Ahhh, farming games. Despite being an ever cherished genre, it’s always been hard to sell the appeal of a game where you do nothing but manual chores and labour, especially to someone who’s not tried one before. To those in the loop though, the farming sim genre, and the Story of Seasons series in particular (previously known as Harvest Moon) represents a world of escapism, joy, and sweet nostalgia. Fans new and old can get ready to experience a revamped and fresh version of the beloved Mineral Town in the new remake, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town for the Nintendo Switch, seventeen years since its original release on the Gameboy Advance.

The game begins as your character takes a trip to Mineral Town after finding out that their grandfather, who lived on the farm there, passed away and left the land in your name. Inheriting his duties, you’re in charge of looking after and managing the farm, where you can grow crops and flowers, take care of animals like cows and chickens, and raise pets, all while earning gold from selling your produce. More gold means you’ll be able to buy more expensive seeds, animals, and upgrades, from the size of your bag to the size of your house. This concept will be familiar to anyone who’s a fan of the genre, but if it’s your first time, believe me when I say that it’s highly addictive.

The field of land you’re given to grow your crops on is absolutely huge, and you also get both a barn for your livestock and a coop to hold your chickens and rabbits right from the start, meaning you can jump right into raising animals as soon as you have enough money. Speaking of animals, in true Story of Seasons fashion, they are all adorable, especially the iconic “bubble cows”. There are even some new animal additions in the remake, such as the pink Strawberry Cow, which produces strawberry milk. Peak game design.

Is there anything better in life than a Strawberry Cow? No. No there is not.

As with any farming sim, the beginning of the game can feel like a bit of a drag; with limited gold comes limited options for what you can do with your farm. There may be a good chunk of time where you’re stuck with buying nothing but cheap turnip seeds until you can afford something more interesting, and even then, you’ll be sent right back to square one until you can sell produce from whatever it was that you bought. Personally, I felt this uphill battle to get my income rolling more strongly in Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town than I have in any other farming game I’ve played, which I put down to the limited amount of items you can forage for and sell. However, overcoming this challenge and earning my way slowly from having hundreds, up into thousands of gold was incredibly rewarding, and embodies to me what’s so satisfying about farming games; seeing your hard work pay off. 

Thankfully, there’s also an option before you start your save file to begin on ‘simple’ mode, which will give you some extra gold at the start, a bunch of turnips already planted in your field, and extra gold for the produce you sell throughout the game. This is perfect for if you want a very casual, laid back experience, and want to get straight into making your farm according to your perfect vision right from the start; I definitely recommend going this way if you think a slow start might put you off.

As the name of the game might suggest, your relationships with the other residents play a key role in your time in Mineral Town; as you talk to people each day and give them gifts, you’ll be able to learn more about each character and their relationships with each other. There are plenty of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes, including two new characters who were not present in the original game, Brandon and Jennifer. After getting to know a character well enough through increasing their ‘heart level’, and watching the ‘heart events’ that unfold upon unlocking these higher levels, you’ll be able to pursue a relationship with them, get married, and even have a child. 

One of the key new additions of the remake is the inclusion of same-sex relationships and marriage. Whether you choose to play as a male or female character, you’ll be able to pursue a relationship with any of the romance-able characters in the game, with none set aside specifically for same-sex relationships, as was the case in Harvest Moon DS: Cute (and even then, this was only available for female players, was called the “Best Friend” system, and led to a “Friend Ceremony” rather than marriage). In my opinion, the dialogue is very natural and respectful of LGBT+ couples, and is incorporated in a really positive and inclusive way. I was pleasantly surprised to see that ‘blanket’ dialogue hadn’t been used that would apply to both a male or female character pursuing a relationship; with Popuri referring to us as “girlfriends” in my experience when I dated her.

Love wins! Players can date any of the bachelors or bachelorettes regardless of if they play as a male or female character.

However, there is a noticeable lack of varied dialogue in the game, with each character generally only saying a couple of lines in different locations, with some alterations when you’ve reached a higher heart level with them. This is an issue prevalent amongst many life-sim and farming games, so it’s by no means a unique or unexpected issue, but it’s still a bit disappointing, as there comes a point where there’s not really much incentive to go around talking to everyone other than to maintain your relationships with them. 

From my experience, the characters I tried dating didn’t even say anything different from their usual lines when we got together; the dialogue only became more romantic once we tied the knot. There are so many options in terms of characters you can date and events you can trigger though, that I can’t guarantee that this is an across the board experience. You’ll get a little cutscene establishing that you’re dating someone, but seemingly nothing will change past that, which is a bit of a shame. However, this perhaps is due to the fact that you can date multiple people at once with (seemingly) no consequence, so if you change your mind on who you’d rather be with, no problem. You can only marry one person at a time though, so be sure to choose wisely (good advice for real life as well as the game).

Alas, even on our wedding day, I only knew him as “Doctor”. What a man of mystery.

There’s no real plot to Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, although this is no change from the original game. You do, however, get a bit of a developing narrative with the characters as you increase their heart level and view their heart events, and Friends of Mineral Town, both in its original form and this new remake, is quite unique in its inclusion of ‘rival heart events’, which have only been available in a few entries of the series. Each of the bachelors and bachelorettes have ‘official’ romantic pairings, and as you advance through the game, you’ll be able to see heart events specifically for those two characters. In the original game, after four years of play time, and having viewed all their rival heart events, these pairs can get married themselves (so long as you’ve not taken one half of the pair for yourself). At this point, I haven’t been able to get far enough into the game to confirm that the other residents of Mineral Town can still get married to each other, and if so, how it works, but the rival heart events are still included which would imply they can, and it really makes Mineral Town and the people in it feel alive.

Discovering the relationships of the townsfolk through rival heart events makes Mineral Town feel alive.

The calendar for each year’s four seasons is full of events and festivals; from characters’ birthdays to the Horse Derby, there’s usually something happening at least twice a week. At first glance, this would suggest that the game is full of seemingly endless content to break up any monotony of your farming life throughout the year. However, this has not been the case, and in fact, I’ve found festivals to be the most disappointing feature by far. 

The vast majority of the festivals are very much non-events; for example, the events where you can bring your animals to be judged such as the “Fluffy Festival” or “Moo-Moo Festival” don’t even show you who else has entered the competition alongside you, nor does it show an awards ceremony for the winner. After watching the judge look at each of the animals (which are indistinguishable by the way, you can’t tell which is yours), the screen will fade to black, and when the game loads back in, you’re told the festival is over. Admittedly, I wasn’t able to win one of these yet, so perhaps there’s more to it if you emerge victorious, but why can’t we at least see which animal did win? And why are all the competitors anonymous? It felt so impersonal for a game that’s name is literally based on your relationships with the other townsfolk.

The Moo-Moo Festival, although cute, has very little depth and definitely falls flat.

In your first in-game year, you’ll also find that you’re unable to enter many of the festivals due to not being far enough along to have what you need, such as a dog for the “Fetch Fest” or cooking equipment for the Cooking Exhibition. Of course, you’ll be able to re-attempt these in later years when you’re more equipped, but Mayor Thomas’ passive aggressive comments the morning before a festival, telling you that “it’s such a shame you can’t join us”, really start to wear thin after the umpteenth time you’ve heard them. In fact, in the case of the Fetch Fest, without a dog you’re unable to even watch the event unfold; at least with the Horse Derby you could still watch the other horses race and bet on the winners.

Other festival related issues include poor, and often completely absent explanations of what to do in preparation for an event (the guilt I felt on the “Pumpkin Jamboree”, a.k.a. Halloween, when the children came to my house asking for sweets and having nothing to give them was terrible), as well as the fact that all buildings are shut throughout the day and that no one is even outside on festival days, which means that after your farm chores, you don’t have much of anything to do until the clock ticks over to the time when the festival starts. In the case of the New Year’s events, there are two events lined up on the same day one after another, but you aren’t told that you can only pick one before the day automatically ends, which was really disappointing. Most of the festivals feel at best poorly executed, and at worst, very lazy, and after a while, you really start to wish that you could just have the general store open as usual instead. 

As well as farming and relationship building, you can also spend time exploring the mines to dig up ores or gems, or try your hand at fishing. Your time in the mines is solely dependent on your stamina and energy conservation; time doesn’t actually pass in the game when you’re inside a building or the mines, so you can spend as long as you want in there every day. That said, I didn’t find anything to do but dig and dig some more; there are no enemies to defeat like in Stardew Valley’s mines, so it doesn’t exactly feel like a grand adventure. 

Smash the rocks in the mines to discover ores and gemstones, and use your hoe to uncover the ladder to the next level.

You can use the ores you dig up to upgrade your tools, such as your axe and watering can, to have extra benefits such as being able to chop bigger tree stumps, or water a larger range of crops in one go; it’s definitely a worthy investment. Fishing on the other hand…leaves more to be desired. Although it’s rare that any game can make fishing a thrilling pastime, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town really does the bare minimum. Cast your line into any body of water, wait for a bite, press ‘A’, and you have yourself a standard looking fish. Yay? There are actually a number of different fish to collect at different times of year, but there’s no good way to keep track of which ones you’ve caught, and with a complete lack of individual sprites for each fish, there’s not much incentive to try getting them all in the first place.

Visually, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is quite different from its 2003 predecessor, which may not sit easily with fans of the original game. All the characters have been reimagined with fresh new designs, and while they’re still clearly recognisable, some players may be left wishing for a more faithful adaptation. The art style is very cutesy, though the character models look a bit like oversized toddlers until you get used to them. The landscapes are really pretty though; taking a stroll through Mother’s Hill in autumn surrounded by the warm orange hues is magical, and watching the sunset on the Summit while overlooking the town is gorgeous. The art style definitely shouldn’t be something that puts you off from experiencing the magic of Mineral Town; whether you’re a returning fan or not.

Mineral Town looks gorgeous in its remastered form, especially in autumn, covered in the fallen brown leaves.

It’s impossible to overlook all of the game’s problems, particularly with the festivals, as they make the whole experience feel very unpolished; you can’t help but feel like it could have been so much more than it was. It’s hard not to compare the experience to that of indie competitor Stardew Valley, which frankly does the majority of what Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town does and more; with festivals being genuine highlights of the calendar, providing fun, varied experiences that don’t feel thrown in for no reason. 

Despite this though, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is still an incredibly enjoyable game. Little things, like the entertainment channel on the TV being genuinely hilarious at times, and secrets from the original version remaining intact and as fun to discover as ever (try throwing cucumbers in the lake and see what happens) make for an experience that feels truly bursting with life. At the end of the day, the game is whatever you want to make of it; you can spend all your time growing a bountiful field of crops, raising all your favourite animals, or seeing how deep you can get in the mines, and each year of in-game time is only going to see more options unfold for you. Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is a remake full of love, and whether you’re a long standing fan of the series or not, you won’t want to miss it.

4/5 stars.

 

Interested in playing Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town? Check out my guide for getting started in the game here!

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