The Story of Seasons franchise is the pioneer of its own genre, lifestyle simulators that have been emulated by indie developers in titles like Stardew Valley or My Time at Portia.
However Story of Seasons has big leg up on its contemporaries through its history alone; beginning with the original Harvest Moon releasing in Japan in 1996 on the Super Famicom. But with over a dozen installments in the series, are all of them worth remaking?
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town
Developer: Marvelous Inc.
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: July 14th, 2020
Author’s Note: Due to licensing issues the series formerly known as Harvest Moon is now localized as Story of Seasons. As such Story of Seasons will be used to refer to franchise including older titles called Harvest Moon, and Harvest Moon will only be used when naming particular titles.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is a remake of Harvest Moon: Back to Nature which was released on the PlayStation in 1999. The 2020 remake isn’t the first remake either, with Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town being a remake on the Game Boy Advance.
This isn’t to say anything about Harvest Moon: More Friends Of Mineral Town or the PSP port Harvest Moon: Boy & Girl. Meaning even the female player character content in the new Friends of Mineral Town is far from original either.
But questions about the necessity of this remake aside, let’s look at the actual game.
Graphically, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is a drastic improvement over previous installments for handheld systems. Though that’s setting a low bar when the Story of Seasons franchise has either been restricted by the hardware they’ve developed for or remains committed to the “chibi” caricature models.
So while the models and textures are smooth, they lack detail and it’s obvious that Marvelous lacked the ambition to try an even slightly more detailed art style like the one in the upcoming Pioneers of Olive Town.
The artwork during conversations is where the game shines, falling somewhere between full anime style and full caricature. This suits the game as Story of Seasons has as much in common with dating simulators as it does farming ones and it’s important for players to get attached to the characters.
The gameplay however, in contrast to the artwork has aged poorly. Maybe it’s because other franchises have improved on the formula of Story of Seasons.
For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Story of Seasons involves taking care of a farm, upgrading your home and animal capacity, and all the while upgrading your tools to work on a larger scale and make more money.
The end goal of the game is to try and immerse yourself in the village life presented to you, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. The pace of the game is frustratingly slow, as progress is halted by the character’s stamina.
Players will frequently find themselves repeating the same chores every in-game morning, finding their “capture target” (a dating sim term referring to their desired partner) and giving them a gift, and finally going to bed in the mid-afternoon to repeat the process all over again.
The flaws in Story of Seasons have been addressed both by newer installments and also by other franchises; this makes the new Friends of Mineral Town feel both outdated and redundant now that other franchises have infiltrated the niche of the series.
Animal Crossing offers the same comfy village life that Story of Seasons does, with the gameplay mechanics of working towards a larger goal and the ability to enjoy customizing your home. Story of Seasons falls back on throttling development via stone and wood hoarding for house upgrades, and tool improvement relying on a minigame in the nearby mines.
Meanwhile Rune Factory provides considerably more content while still having the farming simulation aspects of Story of Seasons. It’s not as relaxed or laid back, but at the very least it gives players something to do so they’re not going to bed at 3pm just to jump to the next event or to simply recover their stamina.
Ultimately, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town feels like it exists solely for those nostalgic for the original games. The chibi graphics and the fact that it’s a port make it feel like a lazy addition to the series.
Other series are both more accessible and more interesting; even other installments of the Story of Seasons series do a better job of holding interest. While Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is simply a subpar game by itself, its peers within its own genre make it feel like a needless remake.
It’s hard to recommend Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town as anything but a novel relic, it’s a remake of a game with historical importance for a well-loved franchise, but offers nothing that newer players who started with Stardew Valley or Rune Factory 4 will find interesting or worthwhile.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch using a personal copy. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.