Don't let the title fool you — Story of Seasons is very much a Harvest Moon game. Though its release in North America lacks the familiar branding, in Japan the game falls under the Harvest Moon line of farming simulators. It should be noted that last year's Harvest Moon 3D: The Lost Valley carries that title due to Natsume's ownership of the IP in the West, which is why Story of Seasons goes by a different name. If you're still confused, look at it this way: Story of Seasons is the true latest Harvest Moon game.
Now that all of the IP ownership nonsense is out of the way, I can actually get to reviewing Story of Seasons!
Paying your dues
You start by creating your main character. You choose a gender, select from different hairstyles, put together a unique appearance, and name your character. Once you've done that, you can jump right into the game. Well, sort of.
If your intent is to dive into Story of Seasons and start your life as a farmer, you'll have to put those aspirations on hold for a couple of hours. At the start of the game, you're restricted to playing through a tutorial that lasts seven in-game days. During this time, the elderly Eda, who's a longtime citizen of Oak Tree Town, takes you under her wing, providing you with shelter and teaching you the basics.
During your stay at Eda's, you learn how to tend to the land, plant and harvest crops, care for livestock, and build shelter. There's a lot of dialogue during this tutorial sequence, and it often feels like it's dragging. I couldn't help but feel boredom sink in during this initial period, so much so that I needed to step away from the game for a few hours before picking it up again. Whether or not you're a farming sim expert, you're tasked with playing through the tutorial.
Still, once it was all said and done, I was able to see how the lengthy tutorial and endless chatter were worth it as everything I had been taught stuck. Story of Seasons is definitely a game where you learn more by doing, but even then, reading what the characters had to say and completing those mundane tasks made all of the necessary information sink in, and I never found myself feeling lost about how to progress.
Your patience is rewarded upon completion of the tutorial. Not only do you get to move out of Eda's and into your own humble abode, but you also get a barn and a cow. Not to mention you obtain the freedom to actually play the game at your leisure. Things rapidly pick up once you get through the tutorial, and it's here where Story of Seasons truly flourishes.
If you've played a farming sim before (or any life sim, for that matter), you're bound to discover the importance of a daily routine early on. Because everything runs on an accelerated clock, it's best to not waste any time. The moment my character woke up, I was feeding the animals, cleaning the barns, restocking fodder, and watering crops. I would then go for a swim to collect fish and treasure. Once that was done, I'd head to town to check the shop's wares and interact with NPCs.
The stamina system in Story of Seasons makes it so that you can't just spend an entire day working nonstop. Some tasks, such as chopping wood and smashing rocks, take a major toll on your character, so while these actions are pivotal in stocking up on resources, you shouldn't spend too much time on them. Eating will replenish some of your stamina, but at the end of the day, it's best to follow a specific routine and then head back home for a good night's rest.
It's not long before you realize that having your own farm comes at a price. If you wish to maintain crops and livestock, grow new crops during different seasons, and expand your property, you need to bring in some serious cash. In Story of Seasons, you get the opportunity to trade with and sell to other regions. Farmers show up every few days, and you can sell your goods to them to earn an income. These traders will pay more for certain items, so it's best to keep track of what they need.
Selling and trading doesn't just help you earn money, though; it's also an essential part of the game's economy. When you sell more goods, you can attract the attention of other regions, thus allowing you to sell different items for a bigger profit. For example, I was selling vegetables and milk to Silk Country for nearly two seasons when I was informed that a new area was interested in doing business with Oak Tree Town as a result of the flourishing economy. This time, however, there was bigger profit to gain from selling actual meals.
Keeping it simple
It's easy to feel overwhelmed at the plethora of things to do in Story of Seasons. Aside from taking care of your very own farm, interacting with NPCs, and trading with other territories, you also need to handle item management through a series of menus. Thankfully, everything you need to do in the game consists of simplified commands. In addition, the multiple menus are streamlined to make the experience intuitive rather than confusing.
Raising crops is handled mostly with the A button. A mini-menu allows you to equip seeds, fertilizer, and tools so that you can quickly grow and harvest your fruits and vegetables. Cleaning your barns and chicken coops functions similarly, as does brushing and petting your cows and sheep. Whether you're giving your horse a good scrubbing or watering crops, you're constantly holding the A button with different items equipped. It's almost too simple, but anything more complex would just be unnecessary.
For menu management, you can check out the contents you're carrying with a press of the X button. You can see what you have on you and figure out what you want to carry and what you want to store. Don't worry about making the trek back to your farm if you left behind an item you wanted to sell — you can switch between the items you're carrying and the items you're storing at all times. This makes it convenient to store things and not have to worry about carrying everything you're going to sell.
In with the new and, well, in with the old, too
Since Story of Seasons is a proper Harvest Moon game, you can expect a lot of the series' familiar tropes. You can attend festivals, find a mate, and have a family. You can give gifts and make friends, and you can certainly experience the changing seasons. All of these beloved features remain intact, so you probably shouldn't expect too much innovation in the grand scheme of things.
In addition to the simplified farming mechanics and multi-region economy, Story of Seasons introduces other little features to the Harvest Moon series. Among those are the Nintendo-themed items like mushrooms and Fire Flowers, which are likely to strike a chord with Nintendo enthusiasts. There are also StreetPass and online features which allow you to visit other players' farms and interact with them. Since I was playing the game prior to launch, I wasn't able to test these features out for myself.
Sights and sounds
Aside from the easy-to-grasp menu system, the graphical presentation also benefits from simplicity. Everything has a clean, colorful look to it. Characters are cutesy, and the farmland and town are charming. Though the game doesn't push the 3DS to its limits by any stretch, it takes advantage of the handheld's stereoscopic functionality. Switching the 3D on enhances the visual experience, and it's nice to see certain things pop out like tall trees and leaves blowing in the wind.
The same praise can't be bestowed upon the sound, though. Story of Seasons features specific music for each season, so expect to hear the same themes looping over and over for extended periods of time. The music isn't necessarily bad, but it does get repetitive after a while.
Here are the criteria I consider most important for judging Story of Seasons:
Make no bones about it: You're probably going to get bored playing through the tutorial, especially if you're a farming sim aficionado. Even then, it's quite useful.
Forget about those social media farming sims and Harvest Moon 3D: The Lost Valley. Story of Seasons is the most enjoyable example of the genre currently on the market. It's fun, easygoing, and engaging.
New and returning features: 7/10
Everything good about Harvest Moon is here, and there are even some new features. For as minor as the alterations to the gameplay may be, they make the overall experience more inviting and fun to play.
You may not know it at first, but the menu system is great because it's easy to understand and use. The visuals are simple but attractive, and they put the system's 3D to good use. If only the music didn't loop so much!
Overall score: 7.3/10
I played a lot of Animal Crossing last year, in the process rekindling my love for life sims. Playing Story of Seasons was a much different experience because it's more fast-paced and goal-oriented. It's not too unlike past Harvest Moon games, but it's a worthwhile entry nonetheless. There's a lovely little game to uncover here, though it'll likely take you a couple dozen hours to really get things going. That said, the time investment is certainly worth it, because at the end of the day, you're left with a fine farming sim that's totally rewarding.
Even after sinking hours upon hours into the game, I still look forward to returning to Oak Tree Town to care for my cattle and sell some milk and eggs for a decent rate. Story of Seasons is most definitely a niche game, but it's also a therapeutic title that gives a lot back to players who put a lot into it, even if it doesn't necessarily redefine the farming sim genre.