Updated: Jul 11, 2020
I would like to point out that I did receive a Switch code for the press version from the developer for the purposes of reviewing this game.
Many thanks to Sam Brace of Decibel PR for contacting Marvelous! and providing me with the code.
Now, as many long-time readers of this site will know, I’m a sucker for a farming game. But what will really grab my attention is a remake of possibly my favourite handheld farming game of all time, Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, first released in the PAL region in March 2004. Luckily for me, it seems Marvelous! have heard my wish for a remake…
I found this one a relatively hard one to rate, especially when compared to the original game. Although the game starts off with a couple of cut scenes explaining how your character ended up owning the farm, it is very much expanded on the same opening from the original. In short though, you were left a farm by your late grandfather, after visiting him for a holiday twenty years ago. Although on that visit many years ago, you befriended one of the other villagers, and made a promise to return, From there, it’s fair to say that the story pretty much drops right off, and you’re thrown into ‘here’s your farm, here’s how it works, off you go’.
However, what does bring the score up here is not so much the lack of story, but aspects of this game such as the heart events, unlocked by wooing the marriageable candidates, and the large variety of random events to unlock with the other characters. Although a few of these events follow an almost mini-plotline (for example the events related to Cliff in the first year of the game) they are few and far between. But they do add some much needed fleshing out to the backstory of many of the characters.
I also quite liked that a lot of these random events seem to have come from the N64’s Back to Nature game, rather than just solely from the GBA’s Friends of Mineral Town, and seeing many of the older events was a nice touch, especially as many players may not have experienced the Back to Nature take on some of them.
Another thing that I like with regards to the various little scenes and events that you can unlock is that apart from them having a few requirements each, for example some happen on a certain day with a certain weather, or need you to be of a certain friendship level with the characters, there isn’t really a feeling that you have to rush to unlock them. Although, there is one exception and a set of events dealing with a certain character leaving the town which has to take place in the first year of the game, even then I didn’t feel that there was any real sense of urgency for even this.
I will admit, I was actually quite worried about how a remastered sound track of this game would be, especially as the OST from the GBA version sits as one of my favourite game OSTs. For the most part, I’m quite happy to admit I generally prefer the original OSTs to game, and will eschew remade ones, especially if the option to have the older OST exists in the game.
Sitting here thinking about writing up this game, I immediately have the ear worm which is the main town theme, very much unchanged from the GBA version which I loved so much.
For the most part though, I feel that this remake has succeeded in enhancing pretty much all of Friends of Mineral Town’s OST, which I have to say, is not something I say often! I feel as though nearly all of the seasonal themes have captured the feeling of each season well. I think my favourite of all the season themes however, has to be, once again, the main winter theme. I was hopeful that they wouldn’t ruin the nostalgia, and they’ve nailed the old theme.
There are a couple of parts of the game where I feel the OST has made a couple of dubious choices – for example, the new summer theme is… just no. It infuriates me. Other than that, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the new seasonal themes; I much prefer the remastered older themes in this game.
For other parts of the game, such as the sounds the animals make, a lot of it feels very nostalgic – I’m sure that clucking noise they’ve used for the chickens has been the same for about fifteen years now! The mooing of the cows is also nice, and not jarring, and works well.
I’m not sure how I feel about the noise the rabbits make, something there seems off.
Oh, and finally, they’ve dropped the noise of the crickets in the mountain area. I miss that odd screechy click, in a way.
Ah, and once again, you’re able to buy a record plyer in this game after unlocking the ability to do so, and collect records in order to change the BGM in the house. I should probably do something about my fixation with the winter theme…
I personally really like the graphics on this game. It shows that this game was made for the Nintendo Switch’s engine, and it runs incredibly smoothly at 60fps. There are a couple of interesting graphical glitches that you can trigger (hurrah for merging cows together!) but on the whole this game looks very slick.
All of the characters have been given updated portraits for when you’re in conversation with them, and all look pretty good. There’s a couple which have had a redesign, but for the most part they’re enhanced versions of the older portraits from previous games. I personally don’t have any strong feelings either way on if I prefer the older portraits or the new ones.
Nearly everything in the background of the game is fairly well detailed, and forageable items are easily identifiable amongst the bright colours in the mountainous area, or on the beach. All of the crops, bar one, have recognisable different growth stages, and it’s easy to tell how far grown a crop is by looking at it, along with being able to pick out when a crop is harvestable from how the sprites look. My one concern here is telling the stages apart on the yams, grown in the autumn season, which don’t look wildly different between pre harvest and harvest stage, minus a slight difference in the size of the crop on the tile. However, this is one crop out of twenty-odd, so I’ll let it slide.
The animals are also very nicely done, and have upgraded from being white coloured blobs to now being multi-coloured blobs! In all seriousness though, all of the different animals are instantly identifiable as to what they are, and it’s nice having variation on colours and not being limited to just white coloured animals. I also especially like the touch with the cows in this game where the colour of the cow determines what sort of flavoured milk you can get from it.
Ah, and this game has also massively improved on the customisation options available, with being able to pick between four different male and female characters, and then the option to then change the clothing styles for your character within the game quite easily.
No multiplayer in this game, which honestly doesn’t bother me.
It’s a Story of Seasons game; the challenge is what you want it to be! For example, you can choose whether you to focus on crops, livestock, or ignore both entirely and use foraging, fishing and mining as your sources of income.
For the most part however, as per usual for this series, livestock farming is the most expensive to set up, and takes a long time to see any decent returns on your investment.
On the other hand, crop farming requires a little bit of investment before it takes off, but is much easier to abuse for making money, especially if the big money crops such as pineapples are grown on mass in the summer, or yams grown in large numbers in the autumn.
There’s also the option of finding other sources of income, such as mining, fishing or foraging, which don’t have an initial cost beyond upgrading tools, and this can be a sustainable way of making money for yourself, although it doesn’t see large returns until you’re able to mine for the more valuable items or able to fish up more valuable items and large fish.
Of course, there’s also the option of exploiting the twice-yearly horse racing festival in the game and buying large quantities of brooches to fund your lifestyle…
It’s also possible to have self-limiting ways of challenging yourself such as by playing the game without upgrading tools, though this will swiftly become a challenge in tediousness.
One other change this game made is the option at the character set up screen during the start of a new game to choose if you want to play in ‘seedling’ (easy) mode, or normal mode.
Choosing easy mode gives a big advantage as far as making money and raising friendship with the other villagers is concerned, whereas normal mode is playing the game as it was originally, with no other help.
Personally I always run the game in normal mode, but it’s nice to have the option there.
The game is good for either picking up to farm in short burst, or for longer sessions, and works well either for playing on the big screen, or for taking with you to farm on the go. I personally prefer playing this game on a bigger screen though, as it allows you to see all the lovely crisp detail in the game in large form.
As for the joy-con controls, apart from a couple of moments where I sat there and thought ‘damn you muscle memory’ (it feels very odd not holding L + B to change tools…) the controls for this game do feel quite natural.
There’s a couple of quality of life changes made where you can now see all the items in your bag, and can easily take them out of your bag by pushing on the right hand joystick, and likewise for sorting through tools with the left/right directional controls on the d-pad.
Movement is controlled through the left-hand joystick, and feels very responsive. Although the game requires frequent use of both sides of the joy-con, I didn’t find this to be a problem and had few problems with hand fatigue.
As for how the game itself plays, as mentioned briefly under the above challenge section, the game does have a bit of a sandbox feel with regards to how you choose to play through it, with you able to choose if you want to farm, forage, mine, or fish. Even if you decide to go into crops and livestock, you still find you have enough time in each in-game day to take part in other activities such as mining or fishing, and these make for a nice diversion from the grind of the farm.
I’d personally almost consider mining to almost be a separate mini-game in its own right, especially with how much there is to do with the mines – there are two mines of 255 floors each, each other a wide variety of items to find. My favourite is the lake mine, accessible only during the winter, for the sheer variety of what can be found in there.
There is another minor quality of life improvement made to the mines in this remake as well, with after a while you’re able to unlock a mine lift, which takes you down to predetermined levels after reaching them for the first time. Being able to quickly descend fifty levels at a time is massive, especially if you’re hunting for certain items or the cursed tools.
Fishing is also still very rewarding, with around 80 or so different species of fish to try and catch in the game plus other items which can be sold for a pretty penny, such as the pirate’s treasure, as well as the mythical fish which can only be caught after certain requirements have been met.
The game also has a large social aspect to it, with a cast of around two dozen different villagers to become friends with, and ten or so different marriageable candidates, plus a couple of hidden extra ones. Nearly all the villagers have got different likes for what they like being gifted, and it’s quite good fun trying to work out what the cheapest or easiest to source gift for maximum friendships gains is for each one of them!
Another nice touch in the game is that you’re no longer limited to only being able to romance marriage candidates of the opposite gender to your character, which opens up far more marriage possibilities. I personally like the inclusive feel that this brought, as same-sex marriage is something I’ve felt this series has missed for a while now.
Each day in game will have different weather, which can be viewed a day in advance on the weather channel, and this adds a layer of extra depth to the game - depending on the weather, can either work out really well for you (in the case of rain when you have a large amount of crops to water) or cause major problems, such as when a typhoon hits in the summer, and you have a large plantation of pineapples planted. Rain/snow can also cause problems in the form of increasing fatigue at a much quicker rate than using tools in sunny weather can do, which also adds a tactical layer to the game – yes you may save some fatigue by not needing to water your crops, but at the same time is it a gain when you can’t do chores such as smashing rocks or cutting up as much lumber?
The weather in game for the most part in each season will either be sunny or rainy, with snow replacing rain in the winter. In the summer season there’s also a small chance of a typhoon hitting, which will prevent you from going outside and tending to your crops and animals, as well as potentially damaging any crops. Blizzards in the winter season are similar, although with no crop damage potential!
There are also festivals and town events in each season, and these are unique to each season (with the exception of the twice-yearly horse racing), and will offer contests such as the cooking festival where you have to make the best dish in a pre-set category, or the chicken sumo festival where your chicken has to fight off three competitors. The festivals are always pretty good fun and are a welcome intermittent diversion from farming. However, I do feel that some of them are a bit lacklustre; especially events such as the fireworks night or the starlight night, where I think more could have been done to expand upon them.
Honestly, as before, I can play this game over and over again, either by finding new ways to challenge myself, or by finding a different person to romance and marry. It’s going to take a lot more before I get bored of this much loved tried and tested formula.
Replay Value: 9
The Story of Seasons game which I’ve been waiting for, much improved, but still staying faithful to the original source material.
- Written by Karen