Hometown Story: Won’t Leave You Feeling Homesick

By Jenni . November 6, 2013 . 1:32pm

When I started writing this playtest, I had been playing Hometown Story for just over 8 hours, and for the first 5 hours, almost every day was exactly the same as the last. Sometimes there’d be a special vignette if I stocked the right item or did a little exploring, but otherwise, I repeated the same pattern day, after day, after day, until I finally bought enough wood for my first expansion. That changed things up for one day, before the same routine kicked in again for the next 3 hours, and stayed that way.

 

Hometown Story begins with very little exposition. A young man or lady finds out that he or she now owns their deceased grandma’s shop. They arrive in a town in a forest, find the shop, and discover a strange, hovering creature named Pochica inside. Instead of running, or even asking what Pochica is and why it’s there, the two decide to run the shop together. Pochica also gives the player one piece of a magic blue feather that can be used to grant one single person’s wish if it is made whole again.

 

I’m going to start this playtest out by being honest. I didn’t grant anyone’s wish in Hometown Story. I played for over 24 hours, got into the second month of the game, and I’ve got nothing. I did collect three pieces of the Blue Feather, which is used to grant wishes, but it was rather anticlimactic. My character would wake up in the morning, the feather piece would be on the kitchen table, and Pochica said it must have been a reward for my hard work. I think it’s some kind of conspiracy by this strange creature to keep me in town. It’s doling them out randomly, one by one. Since its whims are impossible to understand, I can’t tell you about that. I can, however, tell you about everything else in the game.

 

Running a shop in Hometown Story is fairly rudimentary. You start with a small room, that has enough space for seven or eight shelves. If you have 3,000 gold and 10 pieces of wood, you can upgrade to a slightly bigger space. I was able to do this on the second day, and I recommend getting it done immediately. Selling items is as easy as placing an item on a shelf, then pressing X to price it. After that, you go behind the counter and wait. People will come and buy up your stock. Each is willing to wait over an hour in line, sometimes it seems like over two hours, so it’s best to sit motionless, staring at your 3DS until a line of at least 5 people is before you. Ring them up one after another for a combo, which gives a little bonus profit.

 

I’m not sure what to think about the people of Hometown Story. Most are NPCs, but they all tend to look and sound the same. It’s the townsfolk that stand out, but just barely. Their character designs are almost obnoxiously cute. In many situations, I thought the parents were really siblings of the child characters. It leaves you wondering who’s really old, and who’s just suffering from, say, the Kakashi Hatake effect. It’s all to capitalize on the moe phenomenon, I know, but I think this game takes it too far. For example, you’re supposed to be able to get married, like in the Harvest Moon games. However, I could never, ever see myself pursuing any of the bachelor characters, because they all look like they’re fresh out of kindergarten.

 

Another part of it is that the characters are difficult to connect with in Hometown Story. Some seem more approachable, and have storylines that do draw you in. The mayor and his wife are a decent example. However, these are the exceptions. The others seem flat and stiff, and revelations about them and their life come out of nowhere. Not because you’re friends, mind you, but because you sold them the right item. Most memorable is a scene that took place with Anna, which highlights not only how difficult it was to feel like I was part of the town, but what seemed to be a messy translation.

 

Anna is the daughter of the restaurant owner, Rachel. (Though I thought they were sisters for the first 4 hours.) She has never been friendly with me, even though I talked with her every day for the month of Spring, and had sold her ointment to use on Jack and cold medicine to use on Harvey. I was doing my daily rounds, scouting for free stock in the forest, when I entered an area and an event triggered. Anna was looking at some plants and said something like, “Isn’t it amazing how this plant can help heal people?” I was then given a dialogue option. I could have had my character say, “I already knew that.” or “That isn’t so amazing.” Since I wanted to be friends, I figured the former was the correct answer. It seemed like it implied knowledge of plants and a shared interest in herbology. The latter seemed dismissive of something she cared about. So, I said I knew that. And she got an angry look on her face and said we weren’t going to be able to be friends if I didn’t share her interests.

 

That, sadly, sums up my feelings on interactions in general in Hometown Story. The avatar has no personality, and almost every townsfolk only looks to him or her as a means of acquiring a new item or a sounding board. While games like Harvest Moon and Rune Factory make you feel like friends with these virtual people, the majority of the villagers here felt like either suppliers or customers.

 

Which made me focus entirely on keeping shop. However, that led to routine for which tedious is an inadequate description. Every morning, I would go into my shop. If shelves were empty, I’d fill them with stock. I’d open the doors, then run around the artifically large and almost always barren town, searching for random items I could sell, like mushrooms, fruit, weeds, grasses, and chesnuts. I’d talk to every character with a portrait I could find, get back to my shop around 2pm, in time to meet with the vendor and buy wood for expansions and whatever key items he had that day. I’d restock the shelves and check out the customers. I’d put up the newly acquired key items temporarily for 30 in-game minutes, to see if they’d trigger a shop event. Then, I’d sell merchandise until about 11pm. Save. Sleep. Rinse. Repeat.

 

There’s no challenge to Hometown Story, and once you know the “good” gathering spots, no real need for exploration either. The town map is artificially large and mostly barren. I’d even call it a bit spooky, seeing how it’s supposed to be a forest, but you never see or hear any wildlife. Just mostly faceless, nameless automatons that may or may not stop at your shop. I had a set path that would let me step one foot into each area along the way, in case an event would trigger, but then quickly exit and let me stop by the twin blacksmiths, the restaurant, my gathering points, and finally my shop again. Event triggers didn’t seem restricted by time, unless a character specifically told me not to go somewhere until a certain time.

 

The only thing that changes my affairs up is when I inadvertantly look away from the bottom map screen as I run my errands around town. Hometown Story has the most inexplicable camera angles, and they abruptly shift from one viewpoint to another without warning. They’re disorienting, and even after over a virtual month, I find myself getting confused when I left the shop and head down the left path, because what I’m seeing on the screen doesn’t match up with what is on the lower screen’s map, and it just doesn’t feel right. I only look up when I see an icon of someone to talk to on the lower screen, or know I’m approaching a spot where I can gather items, or a shop I can enter.

 

It’s all about going through the motions. Yet, after saying everything I can think to say about Hometown Story, I don’t know how to describe my feelings towards it. I know that I don’t love it. There are too many things that nag at me each time I play. I don’t hate it either though, because I ended up clocking 27 hours and 18 minutes between the start of this article and now. It’s like playing Hometown Story leaves you in a sort of limbo. I feel like a Ferengi. (Sorry, I’ve been on a Deep Space 9 Netflix kick.) I’m concerned with profit, how big I can make the store, and what key items the vendor will have for sale each day. I don’t feel any connection with the characters, and I certainly can’t bring myself to marry either of the bachelors. And yet, while I’ve mastered the tasks necessary to keep money rolling in, I persist with my store. Perhaps, I feel I must earn and make that wish for happiness. When I do, it’s going straight to my avatar. Forget these faceless mooks. She’s earned it.

 

Food for Thought:

 

1. I’ve found you can always sell an item for 40 gold more than the recommended price.

 

2. While it may seem more fun and profitable to have the restaurant cook purchased or acquired food items into meals you can sell, it gets to be too tedious after a while. Just sell the items in your shop as is. Someone will buy it, either way.

 

3. Going through Rachel’s events and buying shop upgrades from Cling and Clang will increase the assortment of items you buy at their shops.

 

4. Your everyday vendor will sometimes sell fashion magazines that will add new hairstyles, hair colors, and outfits to your avatar’s wardrobe.


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  • Taedirk

    Hometown Story is the first game to make me wish I could refund digital purchases. My Amazon cart was delayed and I impatiently cancelled it and went to the eShop instead of giving it a few days and reading post-play reviews.

    • Kaetsu

      You should never pre order unless you get a bonus that’s really worth it or it’s a company that never(or rarely) releases bad games like Nintendo, Atlus and NIS America.

      • http://jesse-dylan.livejournal.com Jesse_Dylan

        Toki no Towa says hello. :) But yeah, true say!

      • DesmaX

        > never(or rarely) releases bad games
        > NISA

        • Ouch My Head Said Dionysus

          Idea Factory

      • http://www.siliconera.com Jenni

        And XSEED. ;D

      • Lumi

        I think the problem here is this was released US first. Thus no reviews on the Japanese version, no famitsu score, nobody raving or trashing the game before us… we do the trashing ourselves.

    • http://jesse-dylan.livejournal.com Jesse_Dylan

      I had a similar experience which resulted in the same feeling. I was really excited about this and wanted to support it from day one on the eShop. Bought it. Played it immediately. Happiness and excitement gave way to skepticism to horror to depression.

  • Chim_era

    You know this review is every thing I feared. I just didn’t see the appeal of the game. It was too rudimentary. I hoped that would improve and I put a little faith in the creator of HM. But I guess it just wasn’t meant to be :3

  • Derek E Nay

    I love this game. It’s the most relaxing game I have ever played. I may be stuck in figuring what what needs to be done and I am making lots of gold; but I still enjoy it. It’s certainly not for everyone.

  • http://jesse-dylan.livejournal.com Jesse_Dylan

    If only I’d read a review like this before purchasing. I thought it was a sure thing! How could they go wrong? This review is spot-on, though, from the 2-3 hours I played, and I just can’t go back and try again after reading this.

    As someone below said, this is the first time I’ve desperately wished there was some way to get a refund on a digital purchase. I was so excited to play this that I didn’t even wait for an inevitable deal or price drop. Whyyyyy. It took me back to my childhood when there was no internet and once in a while I’d end up with a real stinker of a SNES game.

  • EGG™

    Aw man. This is exactly what I expected this review to be. Although, I have clocked in 40 hours and have had four expansions to my shop, 6 pieces of the blue feather, and I’m pretty sure I have all the townsfolk.

    It’s all a matter of talking to all the villagers and changing what key items you have for sale and which ones you have in your inventory. Depending on this when you go into certain places or talk to different people, stuff can trigger. That’s how I’ve gotten this far. So as long as you have a key item that you have no idea what is for, there is still something to do.

    Yes running the shop is important and all, but this game is so much deeper with the storyline. You don’t really start enjoying this game until you’ve gotten the hang of it. Everything gets especially easier once you get the item that lets you teleport around the map from the Wind Sprite.

    This game seriously has its moments. There are plot twists and heart wrenchers and not to mention the dialogues pretty funny at times. The characters are lovable once you see their events, and running the shop is pretty fun too (although once you get it really big you stop caring about adjusting prices).

    There is room for improvement for this game and honestly I’m really looking forward to see if there are future installments to hometown story

  • Ethan_Twain

    Never apologize for going on a Deep Space Nine kick. To watch more Deep Space Nine is to gain merit as a human being.

    Which brings me to the sudden realization… wouldn’t a Telltale Games episodic Star Trek be the BEST?

    • http://www.siliconera.com Jenni

      YES. I think Telltale would do the series justice. It’d be amazing.

  • http://www.hamstapowah.com/ Zaron

    So what I’m hearing here is that everyone should just boot up Steam and play Reccetear instead, right? Running an item shop doesn’t have to be tedious business with unclear goals, guys. ;o

    • Mike Pureka

      Hell yes; I basically read this and thought “So I should just go play Recettear then?”

  • Jesse

    Hm, I think I’ll still get it, though it’ll be on my Christmas list.

  • d19xx

    I thought April O’neal is in the game because of the preview pic.

  • http://danierc-polloconpapas.tumblr.com/ Eduardo Rocha

    Glad I haven’t got this and probably won’t after reading this. The game actually didn’t appealed to me in the beginning (nor now), but since I’m a big Harvest Moon fan I thought this would be of my taste and that I’ll probably love it, or at least like it more than other games. *sigh* I’ll just continue playing Rune Factory 4 then.

  • GameTaco

    I haven’t played much yet, but in a way, it’s a relief to know that I’m not missing much, and that there won’t be loads of new gameplay mechanics being gradually doled out over the course of the first month and into the next.

    Having recently tried out the SNES Harvest Moon, I think I see what ToyBox is trying to do here. It’s a return to the roots of it all. It may even be planned to be the next annual series. This barebones approach is both a good and a bad thing, I suppose.

    You get sickles and hoes, but you don’t have a farm. You buy a fishing rod, and you *see* the most likely fishing spots, but you don’t do the fishing. There’s an axe, but you have no twigs and tree stumps to chop. There’s even a spot that looks like it could contain a mine or a cave, but your hammer is no use to you. The shop is your primary concern and never closes, with helping out the town and ultimately granting a wish being your secondary goal. The townspeople do the labor for you, while management is all you should be concerned about.

    I think the problem here lies in how most of your stock, at least for the first part of the game, comes from the 2 PM vendor with randomized inventory. Produce, for example, even contains the usual flavor text explaining in what season it’s grown… And yet here everything is, being sold to you by one guy, not the townspeople. Every day is much the same, weekends being much like weekdays, with not even a festival to break things up (even if you don’t actually participate and instead use the day as an opportunity to sell and provide festival-related items).

    There’s potential for growth, that’s for sure. Like Hometown Story is a $40 prototype of The Next Harvest Moon, but it’ll take years of input and tweaking, ups and downs, hits and misses, before it gets there.

  • https://twitter.com/maxiburger maxiburger

    The “That isn’t so amazing” answer is a VERY typical mistake in Japanese translations. I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be “Isn’t that amazing?” but the translator got confused because the original sentence was missing the question-particle or a double-negative which would technically be needed to make it an affirmative declaratory statement.

    • Ouch My Head Said Dionysus

      I can see that being confusing if they’re using casual sentence structure and dropping the ‘ka’, since there’s a slight reliance on vocal tone there.

      Still, boo Natsume, how long have you guys been doing this?!

    • WyattEpp

      That’s first-year stuff, though! It’s disappointing to find a professional would get that wrong. :(

      • Zharkiel

        Sadly, that is how it is with Natsume

    • ndoto

      I had thought that at first too – but after hearing that the first dialogue option presented a very unfavorable response, I went out of my way to make sure I picked the second dialogue option (“That isn’t so amazing”)… and she gave the SAME DAMN REPLY. “Oh. You don’t think so? Well, I don’t think we’ll ever be friends.”

      So it seems like you’ll elicit that response from her no matter WHICH option you choose…

      • Ouch My Head Said Dionysus

        Haha, incredible!

      • https://twitter.com/maxiburger maxiburger

        Wow! In that case, what is even the point of giving you two answers to choose from…?

        Either way, it might be good to make a mental note that this sort of mistake CAN happen. Cause I’ve seen it A LOT recently.

      • http://www.siliconera.com Jenni

        Wow. Good to hear I didn’t make a huge mistake by choosing the first response then!

      • JediaKyrol

        yeah, you’re screwed either way…

  • Ouch My Head Said Dionysus

    Snap, I was looking forward to this. Guess I’ll give it a miss or wait until the price drops. Thanks for your in-depth write-up!

  • Kettie

    I had this pre-ordered as soon as it was available on Amazon. They ran out of stock before sending mine and I feel like a dodged a $40 bullet. Canceled my order when the customer reviews started going up and got something else.

  • JediaKyrol

    Fun fact about that conversation with Anna…I chose the second option “It’s not that amazing”…and she also got the mad face and said we wouldn’t be friends.

    The thing that really bothers me…is that there is apparently a sister game to this that is being released later which gives you passwords to unlock stuff in this…WHY?

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