The first Switch Doraemon: Story of Seasons launched in 2019 and was praised for harmoniously combining the cast of the much-loved children's anime with the relaxing gameplay of one of the most well-known farm sim franchises, and while it may not be the most obvious combination, its beautiful art style and pleasant vibes were generally well-received nonetheless. So it's no surprise that its success has led to the release of the sequel, Doraemon Story of Seasons: Friends of the Great Kingdom.
However, there are a lot more life and farm sims on the market these days, and while developer Marvelous will have wanted to maintain the original game's charm, it also needed to present something exciting and new to stop things from feeling repetitive or stale. The original Doraemon Story of Seasons left a few gaps — some room for improvement — which the second is quick to fill, helping to create a similar enchanting experience and preventing a mass of overly familiar content.
The story is set up through a long cutscene introducing Noby and Doraemon on their Summer Vacation, but after getting into a tense standoff with his parents over incomplete homework, Noby decides to collect his things and jet off in a rocket ship to an unknown planet for a break — which sounds like the logical thing to do. Upon landing on what the children believe is an uninhabited planet that they can explore at their own pace, they find an injured boy. After patching up wounds and some more introductions, you meet Lumis, who offers to show you around the planet and eventually lets you stay in the farmhouse while you decide if you want to spend your summer working away on the farm.
After a few days of getting your bearings and exploring town outside of the farm, guards take you to the Queen. Unfortunately, she is less than happy that a bunch of strangers have crashed on her planet and swiftly removes the new gadgets and technology Doraemon has stuffed his pockets with, leaving Noby and friends with no way home. Luckily, Lumis has royal connections and steps up to support Noby and his friends. With the promise to work hard at restoring the farm's former glory, it becomes your responsibility to gain the trust of the Queen, get Doraemon's gadgets back, and return home before school starts again.
If you have any experience with farm sims from the Story of Seasons brand or further afield, you'll have a good idea of the gameplay here. There is very little to set controls and mechanics apart from the first game or any other farming simulator, really, but that familiar feeling does make the game incredibly easy for anyone to pick up and play. Most of your time will be spent working the day away on the farm, and the requests on the bulletin board from the townsfolk and the to-do list Lumis gives you at the start of the game mean you are never short of things to do.
A valuable addition this time allows you to invite Noby's friends on your errands to help out. As you progress, time on the farm may become more intense, and you will want to optimise and be as efficient as possible, so having an extra pair of hands around to help out can be a huge help. Additionally, the help of Noby's friends with activities like Fishing and Mining, which become pretty stale after a few hours, add an extra bit of flavor. The AI works incredibly well, and your companions will quickly pick up whichever activity they must complete. Head to the mines, and they'll bring a pickaxe and chip away, or they'll grab a watering can to help cultivate the farmyard. If you don't want to rely on AI, the game also comes equipped with a two-player system, where your companion can take the role of Doraemon and help pick up the slack around the farm.
But as charming as Noby and his friends are, there are many long-winded conversations and cutscenes to work through. No opportunity to insert a witty aside or reiteration of the relationships between the characters is passed over, and while, at first, this is an entertaining way to bring the characters to life, anyone familiar with Doraemon will feel like it's a massive waste of valuable time. Even when attempting to skip the tutorial, Lumis has a lot to say to you, and Doraemon isn't afraid to join and bulk out the conversation. Just as you think you've escaped the discussion, another cutscene will trigger, and you'll feel like a feature-length film has passed by the time you get to retake control.
Another gripe with the gameplay is the lack of events or items to collect during travel. One thing that helps stave off boredom while moving from one location to the next in alternative farming sims (like the original Story of Seasons titles) is the variety of foragables to collect along the way, which is something Friends of the Great Kingdom lacks. There are a few plants like Mugwort and Fern to collect around Quivering Peak, but they are incredibly few and far between. So despite the undeniable beauty of the map and the constant activity in other areas, the travel time between them slowly becomes a chore and feels quite empty.
In addition to this, the map is relatively challenging to navigate from the beginning, and you have to become slightly more reliant on your memory than on in-game navigation tools. The paths on the minimap don't correspond to the layout on the screen, so as you explore Lluma, you'll more than likely end up aimlessly wandering around, attempting to find the correct location. The more time you spend in the game, the more familiar you become with your surroundings, obviously, but for new players, the endless wandering can be pretty overwhelming and chips away at the sense of wonder you should have as you explore.
The first game was highly praised for its charming watercolor-like landscapes and painterly appearance, which is maintained in the sequel. The entire map, down to each grain of wheat, looks great, tying together to create a beautiful location where you can't help but get lost, although sometimes more literally than we'd like. While it may not offer much to differentiate itself from the first game, there's still something exciting and new about taking on this adventure and it's largely down to that lovely art style.
Aiding the art, the soundtrack is just as relaxing as you would expect, never feeling repetitive or stagnant. On the contrary, the music is so peaceful that you can devote hours to crop growth, mining, and fishing without realising how much time has passed. The game is desperate to captivate your attention and ultimately it succeeds — and the soundtrack plays a huge role. One moment you'll be watching the blossoms fall in Spring, and the next, the ground will be covered in snow, and you'll be desperately scraping for some extra gold in Winter.
Much like the first game, there's still room for improvement, then. But despite Friends of the Great Kingdom's failings, there's enough charm in its characters, presentation, and reliably familiar gameplay to be worthy of investigation if you like Doraemon, farm sims, or Doraemon farm sims.
Even though Doraemon Story of Seasons: Friends of the Great Kingdom doesn't offer much to separate itself from the first game, there's no denying it is a wholesome bundle of farming fun that still manages to carve out its own identity compared to other life and farming sims. Outside of the cutscenes which drag on and then some, it never feels too repetitive — an issue a considerable number of farming sims face thanks to the crop-based tasks associated with the genre — and outside of navigation issues with the map, it's welcoming to both new players of the genre and still feels relatively fresh to those who are incredibly familiar with the Story of Seasons franchise. If you go into this game expecting a decent Doraemon farming sim, you won't be disappointed.