For those not aware, XSEED Games's Story of Seasons is the latest entry in the Bokujo Monogatari franchise, which up until now has been localized under the Harvest Moon name. As publisher Natsume owns the rights to that name in the west, the latest entry in the franchise has gotten a new name. Natsume's latest title brought a more Minecraft-ish bent to the gameplay, whereas Story of Seasons plays closer to the gameplay mechanics fans have come to know of the series. That said, is this more of the same from the developers or a game that takes those elements and advances them further?
Like many of the games in the series prior to Story of Seasons, you play as a young male or female rancher who sees a poster advertising the nearby Oak Tree Town looking for new ranchers to take root in the area and advance the town through trading with local and outside areas. You get options to change up your clothing as you progress in the game, but as far as the skin/eye/etc. options go they range from your typical brown/blonde-haired and white skinned options to darker hair and skin tones, so almost everyone will be able to get relatively close to their real-life complexion if they so wish.
Returning to that trade aspect mentioned earlier, the idea of connectivity plays a major focus in Story of Seasons. As the series' staple shipping bin is gone in this iteration, initially you are limited to a sole trade to ship items through. The more you trade with said trader, the more traders you'll attract and bring into Oak Tree Town. This sounds great in theory, but it causes an issue early on in the game as the traders only visit on specific days. Thus, typically you will have to fill up your sack's limited space with items to trade on the off-days and also need to travel back and forth to trade on the days the trader is in town, unless you can amass enough money for a larger sack. The removal of the shipping bin makes sense in an overall sense with the game's connective focus, but there was something to be said about the ease of shipping items that it allowed in prior games in the series.
However, once more traders come to the town the change does begin to bear fruit. Having more traders, besides allowing for more days to sell items on, has some traders which will pay better for specific items or top dollar for items they're specifically looking to acquire. This ties into a gameplay addition introduced in Harvest Moon: A New Beginning surrounding crafting, as furniture, tools, outfits, and items can be crafted by purchasing recipes and blueprints from the various townspeople and the traders.
One minor issue with this crafting system, though, is that I often ran into issues during my playthrough for this review where I either couldn't acquire the materials or the way to build a specific item easily, compared to prior games in the series where you could instantly purchase them the moment they were necessary to be bought season-wise. Granted guides will help remedy this soon enough, but for those who can't find or access these guides, the developers could have done a better job fine tuning this mechanic.
Story of Seasons also introduces another new aspect to the series: difficulty options. Veterans of the previous games in the series will feel right at home with the Veteran mode option, but those who haven't played prior games in the series or want a more relaxing atmosphere can pick the new Seedling option. Your rancher has a bit more stamina available in Seedling and the requirements from the vendors are much lower than in Veteran. Besides just for newcomers, this new Seedling mode option is also great for older fans who want to get back in the series but don't have the time to grind out money for the multitude of options available in Story of Seasons.
Farming is still front and foremost, and Story of Seasons does a lot to streamline this process and add some new wrinkles to the series' well-ironed formula. You have your series staple options of growing crops, raising livestock, fishing and mining, but the developers also added in a new system where you can grow specialized items on special fields littered around the town. These fields allow for faster plant growth and quality compared to the standard field, but the catch is that other ranchers in the area are also on the lookout for said fields. After leasing the land, once the lease comes up another rancher can try to rent it. If you dispute their claim, you'll have to enter in a challenge for the land. At the outset of the game these challenges are a bit difficulty, but as the player progresses they tend to become easier to complete. It's a small addition, but it does a lot to make the player feel like they are part of the town.
And speaking of that town aspect, the developers did a lot to include aspects that take you out of the farm and mingle with the townspeople. If fighting over land isn't your thing, you can dive for items underwater, the previously mentioned crafting aspect and even help grow fish in a hatchery. The townspeople in this iteration also feel a bit livelier than in the previous entries and some even have their own backstories to go through if one so wishes. And for those who were worried due to the name change: the marriage option is still present and accounted for here.
Graphically it's a bit of a mixed bag. The graphics are quite detailed and have a colorful but rustic look to them, but often I'd run into light to heavy frame rate issues in areas that were packed with lots of graphical touches. One such area even makes itself known in the initial part of the mandatory tutorial, so it feels like the developers were pushing their internal engine to the limits and something had to give here. This doesn't happen all the time, but it's enough to detract until the player eventually gets used to it. One interesting mention is that the 3D effect doesn't seem to cause any further frame rate drops unlike prior games in the series in those areas, so there's no need to try to forego the 3D effect to try to help stabilize the frame rate.
Story of Seasons is an interesting turning point in the series. It advances the formula enough to rope in veterans, but still makes things approachable for newcomers or those who fell of the wagon father back in the series and felt the more recent games added too much complexity. There's issues like the frame rates drops and the pacing, but it's nothing major enough that a future entry in the series couldn't remedy. If you have any inkling of interest in farming, this is a story you should dive into.
|The new Seedling difficulty is great for newcomers or those who don't have as much time as they once did.|
|The 3D effect, while somewhat underutilized, doesn't have the issues prior games in the series had.|
|Those who prefer the classic mechanics of the previous games will feel right at home.|
|Somewhat often frame rate issues depending on how many effects are on the screen.|
|Occasional issues with having trouble gathering the items necessary to craft a new item, could have been balanced better.|
|The slowness of the initial part of the game might turn off players wanting to get into the action quicker.|