Released in North America and Japan last year, Hometown Story has now hit European shores at long last, thanks to the efforts of Rising Star Games. You play as a young boy — or girl, if you wish — who takes over a shop in a small town after his grandmother, who previously owned it, passes away. If this sounds in any way similar to Harvest Moon to you, then you're actually pretty close — that particular series was created by the same person behind Hometown Story, Yasuhiro Wada.
Harvest Moon had you working hard to successfully manage your farm. Not only did you have grow crops, you also had to take care of the land and animals, keep an eye on the weather, build things and go into town to shop and partake in various events. In Hometown Story, it's a whole lot simpler — you simply put down some tables, put items on top of them, put a price tag on them and wait for the customers to roll in. You technically don't even need to leave the shop, because every now and then a supplier will come by to sell you more stock.
All the customers are unique characters, which is quite cool, as it means each of them has their own unique traits, such as favourite items. Thankfully, there's no need to discover these one by one, as there's a nice, big list of people that you can check to find out exactly what they like, which new people are added to as soon as you encounter them.
Of course, if you just stay inside you're probably going to bored very quickly, so thankfully it's also possible to leave the store and explore the entire town — although naturally this means that you won't be able to sell anything. Made up of numerous screens, the town starts off relatively deserted, but as your store becomes bigger and more popular, more houses and people will start to pop up. Talking to these people can occasionally result in side quests, usually just requiring you to find item X and bring it to person Y, but there are some more interesting ones thrown into the mix. Walking around, you can also occasionally find items which you can sell, and it's also possible to go fishing — easily the best source of income, at least early on in the game.
While this all sounds well and good, Hometown Story has numerous underlying problems. For starters, the town is absolutely humongous, which, despite it being in a relatively central location, makes it a chore to walk from your shop to a specific location. It doesn't help that the town's layout is also utterly confusing, with paths turning and splitting in every direction and the minimap not really offering much in the way of assistance.
Although they're arguably not as important as the store, the quests are also a huge pain to keep track of. If you put a task on the backburner for a while and then happen to forget exactly what it was that you needed to bring to who, you're completely out of luck — there's no easy way to find out what exactly the goal was, short of trial and error. That's not to mention the difficulty of finding NPCs, who all never seem to sit still, and will wander around the maze-like town the entire day. The icing on the cake is that most of the items you will need can only be gotten through the supplier that occasionally comes to your store; if he doesn't have what you need, you just have to wait until he does.
Even if you go through the trouble of completing quests, you'll often find the rewards aren't really worth the effort, and the time would've been better spent just staying at the store and making more money. To top it off, while there are many "unique" characters, almost every single one of them is completely devoid of personality, making their storylines utterly boring. New characters also move into town at a fairly slow rate, which means you'll be stuck with the desolate wasteland for a significant amount of time.
The store itself also has its fair share of problems; often, customers will come in and say that they're looking for a specific item. Even if said item is on display, the person will frequently buy something completely different instead, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. In the event that a person doesn't say what they're looking for, you could always check the list of villagers for their favourite things, but the list is clumsily located in the back room — making you run the risk of them walking out or buying something else while you spend too much time going in the back, checking the list, returning, selecting the correct item and putting it up for sale.
For some reason, you're also limited to only putting up one of an item on display — if you have five loaves of bread, for example, you can only put one on each display table. It would've been great if stacks were allowed, because as it stands you'll be spending time replacing sold items with new ones every single time customers come in. Leaving the store to do other stuff is also always a risky proposition because you might miss sales; it would've been nice to add in an automatic warning when you're outside and somebody is waiting in front of the register, but sadly that feature isn't included here.
Despite all of the game's mistakes, it is at least nice to look at, with some big, detailed environments and nice character models. The town's different screens are all quite samey, but as more people start moving in they get diversified a little. The music — which you might be surprised to find out is created by legendary Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu — is fairly decent, but unfortunately isn't one of his best works. It starts to get fairly repetitive after a while, which ironically is in keeping with the rest of the game.
Hometown Story, on paper, seems like a good idea; it's basically a less complicated Harvest Moon where you manage a store instead of a farm. Unfortunately, too little was done to keep the player entertained — managing the store itself gets repetitive very quickly, and there's little to do in the town that's worth your time. While the game showcases many characters, almost all of them have zero personality, which makes it hard to care about finishing their quests — especially when they're usually not worth the effort anyway. With more polish, Hometown Story could have been a worthy successor to Harvest Moon, but sadly the final product doesn't come close to matching the highs of that famous franchise.