A return to the days of when farming simulators were fun, cute, and a great way to relax and escape, especially in today’s current tumultuous times.
I would like to point out that I did receive a Switch code for the press version from the developer for the purposes of previewing this game. The game is still in development, so things may change from this preview.
Many thanks to Sam Brace of Decibel PR for contacting Marvelous! and providing me with the code.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is a remake of the Gameboy Advance’s Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, which in itself, is a remake of the Playstation’s Harvest Moon: Back to Nature.
I’m a long-time fan of the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series of games, but I have felt that in more recent times, the games have been losing a lot of the magic which originally drew me to the series, and I have missed the days of being able to pick up the game and casually do what I wanted for the day, be it tend to livestock, play around with crops, forage for items, or muck around the mines. The last Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons game which really captured the relaxed feeling being able to do as you wished was Friends of Mineral Town, from back in 2004, a game which I ended up sinking somewhere in the region of 700 hours on total. When I heard that a remake of this game was in the works, I’ll admit, it was with some trepidation I went to play it, as there was a bit of me afraid that the upgrade to Switch would lose some of that magic.
However, without much ado, I jumped straight into the game, and nope, my fears were unfounded! With a bit of love, care, and polish, this game was pretty much exactly as I remembered it being from the GBA games, right from the off with the opening theme.
The game has changed a bit in the sense there’s a bit more in the way of customizing your character, with four options of both female and male characters to choose from, before having an 8-character limit to name both yourself, and your farm. Once that’s out of the way, you can choose between easy mode (extra cash to start with, some seeds, etc) or normal difficulty to play with, then there are a couple of cut scenes, where the backstory is fleshed out much more from the older games, and you meet the Mineral Town mayor, Thomas, who introduces you into the farming life.
The farm you’re given at the start of the game is a bit neglected, sure, but still pretty charming. It was poking around on the farm after being given control of the game that I discovered a change which for me, although small, is a massive quality of life improvement- in the bottom corner of the farm map; you have a patch of grass growing. This is pretty much self-sustaining and can be cut down each day to provide fodder for your hoofstock in the game. I know it’s small, but it’s a nice touch.
Otherwise, the layout of the farm is exactly as I remembered it being from the GBA, with a minor change in the form of the watering hole being moved, but that was nothing major. The tree which provides you with fruit and honey is still where it’s always been, and seeing that tree, I really did feel as though I was meeting with an old friend.
From here, the game is basically your sandbox. Do you choose to work your field, get it up to scratch, and start growing crops? Do you choose to become a forager, mining for goods in the two mines, and living from the bounty of nature, or do you go for raising animals? Whichever option you choose, all are able to sustain a life on the farm. I personally always opt for a mixed way of making money in the game, and usually run a quarter of the field for crops, and max out the livestock options as soon as I’m able.
However, with the exception of foraging, everything in the game as far as actions such as tilling land, chopping wood, watering crops, tending to the animals etc is governed by the health of your character. Your character has two health bars, the main one being the stamina bar, which has a numerical value, and is relatively easy to track, and then a fatigue bar, which is roughly indicated by the colour of the face on the bar, cycling from red to yellow to green to blue as fatigue drops.
All actions in the game have a certain stamina cost, and start eating into fatigue once the stamina is used up. Fatigue is also impacted by circumstances such as if you’re working late at night, or in the rain. There are ways to restore both fatigue and stamina, either by eating cooked items or foraged ones, which use up the item but quickly restore both bars, or by jumping in the hot springs, which is unlimited, but does have a time penalty, so there is a micromanagement aspect to this as well.
If fatigue is allowed to run to zero, your character will collapse, and this will either end with a trip to the doctor, or finding yourself back in your house, with a significant penalty on the time the next morning (such as waking up at 8am rather than 6am), as well as a reduced health bar for the next day, which could impede how much you’re able to do the next day.
Of course, you can also completely ignore this side of the game, and focus on wooing the townspeople and making friends with them! Mineral Town has a cast of around twenty/twenty five villagers, as well as a couple of seasonal guests, and they all have individual likes, dislikes and schedules to be learned. This is particularly important for the marriageable candidates, of which there’s a selection, as well as a couple of ‘secret’ ones.
One thing I did like is that no matter which gender character you choose to play as, the game now allows you to build up a relationship with a marriage candidate of either gender, which I thought was a nice touch.
What I did find slightly jarring as a long-time player of the GBA version was that this game is more faithful to the original Japanese source material, and so is translated better. This has meant some characters have slightly different names to the ones I’m used to (for example Marie rather than Mary) but I found I got used to the new names quite quickly.
Another thing I was worried about with the remake was how the graphics would translate to 3d, but I have to give Marvelous! their due on this one, they’ve done a brilliant job of bringing the game to life in 3d. All the characters are instantly recognisable from their sprites, with a more detailed portrait used whilst you’re in conversation with them.
The crops all have distinctive growth phases, and can be easily told when they’re ready for harvesting. The animals no longer look like a variety of white coloured blobs, but instantly recognisable as different breeds of cow or sheep.
The game works on a day and season system, with the in-game year split into four seasons of thirty days each. Each day in the game lasts around 20 minutes, but this can be longer or shorter, depending on how much time is spent outside with the clock ticking by, or going indoors or into the mines where the clock freezes until you come back out again. However, despite this, it doesn’t feel like there is much pressure on cramming as much into a day as possible, with you being able to complete most tasks each day, and still have a bit of time to spare.
The only thing I find I have to take a bit of moderate care on with the time is making sure I’ve managed to get what I need into the shipping bin before the 5pm deadline each day. Even then, if you miss the deadline, the money made that day just carries over to the next day, and you get your cash then, with the only issue being you may be short of cash the next day whilst waiting for the shipment to be collected.
I’ve now put quite a bit of time into this version of the game, and regardless of whether or not you’re new to the series, or a veteran farmer, this game is one which is easy to pick up and play, either for short bursts at a time, or for longer sessions. It remains very faithful to the original game, and at its core, is definitely the return to faming sim games which I’ve been waiting for.
If you’d like to start your own farm, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is released on the PC (£42.99) on 14th July 2020 and Switch (£42.99) in the EU on 10th July 2020.
Written by Karen