Story of Seasons - Review  

Hello, I Love You
by Sam Wachter

40-60 Hours
+ New difficulty modes
+ Farming System is well-defined
+ Tons of activities to enjoy
+ Loads of customization options
- No Shipping Box
- Slow, tedious start
Click here for scoring definitions 

   It's impressive to see how far the Bokujo Monogatari series has evolved since its inception back in 1996. With this newest installment, the Harvest Moon series has transformed into Story of Seasons — a new name with a familiar skin. With its relaxing gameplay and adorable cast of characters, Story of Seasons is one of those gems that you can put hours into without realizing it.

   The story begins, much like every other Bokujo Monogatari game with a young rancher who takes charge of a farm. In this case, our hero or heroine sees a posting for Oak Tree Town, who are seeking new ranchers to take up the reigns and help cultivate the area. Furthermore, the town wishes to build more trade with surrounding areas, and feels that the new ranchers will be able to bring foreign nations to Oak Tree Town to trade and make connections.

   Connectivity really is the main focus of this installment as it requires players to build connections through Oak Tree Town's Trading Depot. The game begins with one trader in Oak Tree Town, and the player must constantly ship items through the trader in order to entice more sellers to come and trade with the townspeople. This is a fantastic concept, though it bears one large flaw — it creates a very slow, monotonous pace at the beginning. Having only one trader means the player can only trade on specific days, so it's easy to fill up one's bag and have to store everything until the trader is available in town. It means making multiple trips or hoping you have enough money to buy a larger sack. Veterans of the series will notice immediately that the shipping bin has been removed in Story of Seasons, and while it's impractical in theory, one cannot deny how useful and immediate it was on the surface for dumping contents and receiving money.

Shippin' some goodies! Shippin' some goodies!

   Even without the usual staple of the shipping bin, it's not the end of the world. Once more traders begin to journey into Oak Tree Town, the player has so much more freedom in terms of what they can purchase and ship. There's a bulletin board that states what types of items fetch for a higher price, as well as certain traders looking to pay top dollar for specific objects as well. Not only does this remove the pacing issues, but it opens up a lot more customization options for players as well. All the customization elements from Harvest Moon: A New Beginning resurface here in Story of Seasons, allowing players to craft furniture, gardening items, tools, and even outfits. Players gain recipes by purchasing them through various townspeople and traders, and it's easy to get sucked into the design aspects of the game because there's such a plethora of options.

   Speaking of options, this is the first Bokujo Monogatari to offer difficulty modes. Seedling Mode is created for those who have never played a game in the series and offers a lot of items at a reduced rate. The rancher has far more stamina than what is offered in Veteran Mode, which means the rancher can stay outside longer and perform more tasks. The vendor requirements are also at a greatly reduced cost. This mode offers a lot for newcomers who many not be accustomed to a lot of what Story of Seasons has to offer, and gives the player a taste without making one feel overwhelmed at all the activities that can be performed.

   However, stamina in the Veteran Mode does seem to deplete quite fast at first. Until the player opens up the Safari, it's not as easy to upgrade tools or craft other helpful items to keep the rancher out for longer hours. This can be a bit troublesome at first, but once other areas are unlocked, it provides more access to helpful materials to upgrade equipment. There's also a rivalry system in Story of Seasons, wherein ranchers can rent a special kind of field, such as tea, rice, grains, etc., and once that lease is up, someone else can attempt to rent it. Many of the rival ranchers will attempt to thwart the players attempts at renting the field. If the player disputes a rival's claim to that field, a challenge must be completed, and this can be difficult, especially at the beginning of the game when the player's crop and ventures are still at low levels. Conquests to rent the field eventually become less challenging, though it does take some time.

Fritz is your rival... and a big dork. Fritz is your rival... and a big dork.

   Farming is still the base of what Story of Seasons is about, and it's definitely the most refined system to date. Players can perform the standard tasks that the series is known for such as fishing, mining, raising livestock, and growing crops, but there's a lot of new opportunities to grow crops that are more specialized and unique. Once a player has won a conquest to rent one of the special fields, they are treated to plants having a faster growth rate with slightly better quality. This is great for economic trade at the depot when specific kinds of crops are in high demand. The farming system in Story of Seasons really encourages the player to grow a variety of plants and crops because it helps with the chain of supply and demand. Money is not hard to come by in Story of Seasons because the game gives players a variety of options to make some dough.

   What is great about Story of Seasons is that there's tons of activities to do. There's the staples such as festivals, farming, fishing, and mining, but the game also includes new features such as the ability to retrieve items underwater, lots of crafting opportunities, and even a fish hatchery. The game also has a wonderful cast of characters, each bursting with tons of personality. It may also be one of the few games that kills off an important character, and it's pretty darn sad. It's quite the joy to interact with the cast of characters, and Story of Seasons easily has one of the more likable casts to appear in the franchise. Furthermore a lot of the little plotlines that exist within the game are quite sweet, and worth the effort to dive into.

   Much like the previous titles on 3DS, Story of Seasons sports adorable graphics and some cute, soothing tunes. While neither break any barriers, both the graphics and music are pleasant and suit the overall presentation of the game. Although the game offers two difficulty modes, Seedling feels like it's ultra-easy and even the Veteran difficulty is not that challenging either. It's also very easy to complete the game around the forty hour mark, though even after completion there's still a lot of content to explore.

   Story of Seasons is a great game to relax with, and ultimately I adored my time with it. For fans of the series, this installment will not disappoint, and for newcomers, it offers aa terrific entry point with a ton of ease. There's so much to discover, create and customize in Story of Seasons that it's easy to lose track of time. It really is just that much fun.

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