Before we begin, this seems like an apt occasion to remind people for the umpteenth time: Story of Seasons is part of the series that used to be localized as Harvest Moon, but no longer uses that name.
I’ll be honest, though: I’ve rarely ever gotten into any games from the series. I borrowed Friends of Mineral Town a long time ago and wasn’t very impressed by it. I picked up A Wonderful Life used at a flea market a few years ago and was immediately bored. It wasn’t until I tried the spin-off title Rune Factory 4 that I really got into a game in the series.
But enough about that—you’re here for the new entry. Story of Seasons is about a stagnating town that chooses to shake things up by recruiting a new farmer to raise trade. An elderly farmer by the name of Eda mentors you for a week while the town prepares your new farm, conveniently placed next-door to Eda’s farm. After a week under Eda’s tutelage, your farm is ready and the game begins in earnest.
While I haven’t played any games in the series that I haven’t already mentioned, I did do some basic research on them. Apparently, a recent entry spent a whole in-game month on the tutorial. That’s not an issue here, since you just get a week of tutorials and the rest is spread out as you unlock stuff. As more mechanics become available, books get added to your house’s bookshelf. Upon examining the shelf, you can read any of these books at your leisure. The main gameplay of Story of Seasons is exactly what one has come to expect. It is a farming simulator. You tend to crops and farm animals in rather simplified fashion. For very obvious reasons, I don’t know with absolute certainty which mechanics are new, returning or simply upgraded, but the gist of it is that using a hoe allows you to prepare a 3×3 grid of farmland, in which you can plant seeds. Just a single bag of seeds from your inventory will cover the whole grid, so you’re basically planting 9 of any given crop at once. You must then make sure the plants are well-watered by watering them every day.
However, if you just buy seeds and plant them, you’ll end up with 0.5-star crops (out of 5), rather low quality. Having higher-quality crops allows you to sell them for more, or use them to win at the seasonal harvest festivals (which will allow you to sell the crop type you won with for a higher price). If you have to give someone some crops or other products from your farm as part of a character event, Elise’s farm rival events for example, giving crops under 2 stars will actually make them think less of you, while 2.5 to 4.5 will make them think a bit better of you and they think rather highly of you with 5 stars. To get higher-quality seeds, fertilizer helps—but only to a certain point. You’ll want to unlock the Seed Maker facility for your farm, which allows you to convert crops into seeds of slightly higher quality than the crops you converted, allowing reliably good crops to be obtained from those seeds. You can also use the Super Mushroom crop to boost all nearby crops by 2 stars.
Why yes, I did sneak a few things into that explanation of crop quality. Firstly, there are three Mario-themed crops in this particular entry. You’ll never know which you’re getting, as they’re grown from “Mystery Seeds”. I’ve already explained what the mushroom does, but the Fire Flower gets rid of all nearby wilted crops and the Star allows your crops to stay fresh for longer. Crops normally stay fresh for 3 days, but this is boosted to 30. The only benefit to being fresh is selling for slightly more.
Next up, by “farm rival events”, I do not mean that the whole love rival system has returned. I mean there are events with the four rival farmers involving your rivalry with them. Elise’s are actually required before you can see her flower events (which are unlocked as you befriend bachelors/bachelorettes and are the prerequisites for marrying a character). This game’s gimmick is that you’re actually competing with the other 4 farmers in a few ways. Firstly, at festivals, winning with a product will raise the value of your brand for that product (i.e. winning with a Turnip raises your Turnip brand), which lets you sell them for more. Secondly, there are extra, specialty fields for certain kinds of crops laid out around town, and you can only rent them temporarily. You don’t rent these with money, but by competing with your fellow farmers over who gets to rent it. This can come in the form of seeing who sells the most in one day to seeing who wins the next festival.
The additional fields are somewhat of a double-edged sword. Before you gain extra farmland in Winter of Year 1, you run out of space rather quickly, even if you get rid of all the rocks and trees and expand as much as possible, so it’s a good place to put the crops, but you’ll have abundant room when you get that extra land. On the other hand, with how much extra land you can get, you can spend an entire in-game day and all of your stamina just watering it all, even if you have a highly-upgraded watering can. Also, since the rentable fields are place between your farm and the town, you have to use a horse to get to the town in an at-all efficient manner. Prior to getting one, it takes more than a full in-game hour to walk from the farm to the town. So they’re nice to have, but I have a feeling I’m missing something to make them more convenient.
A notable change in relation to this is that increasing trade is actually a game mechanic here. Gone is the wondrous shipping box that’s magically emptied for you by the mailman every morning. Instead, you have to move your rear to the town’s trade depot with all of your crops to sell. Traders from various countries will show up (you have to unlock all but the first), and they will have varying demand and trade relations with you. Each will value certain items more (changing weekly) and sell items unavailable elsewhere. Ship too much of something and they’ll pay less for them for a while, though, as I learned the hard way with my hundreds of sweet potatoes.
Luckily, there’s also an extra stall for you to place anything you can’t sell to the traders. These items will magically sell themselves (it’s implied that the townspeople buy from it in self-serve fashion), but you still want to sell to the traders to unlock more traders and thus more items and upgrades.
One thing that disappointed me, however, is the interaction with the people of the town. They don’t comment on most things (not even the events on Winter 1, Year 1), though they apparently comment on your new boyfriend/girlfriend for the first week. They generally cycle through the same few statements per season. On the other hand, talking to the people in Rune Factory 4 was amusing, since they had things to say about stuff, and didn’t end up so repetitive.
Food for thought:
1. Because this is a game with no set ending, I played it for 30 hours and then wrote this. By the end of those 30 hours, I had gotten tired of playing the game for so long at a stretch. That said, I didn’t hate it—it’s just that this feels more like it’s designed for short bursts of play, unlike, say, Rune Factory 4’s action RPG elements helping break monotony in the farming.
2. I described some of the things bachelorette and rival farmer Elise does in her cutscenes to a friend of mine, upon which he immediately pre-ordered the game. I was actually so amused that it helped me pick her over another option I was considering. However, if you’re going for her, note that she’s the most work. Her rival events are required to start seeing her flower events, as they contain character development. One of her rival events requires it to be the end of year 2, so it’ll be a while before you start wooing her in earnest.
3. Befriend Eda by the end of Fall, Year 1. If you don’t, you won’t see her events on that file, as all three events must be seen by then if at all. Let’s just say something happens on day 1 of Winter.
4. If you don’t build the Seed Maker by the end of Spring year 1 (I doubt you will), keep 5 Turnip Seeds in storage. They’re required to make it, and can only be reliably obtained in the Spring.
5. If you’re unable to cook suitable sweets for Valentine’s Day/White Day (depending on your gender), you can buy some from the general store on that day only. This is very useful, since White Day is only a week after the tutorial, so male characters will definitely not be able to cook them by then. The game gives a friendship bonus for giving sweets to the bachelors on Valentine’s Day (Winter 14) if you’re female and to bachelorettes on White Day (Spring 14) if you’re male, and they’ll pay you back on the opposite one if you enter your house around noon on the day of, giving another bonus.
6. There’s no benefit to befriending anyone other than whoever you want your character to marry. You get stuff for eating at the restaurant up to the 129th time, though.
7. Don’t think for a second that this game will let you have out-of-season crops. Unlike Rune Factory 4, which is more lenient about this, out-of-season crops will wilt immediately in this game.
8. Animals live for 5-8 in-game years depending on how much they like you. Just saying, since that’s apparently a concern.
9. I couldn’t find a good place to bring this up, but you can customize the layout of your farm and decorate both your character’s clothing and the town using the item crafting system. You can’t change your skin tone or your animals’ names, but everything else can be changed if you unlock it first. From my research, you can apparently even change your character’s name, but my name doesn’t fit in the 6-character limit anyway (a major pet peeve of mine).
10. There’s a mine in this game, but it’s not the sort I’m used to seeing in this series. You use a hammer on a specific wall a few times per day and valuable gems come flying out at you. I wish something like that existed in real life – I’d be rolling in dough.
11. Oh yeah, there’s multiplayer. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t actually try it.