Story of Seasons may not be the most familiar of names, but weirdly enough, this is actually a game with a pretty storied history. In fact, it has a story stretching back some 20+ years. While a fall out with their publisher may have meant they couldn't use the Harvest Moon name, Story of Seasons is actually the next instalment in the Harvest Moon series in all but name, made by the same developers (Marvelous), with mostly the same crop farming, villager gossiping, bachelor (and bachelorette) romancing and gameplay.
And so, as you'd expect, almost anything you could do in Harvest Moon, you can do here too. With a plot that revolves around restoring a rundown farm to its former glory, winning over the villagers with your friendliness and the homemade gifts you give them as you go, it's a game with a slow pace, and plenty to see and do! If you want, you can even get married and have children. Think along the lines of Animal Crossing or the Sims, just with more farming, and you're on the right track.
In Story of Seasons, there's a little bit of a twist, as one of the main objectives here is to help improve tourism in the town. But rather than building a brand new theme park, or opening a fancy museum, you instead have to do this by attracting vendors from neighbouring areas, who'll flock to the village to buy the high quality goods you produce. That means spending a lot of time on the farm, trying to grow the very best crops you can, keeping them watered, adding fertiliser, and generally tending them as they grow.
What perhaps makes things a little more confusing is that publisher Natsume have carried on the Harvest Moon brand, with their own game, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, hitting the shelves last year, giving those who like their light farming/villager romancing games plenty of choice. And as you might expect from two games that have branched out from the same roots, they certainly have their similarities. As with the Lost Valley, you can find yourself a soulmate and start a family in Story of Seasons. You're also encouraged to grow crops and expand your farm. However, in this game you actually have competition, from a cadre of rival farmers! And that makes things a little bit trickier.
You'll mostly end up butting heads with your "neighbours" when it comes to finding a field to grow your crops. There are special fields for certain kind of crops, such as tall crops, root crops, and even one specifically for keeping bees and growing mushrooms. So if you want to grow eggplant or corn, you'll need the tall crops field; if you want to grow some carrots or sweet potatoes, you'll use the root crop field. This may sound simple enough, but with four other farmers in the town, you have to compete with them for the opportunity to use the field you want.
The fields start out leased to the farmers, and then on the day their contract runs out you can request to take over. You can choose how to compete, which is a nice touch as it gives you more freedom to play to your strengths. You can either see who can ship the most products in a day, who can earn the most from the products they ship in a day, or at the next yearly event (for example the Cooking Exhibition) whoever gets the highest place will be awarded the field! We quite liked the option to see who could make the most out of their shipped items in a day, as we always had plenty of crops growing - and after cooking them into dishes they can be worth a decent amount of money!
Awkwardly, some of your competition are also love interests, but this didn't seem to get in the way of romance! Despite the ongoing rivalry, we still found each of the farmers to be friendly and encouraging, and a couple of them have even taken a liking to us! We're still not sure who we want to marry (as it's going to be one of them), but so far they are all rather lovely *blush*.
It's probably worth mentioning that you have plenty of customisation options for your character, too, as is usually the way in these sort of games. Most importantly, you can choose to play as a boy or a girl, and you can choose their name - but do try to be sensible, and remember this'll be visible to others if you have your StreetPass turned on! You can also choose a certain facial expression, hair colour, eye colour and skin colour. There's a decent choice of hairstyles too, which required some careful consideration on our part! And while you'll be given a specific set of clothes to begin with, you can buy patterns to make your own if you want, and even enter them in town fashion show!
One thing we weren't too keen on in this game was the amount of material you'll need to build things. At one stage we needed over 600 pieces of lumber in order to expand our safari, which was quite a lot to save up. Things aren't made any easier when it comes to mining, either, as rather than being able to mine for a specific thing, you instead get a random ore each time you mine, which can be annoyingly time consuming when you need 10 gold to upgrade your tools, and you can only extract 7 pieces per day. Of course, you can kind of twist things to be in your favour by saving before you start mining, then reloading your save file if you don't get what you want, but it does just turn things into a bit of a chore.
When you're not busy chatting up the local farmers or harvesting your carrots, there are plenty of quests to get stuck into, too, which give you cool rewards like seeds and food. These are mostly easy enough to do, as the majority of them require items you should already be producing on your farm. Some of them need to be of a certain quality (represented by a star level, half a star being the lowest quality and 5 being the highest), which gives you some much needed motivation to work harder on experimenting with fertilising your crops, which in the long run means you can sell them for more money and make better dishes. That in turn means more money, and a better chance of winning the Cooking Exhibition!
Of course, it's not just crops you'll be tending to on Story of Seasons - there are animals, too. To get better stuff from your animals, you'll need to take care of them well - and that means making sure they're well fed, regularly brushed, and get plenty of treats. If they're cooped up inside for too long, or if you forget to feed and brush them they won't appreciate it! They will get stressed and stop baring produce. Eventually they'll get sick if you mistreat them, which isn't good news! Letting them outside for a bit each day can help de-stress them. Just like with you and me, sometimes fresh air can make all the difference! The quality of the produce your animals will, er, produce, is reflected by the number of hearts next to their names in the Animal Notebook. The more hearts they have, the better they like you, the happier they are, and the better quality produce you'll get! Another way to increase the number of hearts they have is by connecting to the multiplayer mode and having other players visit your farm.
To get specific items, such as blueprints for better tools and cooking recipes, you need certain traders to come to town. The more products you gather, the more money you make. The more money you make, the more prosperous the town gets, which encourages more traders! You even get the chance to sell stuff yourself. This is a really great part of the game, as selling out of products at your stall really makes you feel like you're doing a great job - and encourages you to go out and get more stuff to sell.
We've spent over 40 hours on the game, and are almost at the end of our first year, yet we know we've barely scratched the surface What are our plans for the next in-game year, we hear you ask? On our list is definitely a house expansion, getting a pet rabbit, and maybe marriage if we find time in between caring for our animals and crops! With the option to start as a "seedling" if you're new to the game, or normal mode for those more accustomed, Story of Seasons is great for those looking for a gentler, kinder type of game - and those with a soft spot for tending to giant cartoon cows!