The Story of Seasons franchise has one of the more unique histories in all of gaming. The games were originally released under the name Harvest Moon, but after a split with publisher Natsume, Marvelous and XSEED were forced to rename the series outside of Japan. After some really bizarre options were tossed around (which you can read about here), the company settled on Story of Seasons. The latest game in the franchise is Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, a remake of 2003's Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town. The situation is a mess, but thankfully the game itself is anything but. In fact, Friends of Mineral Town should appeal to a lot of folks.
When Friends of Mineral Town begins, players find themselves inheriting a farm and moving into a small town. After players till the fields, they can plant a number of different crops to grow and sell. Taking care of the plants only requires players to water them daily, but the process can be time-consuming, initially. Time flies by quickly while working on the farm, so players will have to be cautious that they don't bite off more than they can chew.
As the game goes on, players can upgrade their tools in order to make things easier. Upgrades allow players to water multiple plants at a time, or till a greater area of the map with a single click. Once players have spent a little time learning the mechanics, it's easy to get into a rhythm. That's not the only way that players can upgrade their experience, of course. Players can also make expansions to the farm.
While farming makes up a big portion of the game, part of the appeal of the Story of Seasons franchise is the social aspect. Mineral Town itself features a number of unique characters, and players get to know them over the course of the game. The way that the player responds to each character has an impact on their relationships, and they can even find and marry a significant other. In previous games, this was limited to characters of the opposite sex, but Friends of Mineral Town has added an option for same-sex marriage.
Choosing a spouse is just one of the freedoms given to the player in Friends of Mineral Town. It's easy to find and access information on the overall mechanics, but the game throws players into the middle of things without much in the way of handholding. In some games, this can be really frustrating, but in Friends of Mineral Town, it felt like I had a lot of room to do as I pleased. There are definitely things I wish I had known ahead of time (like the fact that all of the crops die at the end of each season), or things that I had started to do earlier (like saving up chopped wood), but if anything, it feels like that might encourage me to make a whole new save file again later.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town has a very laid-back atmosphere. In a lot of ways, it feels similar to Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Sure, players can grind and race to complete everything as quickly as possible, but it feels like the game is best enjoyed in smaller doses. After a hard day, booting up the game to spend a little time with the inhabitants of Mineral Town really felt therapeutic. In a time where social gatherings in the real-world are difficult, getting to engage in activities like horse races or cooking competitions just felt soul-soothing.
Unfortunately, the game does suffer a little in comparison to Animal Crossing. In New Horizons, it rarely feels like the animals are repeating the same lines over and over again, but the townspeople in Friends of Mineral Town are limited in what you'll hear from them and when you'll hear it. Sometimes, I just wanted to check out what Ran or Karen might be up to, just like I'd check in on Freckles or Mira in New Horizons. Unfortunately, I'd often find that the girls would reply with the same sentences they had repeated to me over the last few days. RPG fans are used to this sort of thing, but it felt all the more glaring after spending the last few months with New Horizons.
The game's clock can also be a bit irksome. Friends of Mineral Town does not follow real-time. Instead, time goes by quickly while working on the farm, or while traveling around town. However, when indoors or in the mines, time actually stops. On one hand, this system gives the player some freedom over how fast or slow time moves in the game, but on the other hand, it requires some strategy around how the player wants to spend each day. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does take some getting used to, and it can make it difficult to experience all the game has to offer when you want to.
Graphically speaking, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town isn't much to write home about. The game's graphics are charming, but it doesn't exactly push the Switch to its limits. The title's Game Boy Advance roots definitely show, in that regard. The music, however, is really charming, enhancing the relaxed atmosphere.
Gamers that have already poured hundreds of hours into Animal Crossing: New Horizons would do well to check out Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town. The game offers a similarly laid-back experience with a number of options that allow players to tailor it the way that they see fit. It certainly won't be for everyone, but the farm RPG offers a wonderful take on one of the most beloved Harvest Moon entries.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is set to release for Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam on July 14th. A retail code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a base model Nintendo Switch.