several seasons in original mode, I switched over to sapling mode, which meant starting the whole game over, but I feel I made the right choice. In sapling mode costs of everything are generally reduced. Cutting trees? That'll take both less time and stamina. Buying materials? You can expect to pay 30% less. The great part is, if you're selling your wares, you'll still make the same amount as you would in original mode. The overall effect left me worrying less and enjoying the world more. Players of different skill levels have something they can mutually enjoy here. Adding an easier difficulty level definitely opens Story of Seasons up in the right way and makes it more inviting for the uninitiated, like myself.
In Story of Seasons, maintaining relationships with the townsfolk (and whichever lucky lady or dude you want to marry) is pretty important. Fortunately, the 3DS' touch screen is used as a map that displays the location of everyone in town in real-time.
The map isn't too complex, but being able to quickly glance to locate someone is an immense help. There's also a little button on the lower-left hand corner of the screen that'll give you directions on how to get home, though I never really felt it was necessary. The map isn't big enough or complicated enough to where I ever felt like I would have a hard time remembering how to return.
Story of Seasons is, on the surface, a game all about farming, but it's also equally about time management, so when I discovered tilling, seeding, watering and fertilizing all was streamlined, I was excited. Unlike previous Bokujou Monogatari games, Story of Seasons lets you work in 3x3 areas as opposed to single-square patches of land. The end result means once action covers a greater surface area and frees you up to move on to the next thing faster.
It's a small improvement, but one that goes a long way toward giving you time to do other things and makes setting your farm up that much easier.
Nintendo crossovers really are the best. For Story of Seasons, Nintendo allowed the inclusion of Mario Bros. trademark Super Mushrooms, Fire Flowers and Power Stars. Each one of the Italian plumber's power-ups have a positive impact on your crops if you can manage to find them.
The Super Mushroom will mature your plants, while the Fire Flowers will burn away and wilted crops and boost the quality of those that aren't, and the Power Star will keep your crops fresh for sixty days as opposed to the standard three days. Getting little nods to Nintendo's storied franchises in third-party games is fantastic, and I hope to see more.
Story of Seasons features an online multiplayer mode called Farm Tour. In Farm Tour mode you can either open your farm to friends or strangers, or you can go visit theirs. Farm Tours are pretty barebones; you can run around just the farm area, bless crops with a magic wand to help them grow in quality and that's about it.
It's a nice way to help other players out, but it'd be nice if you could help them water their crops or plant seed. The fact that you can help improve the quality of everything is nice, but it'd be even better if players could act as your farm hands.
Story of Seasons has a really cool system for selling items revolving around international trade. All selling takes place at the town's Trade Center, in which vendors from other nations will congregate to both buy your goods and sell you theirs. The interesting wrinkle comes in when you start receiving requests from other vendors for specific crops or products. Week to week you might see your focus shift based on what other countries are interested in.
Instead of just building a farm that churns out out whatever you fancy for a set price, to maximize your gains you'll need to see which countries need certain items and shift your focus from crops to furniture or clothing depending on market conditions. It's a really smart way to keep the game fresh and keep you engaged. While, yes, you can still make good money growing and selling crops, playing the market is most definitely to your advantage.
In Story of Seasons, once you outgrow your farm, you'll be able to lease fields throughout the town. Your first one will be given to you free of charge, but to lease another field, you'll need to battle it out with your fellow farmers. The requirements of each battle will be different, you might have to ship more items than your opponent or best them in a festival.
It's pretty cool that there's still a competitive element to a game seen as being "casual" like Story of Seasons.
There's a lot you can do in Story of Seasons. There's a ton of different crops to raise, people to meet, fish to catch, crafts to build, livestock to... do whatever people do with livestock... to..... There's a reason I live in the city, okay?! The point is, it's great! You can do all kinds of varied stuff! Every time you learn a new thing, a new book pops up in your handy bookshelf to explain it to you.
There's books on everything, swimming, watering, using a pitchfork. So many explanations! The only problem is, they fall short. For instance, one of the first books you get is on taking care of cows. They explain the six basic needs of a happy cow, brushing, milking, grazing, petting, treats and a clean stable. There's just one problem though—you can't get treats until you've unlocked the Cabin Country. Nobody ever tells you this, you just kind of have to deal with the fact that there are no treats available and hope that eventually you're let in on the fact that they're only sold in another country.
Scenarios like this happen far more often than I'm comfortable with. If Story of Seasons actually told me that treats would be available later, and that I'd have to attract a vendor from another country to get them, I would have had a clear, long-lasting objective on hand. Instead, I was stuck trying to figure out who in town might be able to point me in the right direction, since shortly after getting a cow there's a festival you can enter it in which there's seemingly no way to win without getting those treats.
If a game makes you give up and hope for an answer to appear, it's doing something wrong.
Story of Seasons is a game that rewards patience. The more time you sink in, the greater your rewards will be. It's easy to build up a rhythm and get immersed in the day-to-day. Though Story of Seasons has some minor annoyances , none of them hurt the game overall. If you're the type that enjoys slow progression, Story of Seasons is for you.