Story of Seasons – First Impression

Story of Seasons was released in America on March 31, 2015. I recently acquired it through the Nintendo eStore for the low price of only $19.99 due to their E3 sale. I have been interested in the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series for some time now, but I’ve always been really invested in Animal Crossing New Leaf, and I wasn’t sure if I needed a similar game.  I figured this was my chance to get the game at the lowest price I was ever likely to get it (barring waiting a few years), so I took the plunge! Here’s my report on my first impressions of the game, as well as an overview. Use this as a guide if you’re thinking about getting it!

Intro

The game greets me with a cute note about respecting animals because they are helpful and they are our friends! There’s a beautifully designed animated intro that shows the town going through the changing of the seasons, accompanied by adorable farm animals. I was intrigued by the focus on the setting rather than any human characters.

Customizability

You have the option to choose “original” or “seedling” level of difficulty. I looked it up and found out that this option was an add-on after early users complained about the level of grinding necessary early in the game. That’s my cue to start feeling nervous…

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Image source – for some reason I could only find a picture of the male character!

You only have two gender options (male or female), but there is a decent range of skin color diversity, as well as hair and eye colors. There are also a wide variety of vibrant (not natural) colors for hair! You could also change the style, with a good number of options. You pick from a range of pre-made faces without the option to choose individual facial features. There are no options to customize clothes at this point, so that must come later in the game.

(I only checked out the female options since I’m playing as a female character, but I imagine the male character has a similar customization scheme.)

My main qualm with the customizability is the extremely short name length – only six letters. I was lucky that “Maggie” fit, because lots of common names won’t make the cut. (The six letter limit is also a problem when naming your farm.)

Art Design

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The art design for the animals is incredible – really adorable and homespun, with roly-poly cows and sheep frolicking together in a pastoral paradise. The menus and titles use a quaint burlap pattern that feels homey and rustic.

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When you interact with NPCs, you are treated to delightful anime-style dialogues featuring portraits of whomever you’re talking to (slightly animated, with just expressions changing like in Fire Emblem dialogues). The art style for these interaction portraits is a gorgeous muted watercolor scheme (see above). Since I already know this game involves marriage, I was immediately on the prowl for the most eligible bachelors… I was truly surprised by how elegant the art design was for the characters considering that a lot of the other artistic elements of the game seem to focus on “cute and simple.”

The music is soothing and upbeat, but I was disappointed by how the music changes abruptly between day and night. It was a really dramatic change, not a smooth transition at all. The first time I heard the music change from daytime to evening I did a double take. It’s too bad they didn’t put more effort into making a smooth and soothing transition, because atmospheric mood music can add so much to the experience of a simlulation game like SoS.

Story

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I really enjoy the plot – you are a city dweller who has decided to leave behind the hustle and bustle and pursue a more relaxing countryside lifestyle. It struck a chord with me since I live in a major city.

Once you reach Oak Tree Town, you meet the guild master Veronica, who leads you around your new town in a clunky, plodding intro. It allowed me to see the whole big town, which got me really excited. However, it could have been shown much more effectively in a cinematic rather than making me walk around the whole thing. Veronica then takes you to Madam Eda, the owner of Sunnyside Farm, who will train you in the ways of farming so that you can help Oak Tree Town to prosper.

The long winded intro then turned into the worst tutorial of my life.

Tutorial

You’re stuck with Madam Eda for a full week (game time), during which she often teaches you one thing and then sends you off to “explore the town.” However, I don’t really know how to do anything at this point, so it seems pointless and I usually just go to bed right away to try to speed things along.

The most frustrating part of the tutorial is when it tells you how to do something, but then doesn’t allow you to do it yourself. For example, when Fritz (a plucky young cutie) taught me how to swim, he tells me the buttons to press to jump off the dock and dive down. But then, instead of allowing me to perform the actions myself and solidify my learning, it cuts to a cinematic that shows me diving into the river. It says you use stamina, but I have no idea how much since it doesn’t even show your stamina meter during the demonstration.

I feel like this long tutorial is boring and pointless since I’m going to have to learn everything by experience again later. Plus, this entire time the touch screen (which is supposed to have a variety of information such as the map) just says “Training,” even though the tutorials keep referencing things that should appear there. What’s the point of even having the tutorial if it’s not actually going to show me what the game is like?

After six long, horrible days of training, I finally got my rundown little farm! I named it Magtop Farm and set about tidying it up. Since the tutorial was useless, I wasted a ton of time smashing a boulder on my land (several days!) before I finally went to town, when I found plenty of materials to collect along the way.

Gameplay

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The top screen shows your movements around the town as well as any interactions, while the touch screen shows a map with icons to tell you where everyone is. You also see the date, time, and how much money you have. You can access your journal and your backpack from the touch screen.

The gameplay is very similar to Animal Crossing New Leaf. You have a bag to store items and various storage chests in your house to store things when your bag gets full. The hot key system is a bit clunkier, however, and takes some getting used to before you can smoothly access all of your desired tools, seeds, and more.

The map is very large, much larger than the simple 2-area map of ACNL. The main problem with this is that it takes an awful long time to run from your farm all the way to the trade plaza on the other side of town, which is typically my destination. Even when I finally got my horse, I felt like I spent an inordinate amount of time getting from Point A to Point B. The movement of my avatar seems kind of jerky and hard to look at when I’m running around. I found the map a bit confusing at first, since there were lots of different areas. I didn’t find out until later that these are farms you can rent later in the game, so I had trouble figuring out which were the important parts of the map.

You have a mood meter and a stamina meter to monitor throughout the day. You use up stamina by performing your farming tasks, such as harvesting crops, milking cows, watering crops, and chopping wood. Eating food (which you can only get at the restaurant until you save up enough to build the kitchen) replenishes your stamina. The stamina has a brutal expiration rate, and until I learned about eating food (another way the tutorial let me down), I went to bed at 8am on quite a few days. On the flip side, it’s really easy to keep your mood meter high. So far I’ve had absolutely no trouble with it, and haven’t seen it slip below the second level of happiness (when I stayed out past my bedtime and used up all my stamina, waking up in a daze in the town’s clinic).

You can interact with the townspeople, but so far I have only gotten very simple interactions – one sentence responses from them to which I can’t respond. It doesn’t feel like a conversation. They don’t give me tasks. They don’t even seem to appreciate it when I give them birthday presents. At this rate, I don’t know how I’m supposed to figure out who to marry.

The Verdict

At first I regretted buying Story of Seasons because I didn’t like it much. Now, I regret buying it because I spend way too much time playing it. Once I got past the awful tutorial and figured out my way around the game, and once I had gotten far enough to see some profits (planted enough crops, bought enough animals), I started to enjoy it a lot!

It feels a bit more grown up than ACNL, but not as advanced as The Sims. The excitement of having crops to harvest and traders to exchange with keeps me coming back day after day. The pace of the game is extremely slow, so it takes a long time to build up your farm. However, I feel like that compels me even more to keep playing. As the seasons pass, I am constantly getting new characters to trade or talk with, new events to plan for, and new elements that are added to the game. I never knew farming could be so much fun.

If Story of Seasons sounds like something you’re interested in, check out the Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns trailer from this year’s E3! It looks very similar to Story of Seasons, with some scenery differences. It’s coming out sometime in 2017.

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