When it comes to farming simulators, a comparison to the enormously popular Harvest Moon franchise is one that is often made. In this case that comparison is entirely justified as Story of Seasons is made by Marvelous Inc. - the same team alongside Natsume Inc. responsible for the Harvest Moon series. Due to different visions, Marvelous Inc. went their own way and with Story of Seasons released their first farming simulator under this name.
Story of Seasons starts with creating your character. You get to pick a gender, name, birthday, and can customise your character with a few different options for face-type and hair- and skin colour.
The story begins with your character receiving a pamphlet asking for farmers to help a town named Oak Tree Town grow. Lured by visions of green pastures and happy farm animals (and hey, a free farm) your character applies and packs their bags and leaves for Oak Tree Town.
Upon arrival you get welcomed by Veronica, who introduces herself as the Guild Master - someone who manages the day to day operations in town. The Guild is aiming to make Oak Tree Town an economically thriving town by attracting and trading with foreign traders - hence the calling for new farmers to help them expand their town and production.
Before you can start farming, you'll have to stay with Eda - a grandmother-type character living next door to you. Whilst your farm is being prepared for you to move in, Eda teaches you the basics of farming. Unfortunately, playing through this mandatory tutorial became boring quickly, especially for people already familiar with the Harvest Moon series.
When your farm is finally ready to move in, you are again challenged with quite a slow start. In the beginning, there isn't much to buy or do except planting a few basic crops and literally watch grass grow. Luckily there is a bit of exploring to do - whilst some areas on the map aren't accessible yet, you can visit Oak Tree Town and familiarize yourself with the shops and inhabitants, venture in to the countryside, or why not go for a swim in the river!
Once you get through the slow start however, the game starts to gradually offer many more different things to do. Where first you'd put your character to bed early because there simply wasn't anything to do, you'll now find there aren't enough hours in a day.
The first and foremost goal of the game is of course farming. Instead of having to plough each square of land separately, Story of Seasons lets players tackle bigger plots of land at once with a simple push of the A-button. Not having to sow and water each crop individually not only saves time, but also prevents the farm work from starting to become mundane. Even though it costs the player a lot less effort to farm, your character isn't as lucky - the amount of farm work you can do is limited to Stamina, but fortunately stamina is easily replenished with a hearty meal or good nights rest.
A farm isn't complete without animals. Taking good care of your livestock raises Affection, meaning the animal will produce better products such as wool and milk. Unique in Story of Seasons is that you now unlock animals as you progress in the game instead of having access to them all at once. Whilst some veteran Harvest Moon players might dislike this feature, we found it to add more challenge to the game.
Besides farming, trading is a huge aspect in Story of Seasons. In previous Harvest Moon titles, you would simply dump your crops in your shipping bin and wait for money to appear. In Story of Seasons however, you'll have to visit the trading depot in Oak Tree Town to sell your goods to foreign vendors, who in turn sell exclusive items not found in the shops in Oak Tree Town, as well as new animals for your farm. The trading adds a very fun and addictive aspect to the old formula - before long you will check the calendar on your farm daily and strategically planning your harvests around the visits from foreign vendors and what is currently in high demand. Eventually you'll even be able to open your own stall in the trading depot, which only further fuels the already addictive economics aspect in the game.
Besides foreign vendors, other players can visit your town too. Up to four people can be in a town at once, be that people on your friend list or random players. You can all farm at your heart's desire or just hang out and have casual conversation. Apart from a fun social feature, visiting each other's town isn't required to progress in the game.
As players familiar with the Harvest Moon franchise will know, making friends is just as important as making profit. Story of Seasons offers a wide pool of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes, who you can woo (one at a time!) by often conversing with them. Once you have gained enough Affection with an individual, they become eligible to date, marry, and even have children with (spoiler: you'll always have twins, a boy and a girl, who unfortunately never grow up). But before you can even think about expanding your family, you must expand your house first!
Story of Seasons gives us a lot of options when it comes to customisation. Not only can you upgrade your old and worn down house to a respectable two-story home and buy a wide variety of furniture from vendors, you can also customise most furniture and wallpaper with your Craft Table. Not just your house, but also your land is completely up to you to decide what and where you build: a barn, a shed, a second house and even your own shop can be built wherever you want. Character customisation is certainly not forgotten: with the Sewing Studio, you'll be able to make over 150 pieces of clothing and accessories and change the appearance of your character whenever you like.
If all of that doesn't satisfy your need for customisation enough, you can even decorate Oak Tree Town!
Besides the well-known aspects of Harvest Moon such as fishing, cooking, festivals, and of course the farming, Story of Seasons adds an exciting new feature to the game: a safari. There, you can hunt for unique bugs and flowers, mine rare ore, or bring your own animals to play around. However, the best part of the safari is that now you can keep a range of exotic animals, such as monkeys, panda's, or even penguins!
Visually, the game looks appealing with bright colours and cute animals. Characters are in 3D, but when engaged in conversation a more detailed drawn portrait will come up, which gives the characters more depth. There is no voice acting in Story of Seasons, but the music more than makes up for that.
Even though the game is made for the Nintendo 3DS, the game doesn't run as smoothly with the 3D function on. We didn't feel like we missed out on anything by playing the game with 3D turned off, but it is a point the developers might want to address in the future.
With Story of Seasons, Marvelous Inc. doesn't re-invent farming simulators, and luckily so. Instead of removing the popular aspects of farming role-playing games that attracted so many fans since Harvest Moon first released in 1996, Marvelous Inc. expands on and adds to them. With smoother farming, a generous map to explore, lots of customisation options as well as adding a safari and (an) addictive economics system, Marvelous Inc. delivers a marvellous game which will hopefully be the first Story of Seasons instalment of many more to come.