Like many Asian children, I grew up with Doraemon and both of my parents are huge fans of the franchise. That doesn’t mean I was, but playing Doraemon Story of Seasons; Friends of the Great Kingdom made me see what captivated them for almost three decades now. A lot of the charm of Doraemon — the characters and the worldview — is present here, and it perfectly coexists with the comfy nature of farming sims. It’s also very accessible, even for players with the most basic knowledge of the Doraemon franchise.
The story of Doraemon Story of Seasons: Friends of the Great Kingdom is very simple. It focuses on Noby, Noby’s friends, and Doraemon after they land on Illuma, an Earth-like planet. There, they meet a boy named Lumis and promise to help him revitalize a farm that is dear to his heart. This becomes a much more important task than they initially thought. The Queen of Illuma confiscates their spaceship, and they decide the best way to get it back is to show her that they are trustworthy aliens. In order to do so, they must help out around town on top of managing the farm.
Aside from the Doraemon characters, this feels like most Story of Seasons games. You divide your time between connecting with the townspeople and maintaining your farm. There’s a lot of freedom in how you can spend your day outside of those two tasks. I primarily fished, since it does not use up stamina. Unlike a normal Story of Seasons game, you can unlock Doraemon’s gadgets to make life easier. One gadget allows you to move around trees or crops, while another drastically boosts your speed. While they are helpful, players who want a more “traditional” experience can forego them as well. They’re simply a garnish to the game, rather than a key ingredient.
A lot of the townspeople have very endearing personalities, with lots of positive and negative quirks. It makes it very easy to like them and care about their individual subplots. For example, I was very invested in Kai and Ori’s story. Ori’s mom has to stay in the clinic due to an illness, while his dad is too busy to spend much time with him. Don’t expect too much nuance or many heavy twists, though. Considering this is a Doraemon game, it’s not too surprising that the game would feel like it’s for a younger audience.
Though the characters are one of the game’s stronger points, they actually act as a double-edged sword. It is incredibly easy to rack up friendship points with everyone without even gifting them anything. This will then unlock the next part of their story. You could enter an area for purely innocuous reasons, but the game will then suck you into a cutscene, forcing you to put a halt on whatever task you were handling. If the cutscene takes Noby to another part of Illuma, then you will find yourself there after the scene ends, which means you’ll have to trek back. Because of this, the pacing in the game, especially the earlier parts, feels exceptionally slow.
It would be one thing if the cutscene is really significant or interesting. However a lot of the friendship events are short and some of them, especially Pip’s, feel inconsequential. Leif and Luana’s stories also felt rather weak. Some of the problems seem like they have really easy solutions. For example, the diner’s story is about how different races have different tastes, and that is a cause of conflict for them. For some reason, they do not like the idea of just having a really expansive menu and insist on making fusion food. If you want to focus only on farming, you can avoid talking to people, but that takes away a large part of the game’s charm. It will also leave you with way too much time on your hands.
There are also a few quality-of-life issues and UI problems. You cannot see what cookware or ingredients you need before you purchase a recipe, which is annoying because I sometimes ended up with recipes I can’t use for two whole seasons. When you use bait in the water while fishing, it’s impossible to tell how long the bait’s effect lasts. This is because the water looks the same no matter what. A major part of keeping farm animals is that you have to let them outside every once in a while, but you also have to manually put them back. They don’t wander around, which makes it easy to round them up. But it’s weirdly difficult to push the cows around due to the odd, tank-like controls. These issues start to really rack up as you play, and unexpected or unwanted interruptions exacerbate the irritation.
Aside from these grievances, Doraemon Story of Seasons: Friends of the Great Kingdom is an incredibly fun and relaxing game. If I had played it without a deadline, perhaps the interruptions for the cutscenes might not have been such a big deal. The storybook aesthetic is pleasing to the eye, and some of the locales — especially the Observatory — are breathtakingly beautiful. Leave the napping to Noby; this is a farming sim that enthusiasts of the genre absolutely cannot sleep on.