What is the value of a remake? That's something we found ourselves asking as we played Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, a remake of the 2003 Harvest Moon game on GameCube, and a surprising addition to Marvelous/XSEED's catalogue of games. Should a remake of a game bring it up to today's standards, with modern additions like improved UI, extra features, and generally just more content? Should it be faithful to the original, and simply ported over to new platforms as-is? Or should it be an attempt to recreate the feeling of playing that game for the first time as a child?

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We've been cautiously looking forward to and dreading this remake for a while, because while we're excited for the complete graphical overhaul, the new localisation, and the option to play as a male, female, or non-binary farmer, we also have a deep and sacred fondness for the original, and enough experience and wisdom from the past 20 years of gaming to know that it does not match up to our current standards of "fun". Do we want it to be dramatically overhauled, or presented in its imperfect state? We didn't know... until we played it.

Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life has a lot of the things you might expect from a farming sim. You can raise cows, sheep, chickens, ducks, and goats, and you can plant crops and trees in your fields to make money and cook recipes in your cute little kitchen. There's a town full of people, all with interesting stories and unique houses, and some of them (eight in the remake) can be married. You'll be trying to make money to buy things like tool upgrades, new facilities, and animals, which in turn will hopefully make more money. Or you can just buy cute new outfits. Up to you.

The thing that sets A Wonderful Life apart from other farming sims is that it's one long story. Over the course of several decades, split into six chapters, you will go from a young upstart working on your dead dad's farm to an elderly, married farmer, with a child who can grow up to take over the farm, or choose an entirely different career path. The townsfolk will age and grow with you, and the town itself may change, too. There's never really been another farming game quite like this.

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It feels, at first, like this remake of A Wonderful Life is all-new, especially if you've played the original GameCube game. The town and farm are no longer sludgy shades of brown; half the characters you remember are now called something entirely different to bring them more in line with the Japanese names (Muffy becomes Molly, Cody becomes Gordy, Celia becomes Cecelia, Tim and Ruby become Tei and Lou); a few of the more insensitive or odd features have been smoothed over; even the UI is vastly improved.

Some changes remove the bite that the original had. The misanthropic Marlin is now a much younger man called Matthew, whose updated form makes him come across as more of a whiny incel than a grump. Galen, the old man whose story gets very sad in Chapter 2, is now called Gary, which is just a worse old-man name by any metric, but otherwise everything just feels very nice.

Sadly, inflation has also struck Forgotten Valley, and it's quite a lot harder to buy big-ticket items. The Processing Room, which turns milk into butter and cheese – the main way to get money in the game – used to cost 30,000G, which you could earn within the first year if you were smart. Now, it costs 150,000G, and it took us almost two in-game years to make that much. Plus, it'll take a lot longer to earn that money back, and if we want to upgrade the barn to get more cows, that's another 120,000G. We're not made of G, Marvelous!

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But other changes are welcome. Better menus, better onboarding, and more useful names for hybrid crops (Banana + Peach = Panana, instead of the original name, "Magerum"; Grape + Apple = Grapple, instead of "Phuju") make the game much more player-friendly without altering the vibe too much. The best change is probably the tools, which now take up their own slots in your inventory, meaning that you can now carry way more stuff and you don't have to put them back when you're done with them. But even with these changes, don't go into A Wonderful Life expecting an easy ride.

In the first year, we were mightily disappointed by how unenjoyable the game seemed. Was it a bad remake, or were our memories of loving the game incorrect? We had to assume the former, because there's no way our memories were wrong.

The game is frustratingly obtuse about most things, like how often to water crops, how to actually make money, and the fact that you're not able to interact with anything if you're holding an item or a tool. It also doesn't tell you that many of the improvements and upgrades that make the game easier are only achievable through making friends, or that you have to get married by the end of the first year, or that some items, animals, and upgrades are only available at very specific times of the month, or the day.

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Stardew Valley this is not. In fact, playing the game is an interesting exercise in seeing how much farming sims have changed over the last 20 years, and you'll find yourself missing those conveniences from time to time. You'll miss sprinklers and machines that auto-gather eggs and milk; you'll long for actual mines that aren't just 16 ground tiles to dig in. You'll wish that the digging and fishing mechanics were even a tiny bit interesting or challenging. It can all seem like a massive step backwards, if you're used to more modern farming games.

But the more we played of this game – a game that's actually one of this author's childhood favourites – the more we remembered the original, and the more we realised that this remake is actually incredibly faithful, and we had just forgotten. And, actually, there are a lot of quality-of-life changes that smooth over some of the rougher parts, while maintaining the charm. For example, it's a lot faster to get farming done, with snappier animations and the option to water multiple tiles at once, and there are also new events, new festivals, and lots of things to add to the encyclopaedia that give you a sense of a fuller, richer world. Any friction that remains is purposeful – this is a game that's meant to be slow.

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Harvest Moon games were initially based on creator Yasuhiro Wada's longing for rural Japan, and this remake is closer to that original vision than a modern take on the genre, which tends to focus on satisfying game loops and automation as the end goal. The satisfaction in A Wonderful Life doesn't come from making millions of farmbucks every day, or maxing out relationships, or getting the biggest house. It comes instead from the real-world satisfaction of a job well done and a life well lived; of making the inhospitable into the livable, and then into something you can be proud of. If you've ever had your own garden, you'll know that that kind of work takes years to come to fruition.

Each season is 10 days long, each chapter is at least a year long, and by god, it takes at least a year and a half in-game before you've built up enough momentum to actually feel like you're moving forwards. If you want to 'finish' this game, you'll be looking at around 30-50 hours of largely repetitive farm work — but at least the game changes with you, as characters age, people move in and out of the town, have children, and watch those children grow up, too.

And you know what? We think A Wonderful Life is worth the time you'll need to invest, especially if you're a fan of sedate farming/life sims that you can poke your head into for half an hour a day, or you're a fan of the OG experience, which has been recreated pretty lovingly by the developers. A Wonderful Life will never be Stardew Valley, it's true – but it's refreshing to see a remake that avoids playing catch-up by staying true to its own roots, and by reminding us of our roots, too.


Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life retains the charm and the pleasant tedium of the original while bringing enough features up-to-date that it's not a total chore to play. Fans of later farming/life-sims might find it too slow and too dull, but we encourage you to embrace the slow-and-dullness to find a surprisingly fulfilling and earnest game underneath. After all, this game is the granddaddy of Stardew Valley, and it's not too hard to see the family resemblance.

Just, uh, use a guide. Trust us.