This year's E3 was notable for many reasons, but for farming sim fans the bumper crop of 3DS agricultural adventures on display was one of the best. Along with the internally-developed Harvest Moon: Skytree Village at Natsume's booth, there was also the latest game in the Bokujō Monogatari series (formerly localized as Harvest Moon) in XSEED's stables: Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns. A sequel to last year's Story of Seasons, Trio of Towns combines the bucolic charm of small-town living with metropolitan multiculturalism in its tri-town setting, and brings an impressive range of upgrades and improvements to the successful farming formula. We got to go hands-on with the Japanese version, and after spending an incredibly enjoyable half-hour wandering the titular trio of towns, we already can't wait to get back to life on the farms.
We loved wandering around and exploring all three towns, which connect via a southern crossroads and a northern corridor, and the constant change in scenery gave Trio of Towns a totally different, country-cosmopolitan feel.
The biggest news in Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns is, of course, the towns themselves. Instead of the single village of previous games, you'll now be able to visit, shop, and look for love in three separate townships: wild west-esque Westown, far eastern Tsuyukusa, and South Pacific Lulukoko. In addition to their radically different architectural styles, layouts and local cultures, each town also has its own set of shops, crops, and hours — Lulukoko's stores close for a mid-day siesta, for instance, but re-open again later in the day. These schedules are designed to complement each other, too, so you should always have something to do when you're out and about, no matter how early or late it is.
We loved wandering around and exploring all three towns, which connect via a southern crossroads and a northern corridor, and the constant change in scenery gave Trio of Towns a totally different, country-cosmopolitan feel. We popped into dusty Westown to buy some seeds, check out a water buffalo statue, and talk to some townsfolk, before heading over a bridge to the bustling Japanese village of Tsuyukusa, visiting a temple and exploring rice paddies, and then popping over to Polynesian Lulukoko to fish at the ocean's shore, closing out the day with a communal-kitchen-cleaning event in the open air.
Since one of the main goals of Trio of Towns is to raise your 'Town Rank' in all three villages, players will spend plenty of time hopping between them, doing part-time jobs, attending festivals and shipping produce (thanks to the return of the shipping box) in each town in turn to rank up accordingly. All three towns will have their own marriageable bachelors and bachelorettes as well, and as you might expect marriage customs vary across the crossroads; Westown's wooers will want to use engagement rings to propose, but in Tsuyakasa presenting a comb is the gesture of choice, and Lulukokoans express their love with the traditional blue feather.
With so many villagers running around — we were told there will be over 40 NPCs to talk to, each with their own events — and such a variety of scenery, all three towns felt especially alive. There are also plenty of crops growing in and around each village, but there's no field 'conquest' system as in the first Story of Seasons; your fellow farmers are simply working hard on their own fields for their own sake, and the added agriculture lends an appreciable lushness to the landscape.
The trio of towns may have gotten title billing, but after our time with the game at E3 there was another element that stood out just as much: pets. Animals have always featured in Story of Seasons games, of course, but here the role of your domestic friends has been greatly expanded. There are nearly 30 types of pets you can have, from several varieties of cats and dogs to more exotic options, like the rather adorable capybara. Your pets can accompany you on walks, too, and will follow you around diligently; we got to take our farmer's pup for an extended tour of the towns, and had a blast exploring the countryside together and introducing her to the villagers before dropping her back off at her doghouse when nighttime hit.
Bringing your pet with you isn't just for show, either. Having an animal companion along will open up lots of different events and conversational options, both between your pet and other animals — we were told that an eagle sitting on top of the train in Westown was having a very sassy exchange with our dog (in Japanese) — and your character and other NPCs, with extra dialogue exchanges popping up when villagers are fans of your particular pet. Our XSEED rep also mentioned the 'Furmiliar' system, where you can choose a single pet to be your favourite, and unlock further events that dive into their daily life. The Furmiliar system also plays into the StreetPass feature, which has your star pet fetching item gifts from visitors to the farm.
Along with the tri-town hook and expanded place of pets, Trio of Towns has a host of other additions that help it stand out from the first Story of Seasons. The most intriguing of these is the Post Office sitting in Westown's square; though we didn't get to try it out directly, we were told you can send letters to your family and villagers from here, Animal Crossing-style, and receive responses in return. And while we didn't get to engage in any virtual correspondence, we did get to try out the new fishing. You can now fish anywhere you can swing a pole, instead of just off the pier, so rivers, lakes, and the wide-open ocean are all fair game. As in Animal Crossing, fishing around town felt great, and being able to cast our line wherever we wanted felt like a significant upgrade.
These new features were matched by a series of smaller improvements that kept jumping out at us as we played through our demo. For one, holding the 'L' button as you walk past NPCs now not only shows you your friendship or romance rating with that person, it also lets you eavesdrop in on snippets of smalltalk without starting a full-blown conversation, with single-line dialogue bubbles popping up in the bottom left corner as you walk by. Another pleasant surprise was being able to talking to people while they're eating; instead of automatically (and almost unthinkably rudely) saying 'Come back later, I'm busy', they now might invite you to join them, boosting your relationship with that character while you share a meal.
We were playing in Autumn, and watching the sunset-tinted leaves float past the front of the screen in stereoscopic 3D was wonderful.
Character customization returns from the first Story of Seasons, and based on the green-haired, fashion-forward farmer we were controlling it looks to be quite extensive. All clothing and hairstyles are happily still gender-neutral, which means that even though you set your character's sex at the start and are stuck with it for the duration, you're free to play as an entirely female-presenting 'male' farmer or vice-versa — and since there still aren't any true same-sex marriage options in Trio of Towns, that at least opens up a workaround for players willing to tolerate the odd off-target pronoun.
Trio of Towns looked great, too. We loved the art style, which felt noticeably brighter and more colourful than the first Story of Seasons, and the graphics did a beautiful job reflecting the stylistic diversity of the three towns as well as the gentle appeal of the world; we were playing in Autumn, and watching the sunset-tinted leaves float past the front of the screen in stereoscopic 3D was wonderful. The framerate was also notably solid, even in 3D, and we didn't come across any significant dips in our demo time.
With the Japanese launch just days away, we'll be digging up much more on Trio of Towns ahead of its Winter 2016 North American release, including an interview with longtime Series Producer Yoshifumi Hashimoto. We loved what we got to play of the Japanese build at E3, and this is one game we're especially excited to dive into with headphones and a cup of tea at home — between this new Story of Seasons and the promising Harvest Moon: Skytree Village, 2016 looks set to provide a bountiful harvest for 3DS farming fans.