Long before Stardew Valley there was Harvest Moon. Starting way back on the Super Nintendo in 1996 the franchise has since blossomed into a 20+ game juggernaut. A name change here in the west (thanks to developer Marvelous Inc., and publisher Natsume going their separate ways) has muddied the waters a bit, but make no mistake – Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town has all the quaint rustic charm that made the original a classic in 2003.
I’ve been playing the game for a few days now and have reached Spring of the second year, and while I’m not the most seasoned of Harvest Moon fans, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town has me firmly under its casual spell. I mentioned Stardew Valley at the start for a reason: anyone who’s played Eric Barone’s indie darling will immediately pick up what Story of Seasons is throwing down the moment they boot up Friends of Mineral Town. Considering the 2003 Gameboy Advance original and the Harvest Moon franchise as a whole influenced the design of Stardew Valley this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but comparisons between the two are as inevitable as the changing of the seasons.
I’ll level with you here and now – Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is a more relaxed experience than Stardew Valley. That’s not to say it’s easier (though there is an Easy difficulty option that makes selling crops more lucrative and relationships quicker to bolster), because the day-to-day minutia can quickly spiral into a frantic to-do list packed with various, conflicting objectives. Do you spend some time in the mines, expand your farm, breed your livestock, or bolt about slinging gifts to all the locals like some sort of deranged Santa Claus who visits daily? Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons has always been about balancing your work and social lives, and Friends of Mineral Town continues to nail this dynamic 17 years later.
There’s much that sets Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town apart from Stardew Valley, but two substantial differences truly stand out. First off, there isn’t any combat in Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, not that I’ve seen at least. I’ll candidly admit that the Story of Seasons remake is my first experience with Friends of Mineral Town, yet between what I’ve played and researched online it’s clear I won’t be equipping a sword and smacking foes in the face while delving deeper within either one of the two mines. That means you’ll spend all your time mining, farming, fishing, and flirting just as the Harvest Goddess intended.
The second substantial difference between Friends of Mineral Town and Stardew Valley is how each game handles exhaustion, which shifts how you manage your time in-game. In Stardew you have an Energy bar, and upon depleting it to zero you’ll become exhausted for the rest of the day, regardless of what you eat or do. Fall to -15 and you’ll pass out. In Story of Seasons you have Stamina, and in practice it functions much like Energy, though the Devil’s in the details.
Unlike Stardew’s Energy system with its ‘regular/exhausted’ dichotomy, Friends of Mineral Town has four Fatigue levels, and you won’t pass out until you’ve reached the lowest tier and expended the last of your energy. Furthermore, you can restore both Stamina and Fatigue by either eating, resting, or relaxing in the hot springs, though working late at night or during a storm will drain your Fatigue rapidly.
This approach fundamentally alters how you go about your day in Friends of Mineral Town. Instead of trying to conserve a limited resource, and removing the penalties earned from wasting it by sleeping and advancing time, you are capable of accomplishing more tasks in a given day with smarter resource management. Unlike Stardew Valley the day doesn’t come to an abrupt end at 2am, and time doesn’t advance indoors (including the mines), so enterprising farmers in Friends of Mineral Town are able to pull lengthy all-nighters, spelunk for as long as they desire, or accomplish whatever else they wish so long as they remember to top off their Fatigue and Stamina throughout the day. There are obvious risks to such long sessions, such as diminished restoration received from resting, but players in Friends of Mineral Town aren’t as limited with their time and energy as they are in Stardew.
These two divergences in design make Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town a snappier, more freeform experience. You’ll be focused on the two core concepts that have dominated the Harvest Moon franchise since its inception – expanding your farm and wooing the locals – and you can squeeze as much or as little out of each day as you are comfortable with. It’s this relaxed flow that’s led me to wasting whole afternoons of real time within Mineral Town, because each day lasts less than twenty minutes. I’m constantly pulled along by the urge to knock out “just one more day.” It was effective in Stardew, and it’s equally effective here.
I haven’t even gone into the wise refinements and quality-of-life flourishes added in Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town that make it a more intuitive, enjoyable experience. Your tools and inventory are two separate stashes, and you can interact with both simultaneously thanks to the intelligently implemented control scheme that includes appreciable options like pressing the R button to auto-run, or holding down ZR to strafe (which is helpful for watering your crops).
You can unlock an elevator for the mines, and increase the star-quality of your farming yields – both new features found within the remake – among a host of other smart tweaks that help Friends of Mineral Town live up to current sensibilities. There are even more animals to raise and crops to grow, making an already rich farming experience all the better.
Then there’s the simple, yet effective art design that makes the entire town pop with color. I know the updated character designs have been relatively divisive among returning fans, but as a newcomer I quite enjoyed them. Each character portrait clearly conveys what that person is feeling during a conversation, which is a blessing due to the complete omission of voice-acting.
And you’ll spend plenty of time reading those conversations, because the locals are always up to something. Furthering your friendships, participating in annual events, and pursuing romances all lead to various cutscenes that help flesh out the cast and evolve the world of Friends of Mineral Town. It’s lovely content, and I actively chased each new story beat down as they appear, even if I had to sacrifice my farm’s upkeep for the day. The popular Rival Marriages mechanic does not make a return in the remake unfortunately, but I can say that hasn’t stopped certain characters from shamelessly flirting with one another.
Strange aside: the new bachelorette and bachelor have the same names as my sister and I, which is the weirdest, most awkwardly cosmic coincidence I’ve experienced in an already odd year, so points for that I guess?
Even the music is perfectly pleasant, though the MIDI/synth composition for each track means the audio sounds dated for a 2020 release. I understand the music is based on the classic tracks from the original game, but it often sounds like an up-sampled collection of throwback tunes instead of remastered tones.
Graphically Friends of Mineral Town is . . . fine; it’s simply fine. Like the character designs the world is awash with color, but the town isn’t as detailed in 3D as the original 2D sprites were. What’s on offer isn’t flat or lifeless, but it’s not going to wow anyone. On the other side of the coin, however, is the rock-solid performance. The game runs without a single blip or skip, though I want to see how it holds up once I further develop my farm. Early impressions are good though, which is never a bad thing.
Thus far I’ve been having a good ole’ time with Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town. It’s a charming, engaging farming game that harkens to the past while modernizing the parts that needed upgrading. That said I do plan on digging up a copy of the original to better cross-reference what has and hasn’t been changed (though the remake has been out in Japan for some time now, so I’ve had plenty of lists to consult).
Minor quibbles with the graphics and audio aside, I can see myself losing a hundred or so hours to Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town. It’s a well-rounded, wholesome farming simulator both returning Harvest Moon fans and curious Stardew Valley faithfuls can enjoy. Personally, I still need to convince Marie I’m the farmer of her dreams. Her vegetable juice isn’t going to make itself!
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town releases July 14th on both the Nintendo Switch and Steam. We’ll have a full review closer to launch, so keep an eye here for future news and updates.
- This article was updated on June 23rd, 2020