Living the Life Bucolic in Story of Seasons

This has the potential to be confusing:  Harvest Moon is known as Bokujo Monogatari in Japan, and Story of Seasons is the latest game in that series from long-time series director Yoshifumi Hashimoto.  Natsume, however, has the rights to the Harvest Moon name in the US, and the latest game in that series is Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley.  The series has been amicably split in two between Marvelous and Natsume, and while the name remains the same in Japan it’s now Story of Seasons in the US.  Confused?  You won’t be, after this E3’s interview with Yoshifumi Hashimoto.

The conversation started with a rundown of the new major features that differentiate Story of Seasons from previous entries in the Harvest Moon series.  From a story perspective, the biggest addition is that there are now other farmers available to both get advice from and compete against in the harvest festivals.  Competitions are events to see who can harvest the fastest, for example, and the winner gets a special field to use as they see fit.  Nice as is is to have in-game farmers to work with, though, helping out real-world friends is better. You can also go wandering via wi-fi to a friend’s farm and help out with their chores.

As is usual for the farming game genre, socialization is a big aspect.  On a macro scale, the classic shipping box has been replaced with a new import/export trade center.  As you go through the game and sell more produce, new countries pop up as trading partners, which also expands the available options for new seeds and tools to purchase.   Hashimoto then went on to explain more about village life, and that you can pick between male and female characters with six potential love interests for each. The job of working the farm has been streamlined to allow more time for villager interaction, but the village itself is pretty big, with enough going on that it’s just not possible to go everywhere and do everything in a single day.

This means time management is important, and many of the systems have been reworked to balance the needs of farming, socializing, and all the other side-tasks that make Story of Seasons a worthy entry in the Bokujo Monogatari (but not Harvest Moon) series.  There were demo kiosks for the game out front and just a little hands-on time backed up the details Hashimoto shared.  Click on a three by three section of crops and all of them hop into a box in the middle of the grid.  Walking speed is zippy, tasks are accomplished efficiently, and still there’s never going to be enough time to do everything.  Part of this is because the clock doesn’t stop when you’re inside any more, although it does pause during longer animation like building structures, but mainly it’s because there’s so much to do.

In addition to farming and socializing, both in-game and with friends over wi-fi, there are rivers and lakes to fish in, a mountain to explore and safari to visit. All of them reward you with new animals for your stables.  (You do want penguins on your farm, right?)  The customization options for the main character return from previous games, and getting all the bits necessary to craft new clothes will take some exploring.  The town grows with your farm, and  the large world map expands as life in the village improves.  When all is said and done it can take anywhere between thirty to a hundred hours to complete the story, depending on how thorough you are.

One of the story features Hashimoto went over was the chapter system, which plays off how individual players have approached previous entries.  Everyone has a different stopping point, whether it’s reviving the farm, getting married, having a child, or any number of other personal goals.  The chapters are set up to reflect this, giving closure to each goal as a complete story while also allowing the player who wants to keep going to do so.  Alternately, a player can work the three save slots to pursue different paths and see different versions of events.  The approach to the story is down to the individual player, and Story of Seasons works hard to accommodate the different goalss players can bring to it.

The chat with Hashimoto ran a bit over its allotted thirty minutes, because very little at E3 runs perfectly to schedule, but after everything we discussed they still had one more bonus piece of information to share about Story of Seasons.  Nintendo is collaborating with Marvelous on this new game, and that means Nintendo-themed bonuses.  You can grow fire flowers, super stars, and mushrooms as rare special crops.  They all have unique effects – for instance, the mushroom causes nearby crops to grow bigger. It’s an excellent bonus to an already charming game. Story of Seasons is another lovely entry in this prolific series, and while it’s got a new name in the US it’s still as pleasant and inviting an experience as its ever been.