July 14, 2020
I have never played a Harvest Moon game. Actually, I should clarify, I have never played a Harvest Moon game that was called “Harvest Moon”. I have, in fact, put more hours than I care to admit into Stardew Valley, and now I have a similar number in Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town. Not a Harvest Moon game in name, but certainly in genesis, with it being a 3D remake of the Gameboy Advance game Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town.
Playing these types of games is always an oddly reflective time for me as it feels like I have missed out on a tonne of experiences that I would have been grateful for at different times in my life. Friends of Mineral Town is a lovely and gentle game where farming and making friends are your main concerns throughout the days. There is no pressure, no danger, and no detriment to anything that you do. The worst thing that can happen is that you over-work yourself and don’t monitor your stamina meaning you will have less for the next day. It is nothing that a nice soak in the local spa won’t resolve though, giving you a few precious moments of doing absolutely nothing.
I’ll admit that the charms of Mineral Town took their time to reveal themselves to me. The pace of rural life is slow, despite individual days taking no more than fifteen to twenty minutes. At times the pace feels too slow, the intricacies and secrets of the town taking their time to emerge. In fact, it wasn’t until the passing of the first Spring season that I had discovered one of the mines wherein I could gather mineral resources to upgrade my tools that had been ready for two thirds of the season. Similarly, the town’s sprites, located at the far top right of the town, were only discovered half way through the first Summer season, meaning I had missed out on their labour saving abilities for the early part of the game.
The slow drip feed of information and game mechanics annoyed me at the start, and I think this is the one big danger that Friends of Mineral Town could suffer from. There is an awful lot that the game just doesn’t tell you. There is the local library with some tool tips and little hints, and if you watch the television in your home on a daily basis you can get snippets of information, however, much of what makes the people of Mineral Town tick is something you will have to figure out for yourself. This is all perfectly fine, the joy of discovery is something that pulls you through each day, but unlike in Stardew, for example, there are no real big events to help bring you in and give you focus while you work things out. In Stardew’s Pelican Town, the Joja Corporation’s presence gives you a focus and impetus to fix up the Community Hall. Having that overarching goal gives you a drive to forage, mine, and grow the crops required to fill out the sprite requests. At least it did for me. In Mineral Town there is nothing. I farm and sell my crops, sometimes fish and visit the mines, and in the evening pop around town and talk to the other inhabitants. It feels like that is it, but after reflection I don’t think that is a bad thing.
Having acknowledged my own personal frustrations of not having something obvious to focus on while the actual charms of the town revealed themselves to me, I did settle into a very pleasing rhythm. And it is this rhythm that is the most charming thing about Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town. Waking up, visiting my animals (all of them individually named), petting them and talking to them, planting and watering my crops, fishing, resting in the spa and playing mini-games with my new sprite friends are all pleasant ways to spend a day. Gradually over time the other residents start to open themselves up as well, with opportunities to forge friendships and even start to woo for potential partners.
The opportunity to forge relationships is nothing new, however, it is worth noting that in this updated version the pool of potential partners has been expanded with opportunities to settle down with either a same sex or opposite sex partner. You’ll need to have upgraded your house before this can happen of course, which will lead to other strands of mini objectives you can work towards.
This is the main thrust of Story of Seasons, chipping away and performing relaxing tasks gradually opens up other things for you to do. Tending to your crops becomes onerous as your farm grows, so you upgrade your tools by visiting the mine so that you become more efficient. After a while tending your crops and looking after all your animals takes up a significant portion of your day, so to help you can befriend and play with the sprites who will assist you, providing you are on good terms with them. Missing out on the cooking competition because you can’t craft the recipes in your house without a kitchen provides a focus on gathering resources so that you can upgrade in time for the next one. These tiny little incremental goals add up and over time you learn more and more, all of which is managed at your own pace.
I fell in love with Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, but it was only after I slowed down and appreciated the daily rhythm of tasks for what they are that this happened. I do fear that the early game where you are left to your own devices may put players unfamiliar with the gentle flow of farming and relationship sims off. There is no denying that you are left a little too much to your own devices with no obvious overarching story push to encourage you to explore more presenting itself early enough on, which may result in some players losing interest in the mysteries of the town. For those that do settle into the gentle daily grind early on they will be treated to a lovely, relaxing slice of idyllic rural life.
Gentle relaxing daily rhythm
Lots to discover
Takes its time to reveal its charms
Some more character customisation options would be nice
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town takes a while to reveal its charms. The pace may put players not familiar with the rhythm of farming and relationship sims off, but those invested will be treated to a lovely, relaxing slice of idyllic rural life.