A Harvest Moon By Another Name…
Not all has been calm and peaceful in The Lost Valley. You see, the original Harvest Moon game for the SNES had quite a Wonderful Life thanks to the partnership between developer Victor Interactive and publisher Natsume. Later, when Victor was acquired by Marvelous Incorporated, relations were strained between Marvelous and Natsume since the former already had its own localization business in the form of XSEED, so Natsume and XSEED weren’t exactly Friends of Mineral Town. Since the Harvest Moon nomenclature belonged to Natsume, Marvelous, not wanting to give up a successful brand name, continued licensing the games to Natsume rather than XSEED.
Eventually Marvelous determined enough was enough, and to Save the Homeland, XSEED was given the next Bokujō Monogatari title which could not be named Harvest Moon due to Natsume legally owning the name, thus XSEED dubbed the next Bokujō game Story of Seasons. Natsume, now wishing to directly compete with the Bokujō series in the West, developed and released Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley which was a strange Grand Bazaar of mechanics from games such as Minecraft that was really a mixed bag. Story of Seasons, however, is A New Beginning for the Bokujō games in the West as it is a Harvest Moon in all but name. Does Story of Seasons Animal Parade all over Natsume’s Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley in quality? You’ll have to read further to find out.
When beginning Story of Seasons, your character is answering an advertisement posted by a small town, trying to attract new farmers to their locale. Rather than this being some kind of timeshare ripoff or pyramid scheme, your player character is quickly customized to your liking (the options are somewhat limited but is better than nothing) and then shoved into the home of an elderly woman for a week or so to teach you the basics of farming in a fairly lengthy tutorial. You begin humbly, as per usual for this series, with naught but a small house with a small field with your goal being to upgrade and develop your farm, incite trade with foreign entities, and improve the town, overall.
Farming in a Harvest Moon title is about as exciting as you would expect, though Story of Seasons has done quite a bit to streamline the experience. In previous Harvest Moon games, players would planted a large number of crops would most likely spend their entire day taking care of them rather than experiencing the full range of activities Harvest Moon had to offer, such as fishing, mining, foraging, building relationships, and more. In Story of Seasons, planting, watering and harvesting crops are actually performed in a 3×3 grid, rather than one square at a time, vastly cutting down time spent performing one activity and increasing player productivity. This more efficient manner of dealing with crops simplifies this one aspect of farming by a fair margin- something some players may take issue with, but this streamlining greatly increased my personal enjoyment of the game so this is most likely up to player preference.
The trade system is the newest feature added to Story of Seasons- while previous Harvest Moon games gave players a shipping box, this game introduces foreign traders who will arrive on certain days to buy up your goods. Each trader can have their arrival tracked, as well as each time a trader appears they will have a type of item in high demand and items they sell at discount each visit. Thankfully, it is easy to obtain information on what commands the highest price each visit, though people just starting out in the game will have difficulty taking advantage of the info until you can produce a variety of goods. After a few in-game seasons, taking advantage of each foreign nation you come across like you’re the US Government becomes surprisingly easy and almost second nature, further aiding your goal of becoming the farm guru of your local town.
Of course, becoming a farm guru will take some effort as there are rival farmers with which you will compete in Conquests for several optional field plots that each have their own specialty. Obtaining control of these rental fields can also increase the growth rate of certain crops or allow the player to partake in beekeeping. Story of Seasons also has a plethora of additional features, like: More house upgrades (including 11 options for the exterior once on the final level), more tool upgrades to better manage your stamina, 15 different options for livestock, and giving treats to livestock has been streamlined so that you can now see how close you are to, for example, your cow giving two milk instead of one. There are also some extra Mario themed crops which can have effects on crop plots around them, too, which is a fun, quirky addition.
Dating and marriage is handled a lot like previous Harvest Moon games, as well, with players selecting one of the six bachelors or bachelorettes to court, eventually giving them a ring and getting married. Players also handle crafting as a personal skill, this game, which greatly opens up customization once the proper tools and facilities have been purchased or created. Tools, like the pitchfork, must be crafted by the player too, but there’s no harm in building a sewing shed and clothing pattern to make new outfits for your character, either. Beyond that, plenty of mechanics popularized by prior Harvest Moon games are available, such as Seed Maker devices returning to help players take advantage of fertilizing crops for maximum profits, and foraging is still a great way to obtain items that either sell for a fair amount or can be turned into an item that sells for a good value.
Those who played Harvest Moon: A New Beginning may remember that the game’s frame rate was, for the most part, like a weighted turtle stampeding through molasses: Frame rate dips were practically constant in nearly every outdoors location. Thankfully, while Story of Seasons does have some issues in certain areas, even on a New 3DS, much of the time it maintains a steady frame rate outdoors. The graphics aren’t exactly the sharpest thing around but they do the job well for having characters that aren’t top-heavy bobbleheads. The music in the game is quite nice, but some of the sound effects are nearly mute or may be grating.
In conclusion: Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley is a game masquerading as a game a very dedicated fan base loves due to its developer having wound up with the legal rights to the name. Story of Seasons, on the other hand, is the actual next entry in that longstanding series and everything a player may have loved from a previous Harvest Moon game practically oozes from every crease in the game card (metaphorically- if you actually have ooze coming from your game card, that is most likely ectoplasm and you should contact the Ghostbusters immediately). The simplified gameplay may sound atrocious to those who are purists of the Harvest Moon franchise, but many may find that Story of Seasons moving at a faster rate with its quicker progression into multi-tasking is better paced, since it can keep players addicted with the urge to upgrade and acquire more land at all times.
As always, Harvest Moon is an exercise in entertaining tedium, its cute graphical appeal and expedited gameplay hoping to draw players in for what essentially constitutes an addiction. Story of Seasons is another great addition to the Bokujō franchise, but those who balk at the simplified farming mechanics may find themselves enjoying Harvest Moon DS: Island of Happiness or similar instead, since the game is much more difficult as it is much harder to make money, early game. For everyone else who doesn’t want to play the Demon’s Souls of Buying Way Too Much Chocolate, Story of Seasons can easily scratch a Harvest Moon itch for those who enjoy the series, and those who are unfamiliar with the series can find Story of Seasons to be very accessible. Pick up Story of Seasons on Amazon