Story of Seasons is the latest entry in the Harvest Moon series produced by series creator Yoshifumi Hashimoto. Story of Seasons comes under a different title due to the fact that Natsume owns the Harvest Moon name but did not develop, nor localize this game. Instead the game was developed by Marvelous and released outside of Japan by XSEED, the very first time for this series.
Despite the name change, the core formula of the series is still intact — raise animals and grow crops to grow your farm, while making friends with the local townsfolk. Some of the elements are different here than in numerous previous iterations however, such as the ability to completely redesign your farm and the town as you please.
The story of the game is your run of the mill Harvest Moon story — as a young teenager you hear about the opportunity to become a farmer in a small town and jump at the chance. Upon arriving in town, you are given a quick run down of how everything works and then you are given a small farm to do with as you please.
One of the main ways that you will earn money at first is by planting crops and this has been majorly streamlined. Instead of having to do every step one by one, things have now been clumped together. Using the hoe on the land will created a 3x3 area in just a few button presses and harvesting crops is done by pressing one button; this makes things much faster, less tedious and gives you way more time to get to everything in a day.
That extra time is really helpful in Story of Seasons because the developers have added all sorts of things for players to do. There are clothing items, accessories, furniture, blueprints, different breeds of animals and even more on top of the usual items — spending time creating and collecting these is a big part of the fun. Blueprints and clothing patterns are two of the items that players will generally be purchasing the most. Blueprints offer the ability to create new buildings, furniture and outdoor items, while patterns give players the ability to create new clothing items for their player character.
While the game gives you the ability to change your farm using the workbench in your house fairly early on in the game, eventually you are given the option to redesign the town's spaces as well. This gives you the ability to change almost the entire look and feel of the town, something that always remained static in the other Harvest Moon titles. All of these changes will make every play-through feel unique, adding quite a bit to the replayability.
One other added element to crop farming is the addition of public fields. These fields are located all around the town and each will grow specific crops — one is a rice paddy, another is for root vegetables, etc. The ability to use these fields comes down to a competition between you and the other NPCs; if you win the competition you get to use that field for the whole season. While this is not something that is necessary to enjoy the game, it does give players even more things to do in-game.
Another change to the formula comes in the way buying and selling is handled. While there is still a general store as per usual, players will find better items at the local trading depot and all of your selling is done there as well. In a different move from usual, there are multiple vendors from different countries that will show up at the trading depot with many being unlocked as you progress through the game. This gives players a really big incentive to do as much trading as possible and brings in a lot of unique items, albeit it can get a little difficult to remember which vendor has which specific item at times.
With so much added to the game as far as customization, it comes as a bit of a shame that Story of Seasons remains the same when it comes to interacting with NPCs. As with the other Harvest Moon titles, NPCs usually alternate between stock phrases that will change as you give them gifts and talk to them more. Becoming friends or even getting married is done the same way as usual — keep giving that NPC gifts that they like every day until they like you. While this system certainly works, it would have been nice to see something a bit more advanced as it does feel rather outdated compared to other elements in the game.
A really nice thing about Story of Seasons being localized by XSEED is that the translations are generally quite a bit better than before. Natsume has always had a noticeably smaller budget for this and their releases have ranged from passable to quite awful. XSEED sidesteps issues some previous Harvest Moon titles have had and have turned in one of the best localizations the series has ever seen in North America.
The music and sound are similar to previous titles and really retain the spirit of the series. Themes are lighthearted and easy to listen to, while sound effects are satisfying and appropriate. As with many of the other titles in the series, there isn't a whole lot of music so if any of the themes get on your nerves you don't have a lot of options, however they won't last too long so it's not that big a worry.
Visually the game looks similar to the other 3D games in the series such as Harvest Moon: A New Beginning. While the graphics aren't as charming as the 2D entries, the 3D is still appealing and has been improved to fit in with the general feel of the series. The artwork for the characters and designs is done by a different artist than usual, but it is very charming and fits in well.
Overall, Story of Seasons is a worthy entry into the Harvest Moon series and with so many things to do, long-time fans will get a ton of mileage out of it. For those who have never played before, Story of Seasons is a great point to jump in as the quality is some of the highest the series has offered in recent memory.
(The author purchased the game herself and it is available at Amazon.)