Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town Switch Review

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is a remake of the beloved 2003 Game Boy Advance game Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, which released at a period where the only farming games were the Harvest Moon series. Times are different now. There are plenty of farming/life simulators, thanks to indie developers, but also we are at a point where Harvest Moon is not actually Harvest Moon, but now called Story of Seasons. This is due to the split between developers Marvelous and publisher Natsume, with the publisher having released the original Japanese title, Bokujo Monogatari, as Harvest Moon in the West, getting to keep the title and having a different developer create the games, while the original developers, Marvelous, are now teaming with XSeed Games to release their titles in the West under the new brand, Story of Seasons. Just to make that clear; Story of Seasons equals original developers, Harvest Moon equals new developers. Now that is cleared up, let us get onto this remake.

One thing that has not changed from the original release is the setup for the story. The game starts with selecting a character from an option of either two male or female characters, an increase over the GBA version, which was one of each, but was across two separate versions of the game. There is not much to these characters apart from able to change their skin colour from three different types and alter their predetermined name. Their original names are Yuto and Pete for the males, Claire and Naomi for the females, so if you are a person who hates thinking up names for a protagonist, the game has done that for you. Pop in a few flashbacks about how the protagonist once had a lovely summer at their grandpa’s farm, meeting a new friend and generally having a good time until it was time to go back home to his parents, only to then never return until 20 years later, and there is your story setting. The main character comes back due to unforeseen circumstances where the protagonist’s grandpa has now passed and the farm has been handed over to the grandchild, but in a rather messy state. It is the player’s job to give the place a fresh coat of paint and get the farm in tiptop condition.

This begins the journey of living inside the world of a Story of Seasons farming experience, beginning life as a new farmer who needs to make a living in a town and become acquainted with the rest of the country folk. Fans coming from the GBA original will instantly feel at home – the progression remains indistinguishable, but the concept for this remake was to never reinvent the original game, but offer a pleasant update to play a beloved game on a modern system. The story takes a back seat once the beginning has played out, with the game more about interacting with characters and making friends and eventually loved ones, opening up stories and learning about the people rather than some overarching story.

It might feel strange to have no forced goals and quests throughout, since it is something we are accustomed to, so for people who need help in having a direction it can feel a bit overwhelming where to begin. The game wants the player to start farming and making small amounts of money, then take that experience and find ways to become richer and more efficient. In terms of dialogue throughout the game’s interactions with the townsfolk, hardcore fans will notice dialogue will be different, due to a new translation to make the game more closer to the Japanese script. Due to this, characters have had their names reverted back to match this, such as Ann now known as Ran, or Doug becoming Dudley.

Doing the harvesting part in Friends of Mineral Town is an easy to understand process that retains the series individual tile farming mechanics. Basic tools are available at the start – hoe, sickle, axe and hammer, all having their use around the farm. Farming is a repeated process by hoeing each square patch of land, planting seeds, watering them over the next few days until they are ready to be plucked and put into the shipping basket to be sold on the market, bringing in the cash to buy more fruit and vegetables to keep the cycle going and harvesting the profits to reinvest in the farm and yourself. The money will quickly come in and the farm can be extended from harvesting to the addition of livestock, such as purchasing cows (milk), chickens (eggs) and sheep (wool). There are even some amusing alternatives; Coffee Cow and Strawberry Cow offer coffee and strawberry flavoured milk to make sure the customers get the freshest of flavoured creamy goodness delivered to their door.

Stamina and time put a limit on how long one can work meaning not every job can be performed before moving onto the next day. It is worth thinking about what will be happening the next day when it comes to the farm or taking part in other activities so that days are not wasted – exploring 255 floors of the caves to mine minerals, fishing in the fresh water pools, taking part in special events and birthdays that are advertised on the calendar, and the many other secrets to discover throughout trial and error that can easily push the days forward.

Overworking your avatar can lead to reduced stamina recovery, so going to bed at the right time is handy. If you take things too far, the character can even pass out and miss a whole day to recover, putting a spanner in a well oiled strategy. Eventually things just clock, and once upgrades to tools are gained the farm begins to flourish much easily, even having harvest spirits to help around the farm to allow the player to focus on other aspects. These spirits initially start off poor, but training them through mini games increases their work efficiency, but be prepared to be repeating those mini games, as they are the same mini games for each of the seven harvest sprites that can be befriended.

Which leads us onto the other main feature of Friends of Mineral Town; the one where you interact with the people around you, getting involved in their daily routines and coming together when special town events are on in the plaza area – fancy being the best brewer or entering your horse in a race? Some routines are set in stone, such as the pickup of goods from your farm at 5pm or various shops opening on specific days at certain times. This is an living village where everyone is set in their way of life, even their dialogue, which is often repeated unless an event or a small cutscene is playing out to flesh out some character details.

The game gives the player information on a list of characters and their friendship level, but there is no goals or targets to unlock all the stories each person has. This makes it about exploring every area of the town, bumping into people or entering their houses and watching the scenes unfold throughout the year, seeing the characters’ mini stories act out before you. There seems to be plenty of these small interactions between the game’s NPCs, and this detail builds the characters and helps the player eventually come round to picking who they prefer to be friends with. Most fall into a stereotype; farmer girl, librarian girl, sulky teenage guy, but each one is distinct enough in the game’s town to enjoy their small moments with you.

Ideally, once you have a favourite, you will eventually want to build up a relationship, filling the heart and seeing more special events, and then eventually becoming married. No matter if playing as a male or female both sexes are available to woo and marry, and they can even have a kid (same sex get a special scene with the goddess about taking care of a child).  Not all residents of Mineral Town can become partners – I don’t think the game would want to promote adultery – so the ones with a heart next to their name during dialogue are the characters that can potentially become your loved ones by giving them gifts and making them feel appreciated during dialogue options.

Visually, it is rather clear the enhancements that come with this over the GBA title. The move to 3D and a cutesy, chibi style makes for a clean appearance and the character emotions to be exaggerated, but the style itself does lend itself to make the game appear a little generic in its design. Portraits are redrawn to help with the newer resolutions that comes with modern hardware. New content for the game comes mostly in form of the two new characters that can become partners, Brandon, a young artist who has come to town to see if it can help him with some creative ideas, and Jennifer, a wanderer who wants to experience living the country life by setting up camp near a lake. One of the great things about this release are the quality of life improvements that the developers implemented. Simple things can make quite a difference – having items stacking in the backpack, animals automatically returning to their barn at night and actually able to walk over crops are quite the benefit. There are many more, plus new events and pet features, but the list would make the review rather long to name everything.

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is a fascinating release, due to the fact that the way that Marvelous has produced this remake does not follow what recent developers have been doing bringing old games into the modern video game market. Instead, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is more about taking what was already there, staying faithful to a tee and smoothing out the rough edges while giving it a new face lift. The content is familiar, the gameplay now remains a little dated with its early 2000s roots, and it lacks some of the features that newer farm games have brought over the years. Still, there is something nostalgic and charming with Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town. Hardcore fans who love the game will enjoy seeing it in its new beauty, while newcomers get to enjoy its engrossing farming life for many hours before it grows stale. As long as people do not go in expecting the best farming life sim on the market, then this update to an Harvest Moon classic can put a warm smile on your face, especially when enjoyed with a nice glass of freshly milked coffee milk.

7 out of 10