Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is about to arrive on Nintendo Switch but we turned up early and got a preview and first look at this adorable farming sim ahead of its release in a couple of days time.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral town is just the latest adorable farming simulator to arrive on our screens in 2020. Animal Crossing gave us an island, and a KFC, to run away to, while Rune Factory 4 offered a bit more action to the whole experience. Later this week, anybody desperate to escape the social upheaval of the last few months can head to Mineral Town as publishers XSEED and MARVELOUS launch a complete rework of the Gameboy Advance classic.
Better known to many payers as Harvest Moon, this entry in the long-running farming franchise begins when players receive an invite to the titular Mineral Town. Bequeathed your grandfather’s farm upon his passing, a fairly typical bit of exposition provides you with the perfect opportunity to build a new life and bring this old farm back to life.
Feel All Shiny And New
If at any point you are expecting a gritty country life with dedicated ploughing physics, you’re probably better off heading for Farmer’s Dynasty. The bright animation that grace opening monologues and early trailers are just a continuation of the light sort of style that we’ve come to expect from Story of Season and Animal Crossing. This sliver of life might easily be described as a farming sim but it’s clearly aiming for a stress-free taste of escapism. The four cute protagonists available to players and the adorable chibi population of Mineral Town fit the overall aesthetic pretty perfectly, while the colourfully decorated village streets and whistful soundtrack blend marvellously into this backdrop.
Mineral Town continues to revel in the quaint concept that the Harvest Moon Series is built upon and although the top-down aspect of this new story is visibly more pleasing to the eye than the Gameboy Advance original, there’s a familiarity to the people and place that should put fans of the original at ease. Starting out in a small untamed farm, players can easily get around town on foot, exploring the various vendors and interacting with a range of characters. Everyone from the mayor to potential new friends of all varieties are seemingly going somewhere. Dotted just beyond general store and beaches of Mineral Town are a few outlying points of note too, giving players a little more to see and do in what might initially seem like a slightly claustrophobic experience. Unlike the more instanced nature of Animal Crossing, Story of Seasons largely takes place in the same place, instead focusing on a few more local activities to keep you occupied.
Most obvious of the many goals in Story of Seasons is returning a run-down farm to full working order. This will be the core of the game for many players, especially when they start out. A simple set of controls and an unchallenging farming system quickly throws new arrivals into the core gameplay loop of this adventure. Whether it’s raising cattle, keeping chickens or growing crops, it’s all about farming the land to get gold. Farming doesn’t take much effort and as long as you can till some soil, water plants, and feed your animals, then this easily accessible part of the economy should find you rolling in profit, and even naming the odd chick when it hatches.
As you become more accustomed to waking up and watering the plants, there’s an opportunity to expand your operations. Tools used to grow crops can be upgraded allowing you to work more land at once, farm facilities can be enhanced to rear more cattle, and your own little lodging can be upgraded to give you a nicer home to come back to in the evening.
While there are some basic requirements that need to be met and even the odd stormy moment, Story of Seasons never sets out to punish players trying to min max their farming prowess. Despite my own inability to work a schedule I didn’t manage to kill any corn feed or destroy any turnips as the seasons changed and plenty of new options opened up over the first year of my adventures. This easy-going attitude continues as you delve deeper into the subsystems that are scattered around Mineral Town. Options to upgrade tools, farm iron, expand your house, and buy wares from the locals all present themselves, but never until you are ready. There’s no online leaderboard, no NPC pushing you off into action, and no online pressure to find the best turnip price. Story of Seasons can be played as you wish without timers, systems, or gold sinks in place to drain off any of that hard work.
This placid approach to life in Mineral Town makes exploring the characters and events of the titular town even more rewarding in itself. While a day out tending the fields might be a good day’s work, you deserve a bit of relaxation. Scripted events appear at regular intervals for birthdays and festival days. Festivals are the most obvious and easily accessible mini-games that can keep things upbeat between field trips. Beach days, pet festivals, chicken clucking tournaments, and horse racing are just a very early glimpse of a plethora of mini-games that you’ll uncover, mostly disguised on your calendar as a festival date. While anything marked in the early months of your farm life might just be a break from monotony and a trip into a brightly lit town, as you collect pets, grow animals, and expand your own domain you’ll get the option to take part, bet, and interact with townsfolk in new ways as each event unfolds. Year one, however, is generally a hands-off affair, at least until you get some chickens.
Farming The Fields
Although I’m particularly content pottering around the fields, tilling the soil, tending my chicken, and petting my dog down on the farm, Story of Seasons has something a little more relatable than a clucking companion. The people of Mineral town are the heart of the narrative story you’ll build in this title. What seems like linguistic confetti at first turns out to be far more than just extra decoration. Taking the time to talk to characters eventually unlocks a range of dialogue options, giving gifts endears your presence to certain townsfolk, and crafting extra special birthday gifts can find you courting your best girl or boy. There’s even a church in town. While this is all a little simplistic and at times can be a bit random, it keeps interactions somewhat dynamic and doesn’t penalise players for concentrating on their careers rather than chasing social standing. Introverts apply here!
The core concept of Friends of Mineral Town isn’t particularly complex. The array of gathering and growing options are easy to access and give players achievable goals. The aesthetic is gleefully quaint and the character interactions are a nice diversion. Your first year is easily going to be spent working the land, gathering materials, and raising animals. This core game loop, we hope, will change up as you start to live a life of luxury in an upgraded house with your favourite horse, trotters. The draw to simply log back in and drown a few hours in the field, away from the torrent of bad news that seems to be flowing into front rooms right now, is surprisingly strong and the fact that Story of Seasons doesn’t exert pressure to log in with broken dreams and ruined crops makes the game even more inviting.
Where Story of Seasons: friends of Mineral Town succeeds it largely hits its biggest issue during year one. The freedom and ease of access that this particular title provides means players craving a reason to go back and engage with the game may feel at a little bit of a loose end. The free form narrative won’t exactly push the player into a gripping tale and the huge range of activities may lose their charm given time. The simplistic core gameplay loop feels like less of a grind than Animal Crossing, by comparison, and you’ll never experience the stress of trying to play the turnip market. By the same degree, upgrading your axe at the local forge won’t exactly bowl you over with excitement either.
Story of Seasons: friends Of Mineral town is an escape. It swaps the overwhelming assault of social media for a flock of feathered friends, a sunny day and a whole haze of distractions. The charming aesthetic, magical soundtrack, and relaxing resort of Mineral Town are just waiting for you and right now I’m quite happy to escape my front door for the simple life. You can check out more about Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town when our full review hits Gamespace soon. For now, we’re going back in to find out if Year two of Mineral Town is just as fun.