Somewhere above the Los Angeles Convention Centre, the Harvest Goddess was smiling over this year's E3; along with Natsume's in-house-developed Harvest Moon: Skytree Village, XSEED brought a farming-fan-favourite in Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns — the latest game in the long-running Bokujō Monogatari series (localized as Harvest Moon prior to 2013). Adding in three explorable towns and a big focus on pets, it looks set to offer the cream of the crop in agricultural life sims; we loved what we played in our hands-on time.
After digging around in the demo, we sat down with Head of Development Yoshifumi Hashimoto — longtime producer of both the Bokujō Monogatari and Rune Factory series — to talk about exploration, localization, and relaxation in this brand-new Trio of Towns.
First off, could you give us a quick introduction to this Story of Seasons?
In Trio of Towns, the main character — either a girl or a boy — gets their start by visiting their uncle's farm, and that's where they learned to farm. So one difference between this and the last Story of Seasons is that here, the main character's family becomes involved in their farm life.
Having three towns instead of just one to explore is a big change; what inspired that?
It wasn't inspired by anything in particular, but I did think that since it's the 20th anniversary of the series I wanted to do something different. Story of Seasons usually takes places in just a Western-themed town, but I thought fans might want to visit a Japanese-style town, or a tropical island town as well. It's really hard to travel around in real life, so I thought it would be fun to make that possible in the game — that's my inspiration.
Story of Seasons usually takes places in just a Western-themed town, but I thought fans might want to visit a Japanese-style town, or a tropical island town as well. It's really hard to travel around in real life, so I thought it would be fun to make that possible in the game — that's my inspiration.
What were you able to do with the three towns in terms of the gameplay? Did that open up more festivals, or dating options?
As you said, there are various types of festivals in each town, and depending on where you are the festivals can be different. For a year-end festival you might want to go to one town, for instance, and for something like Thanksgiving you might want to go to another town. There are also different stores in each town, and they can have different hours. Westown, the Western-themed town, is open from morning to night, but in Lulukoko, the tropical-themed town, the stores have a siesta, so they close for a break in the middle of the day before opening again. Differences like that make it fun to play in all three towns.
Westown looks to be based on the North American Wild West, and Tsuyukusa on traditional Japan — is Lulukoko based on a specific culture or country?
Actually Westown isn't just based on North America — it's a mix of North America and other countries too, and it's the same for Lulukoko. I made it as a mix of lots of tropical island countries.
Besides the three towns, another thing that jumped out at me while playing the game was how much more animals felt a part of the experience, especially pets. How did that come about?
As you mentioned, in previous Story of Seasons games there would always be farm animals, like cows and chickens that you can get products from, but this season there's going to be lots of pets that you can have as well — 28 different kinds! That's mostly different kinds of cats and dogs, but there are also going to be Capybara and some special pets too. In real life it's hard to have some types of animals, like a Capybara or a Maine Coon cat, but you can have them in this game! They can stick with you everywhere you go and help with whatever jobs you have, and even go to events with you, so they'll be next to you to see how you do on the farm, and they'll always be there to cheer you up.
It seems like that's a theme of the game, getting to do things you wouldn't be able to in the real world!
Yes; I want players to be able to do things, like have different animals, they can't easily do in real life. That's always really enjoyable!
Communication seemed like a big part of the last Story of Seasons game, does that play a role here as well?
As for communication, I think the biggest feature here is that we actually have a small island in the game for people to visit with others, through online connectivity or local multiplayer. So people who want to play with other people can go to this island to connect, and they can chat and talk to each other, or fish together. I think that is the biggest form of communication this season.
Bokujō Monogatari titles have often included references to previous games, in people, names, and places — will we see that in Trio of Towns too?
I know when some people played previous Story of Seasons games, they enjoyed when they'd see a reference from previous games, but sometimes new players won't be able to enjoy those as much as returning players would, so we didn't really put in any references like that for this Story of Seasons. But we'll try to get fans' ideas for what people think about that for future titles.
One thing we really loved in the first Story of Seasons was the Super Mario-themed crops; do Nintendo fans have any easter eggs to look forward to in Trio of Towns as well?
We're still adjusting everything for the North American version, but in the Japanese version we have Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad costumes that players can wear. Each costume has different attributes too, so wearing them can give you a boost in relationships, running speed, or fishing, for instance, though we're still finalizing things for the North American release.
Before, it was more like simple translation, but now since we can hear more of North American fans' voices, and our North American staff's ideas too, we can work in improvements for the North American release.
Speaking of, when we talked two years ago, you mentioned that now that you're localizing the games through XSEED [a subsidiary of MarvelousAQL, the developers of the Bokujō Monogatari series] you'll have a lot more work to do! How has that played out for this game?
Ever since we started working with XSEED, as you said, I've become more involved in the North American releases. Before, it was more like simple translation, but now since we can hear more of North American fans' voices, and our North American staff's ideas too, we can work in improvements for the North American release. It's really great to be involved with the North American release, and to get to hear all these ideas.
One thing I noticed when playing was that the art style seemed quite different to the first Story of Seasons; can you talk about the art direction in Trio of Towns?
Every single title that I work on I always try to make, I don't want to say different, but I do try to differentiate them all little by little. I feel responsible to make people who buy the game happy, and since we've released a few Story of Seasons titles on 3DS, we don't want to make the same exact thing on the same hardware. So I always try to make it a bit different and make adjustments like this, so that players will enjoy the changes.
I think a lot of kids tend to buy Story of Seasons games too, since it's a good game for children, and, well, video games aren't cheap! They have to spend their monthly allowance that they've saved up to buy the game, so I feel that it's our duty to try and make them happier with what they're spending that allowance on.
It does seem like Story of Seasons is a series that appeals to a wide-range of people, and in particular it's a series that means a lot to so many players. What do you think it is about farming sims that make them so enjoyable?
I think where that comes from is that lots of people like to go through all different types of games, like shooting games, battle games, and action games, but I believe that deep down, everybody has times when they just want to relax and take a break. These types of games [like Story of Seasons] can bring people that feeling of relaxation with no stress, and I think that's a big part of why people keep loving this genre.
Even with keeping that base of relaxation through farming, the series has changed and evolved so much since the original Super Nintendo release — what's been your favourite innovation since then?
For me the biggest turning point was with the GameCube, when we released Bokujō Monogatari: Shiawase no Uta [Harvest Moon: Magical Melody]. Until that title, we always had to switch out whether players were a boy or girl farmer in each game, but for [Magical Melody], we put both female and male farmers in the same game, so players could choose which they wanted to be. Since then we've continued to do that, putting both male and female farmers in each game, so I think that's been the biggest change.
What inspired that change?
There are certainly a lot of female players, and the number increased more at that time. We'd been making the games as either male-only or female-only, and it wasn't easy to do both, but players wanted to choose, so that's why we added in that system.
What are you most excited for players to experience when they pick up the new Story of Seasons?
This season we've put in a feature where players can actually control the attributes of the character they create, so if you like fishing, you could set up your character to be good at fishing right from the start, or you could have them be good at sports or other activities. We also have different difficulty settings, so players can choose an easier mode if they're newcomers, or a harder mode if they're longtime fans.
We've tried to make it easy to enter and easier to enjoy, so that should be exciting for all players. And I think that it will be great for people, when they're playing something like a shooter or a more complicated game, to just stop by this Story of Seasons game and relax. I hope everyone will enjoy that feeling!
We'd like to thank Hashimoto-san for his time, and Mai Okuno from XSEED for translating. Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns is currently set for a Winter 2016 release in North America.