Nearly two decades ago, the Nintendo fanbase was graced with Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, the first entry in the series for the Game Boy Advance. Offering up a low-key and easily accessible gateway into the farm sim genre, it quickly garnered a following and earned itself the reputation of being one of the better entries in the long-running franchise. Now, Marvelous has seen fit to re-release the game to a new generation (complete with the revised 'Story of Seasons' branding, as Marvelous stopped licensing the Bokujō Monogatari series to Natsume in 2012), redoing various gameplay and presentation features to bring this classic more in line with modern standards. Fortunately, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town proves to be quite compelling, and any fans of the farm sim genre will want to take note.
The story is about as straightforward as possible, to the point that there’s scarcely any ‘plot’ to discuss at all. You simply assume the role of an ambitious young farmer who inherits a large and neglected piece of land, and your story consists solely of your daily toils in the fields and the interactions you have with various townsfolk. Characters are written in a satisfying, if unremarkable, style, as all of them fill various personality gaps in the broader social hierarchy. Brandon, for example, is a stoic ‘misunderstood genius’ with a stodgy personality. Marie, on the other hand, is a mousy intellectual who runs the library while she works on a novel she’s writing.
Again, few of these characters really jump out at you as particularly memorable or engaging, but it’s the small, ‘daily’ interactions with them that prove to make each of them feel so endearing. For example, Zack comes by your farm every day at five o’clock to pick up any materials you put in the shipping bin, and he always casually greets you if you happen to be working in the field when he comes by. The interaction is small and insignificant, but it’s details like that which help to make the villagers feel that much more real. Along that same thought, there are also various emergent events between villagers that seem to trigger at random. For example, there was one moment where we exited the mine to find two villagers sitting by the river, discussing parental issues one of them was dealing with. This had never happened before and hasn’t happened since, but little dialogues like that often pop up when you least expect them, giving a strong sense of the relationships these people have apart from your character.
How you interact with villagers has a light gameplay element to it, too, as you can slowly build up a relationship with each of them which gradually shifts the content of their dialogues with you. Most of the characters are simply there to add more variety to the population of the town, but a select few men and women are potential candidates who you can marry if you grow the relationship enough. If you talk to them once a day and give them a daily gift (such as a piece of fruit), they’ll inevitably fall in love with you and agree to marry you. Same-sex marriage is now fully supported, dropping the odd ‘Best Friends’ label that the initial release went with if you chose to go that route.
Gameplay unfolds in a pleasingly predictable and relaxing style, in which you run your farm to the best of your ability. There’s no such thing as winning or losing here; just the satisfaction of watching your farm slowly grow in complexity and variety as the months and years roll by. Your typical day consists of doing basic chores like watering the crops and milking the cows, interspersed with occasional trips into town for supplies or to greet certain villagers. Underlying all this, however, is a soft sort of resource management system that keeps each day from becoming too dull by applying a gentle sort of pressure to keep you working.
For example, there’s a stamina system that governs your character’s ability to work, and each use of a tool will lower your stamina by a certain amount. Daily activities need to be planned around this, then, as overworking your character can cause them to collapse and pass the day whether you’re ready or not. Then, there’s the clock that you’re always working against. Stores have varying hours, so you need to be somewhat efficient in how you plan out your chores to make sure everything gets done by a reasonable hour. It’s easy to find yourself working late into the evening if you don’t plan properly, and this can then lead to you starting the next day with less stamina because you didn’t get as much sleep.
In this sense, it’s easy to see how mistakes and irregularities can snowball to have much larger effects later on. If you don’t get all those tomatoes harvested and ready to ship by the time Zack comes around, then you’ll have to wait another day before you can see the profits from them, which in turn means you have to wait another day before you can buy more seeds to plant in your fields. In this sense, one would think to describe the gameplay loop as subtly anxiety-inducing, but the key thing that keeps it so relaxing is the fact that there’s no long-term time limit. Even if your playstyle affects your short-term profits, you will inevitably make that money back (and then some) as long as you keep playing. The hook of the gameplay, then, is found in the continuous sense of discovery as you learn how to better optimize your daily routine and spending habits.
Another critical part of keeping the gameplay loop fresh is found in the alternative gameplay options that crop up alongside your farming jobs. There’s a mine close to the farm with a couple of hundred floors to get through, and each floor is packed with ores that you can later use to upgrade tools to make them more effective. Along with this, there’s a selection of mini-games and events you can participate in as the months roll by, each of which has something distinct to offer. For example, an early event sees a series of horse races going on, and you can bet money on horses to receive exclusive rewards. The core gameplay ultimately centres around your farm and the responsibilities you have there, but the extra variety offered by side content like this goes a long way towards keeping you engaged long term.
That all being said, however, bear in mind that Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town certainly is a simpler experience compared to other more modern entries. This isn’t necessarily a mark against the game itself – there’s only so much you can expect out of a remake of a 2003 Game Boy Advance release – but it’s nonetheless something to bear in mind. Compared to the greater depth and gameplay that later entries in this series and genre introduced, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town can sometimes feel a little too straightforward. However, at the same time, it’s sometimes nice to play a title as laser-focused as this on just doing a few things very well; there’s not really any half-baked or extraneous content to speak of.
As for the new content being offered via this remake, there really isn’t much to speak of. The biggest thing is the addition of two new marriage candidates, Jennifer and Brandon, but there are some other fun things tossed in, too, such as the presence of a coffee cow that you can harvest for coffee. The real best new features here are the enhanced quality of life updates that make the moment-to-moment gameplay that much smoother. For example, the original release didn’t have an indicator to highlight where your tools would strike or seeds would plant, and this could lead to situations where you’d, say, inadvertently seed untilled soil and lose those seeds. Even with additions such as these, it goes without saying that the main draw here is simply the opportunity to play an updated version of a GBA classic; those of you who were hoping for a litany of new features and content will be left wanting.
From a presentation standpoint, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town will no doubt prove to be divisive. The charming sprite work and art style of the original has been replaced by a new art style centred around bright, cheerful environments and chibi characters with disproportionately massive heads. Many have harshly referred to these ‘mobile game’ graphics as being weak and uninspired, but the visuals do prove to be quite satisfying in motion. Resolution in both docked and handheld looks nice and crisp, while the framerate holds to an absolute rock-solid 60 FPS throughout. Accompanying this is an upbeat soundtrack chock full of accordions, synthesizers, and steel drums, offering up a nice companion to the visuals.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town offers up a perfectly satisfying and simple take on the farm sim genre. Heartwarming character interactions, easy to grasp farming mechanics, and a nice variety of side activities prove to make this release a potent and worthwhile entry in this long-running series. Though its roots as a handheld game occasionally resurface and there’s not a ton of new content added for this remake, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town more than stands enough on its own as a quality game that deserves a spot in your Switch library. If you’re looking for something to fill that post-Animal Crossing hole in your life, or are just simply a fan of the farm sim genre in general, don’t miss out on this one.