Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town was released in America in 2003 and 2004 in Europe. It ended up being one of the more popular games in the series, which is why, more than 15 years later, a remake, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town has been released. It’s got an updated artstyle along with some new features and characters. But can it escape the fact that it is essentially a game from 2003?
Story – A Tale of One Town
There is basically no story to the game. You learn in the beginning of the game that you have inherited your grandfather’s old farm and move to Mineral Town to take it over. That’s pretty much it. The game relies on its characters for storytelling. All of the original characters are back and a few new ones have been added. They’re not particularly deep characters, but your interactions with them are still fulfilling even if they tend to repeat the same few lines of dialogue until they like you enough to advance to the next friendship level and say something different. There are random events scattered throughout the game that are activated when you meet certain conditions like entering a shop on a specific day with a specific level of friendship with certain townsfolk. There are a decent number of these, but you’ll likely never see most of them unless you’re looking at a guide because some of the requirements are oddly specific.
This applies to a lesser extent, to the romantic events between most of the marriage candidates. There are 16 people in town you can marry with 4 of them being “hidden” characters so to speak. Any gender can marry any of the marriage candidates. The special 4 characters have their own specific set of requirements that need to be achieved if you wish to marry them, but for the traditional 12, one of the requirements is viewing all of their romantic events once their affection for you reaches different stages.
Unfortunately, this falls into the same pitfall as the random, platonic events with townspeople. Some of the requirements are really oddly specific and you’ll likely need to look up how to trigger them. The writing for all of these events is good though. It’s nothing ridiculously deep or thought provoking or anything, but I enjoyed these “heart events.” The game also has various holidays and festivals throughout the year that allow you to interact with the townsfolk and gain friendship points with them as well as potentially win some prizes. The holidays have always served to give the games in the series some variety to break up the routine you can find yourself in. They continue to serve that purpose well here.
Gameplay – Dichotomous Design
In terms of gameplay, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is, at its heart, a farming sim. You manage your field of crops, your barn animals, and your animals in your coop. Each season has specific crops that can be grown during it. Some take far longer than others to grow and are worth more, some take a long time to grow initially, but then produce more than once, etc. There are some crops that are objectively better to grow than others, but there’s no real pressure to make a ton of money so you are more than free to just grow what you want. You may need a less profitable crop to give as a gift or to use in a recipe anyway.
Your animals on the other hand, are fairly low maintenance. Basically you just need to feed them everyday . You can increase their affection by talking to them, brushing them, and letting them outside, but it’s not a necessity. They’ll produce higher quality goods if they like you more, but they’re not going to literally die if they don’t. This game introduces some new animals compared to the original game such as cows that provide different types of milk, alpacas, and rabbits. They’re more for visual variety than anything else, but more options is always nice.
By far the most annoying thing about the animals though is their affection cap. When you buy your first animal from the store, it has a cap of 5 out of 10 hearts of affection. Meaning it is impossible to get the best quality produce from it. To get it higher than 5 hearts, you have to breed it. It’s offspring will have a cap of 6 hearts, which you will then have to breed again to get an animal with a cap of 7 hearts, and so on and so on until you get to 10. This is an obnoxious system that means you’re constantly rotating through your first few animals instead of just sticking with the ones you started with.
This system isn’t too big of a problem for chickens because they can be bred fairly quickly, but mammals take forever to give birth and then to mature to be able to give birth themselves. I honestly cannot fathom why this system is here. It serves no purpose other than to pad out the gameplay length. I’d wager it doesn’t even do that because you’re probably far more likely to just get bored of the game and put it down if the only thing you’re waiting for is max affection from your animals.
Also the animals tend to clip into each other. It’s really bad. The reason I’m bringing this up while discussing gameplay and not graphics is because it honestly interferes with the game. If your two cows are literally on top of each other, it’s kind of a crap shoot which one you’re going to end up milking when you use the milking tool. Not only that, more than once I entered or exited the barn with a cow at the entrance and got literally stuck in the cow. I could not move my character at all and had to wait for the cow to move on its own. I have no idea how this made it into the game.
In addition to the farming and social sim elements, you can also go mining, cook, and go fishing. The latter is fairly uneventful. You can try to catch all the fish if you’re a completionist, but virtually every fish ultimately gets reduced to just small, medium, or large once it goes in your bag. Mining has a little bit more purpose.
The are two mines, one of which is only available during the winter season. The one that is available year round has various ore in it that you can use to have the blacksmith make things for you, the most crucial of which are the tool upgrades. As you use your watering can, hammer, axe, etc. you earn the ability to upgrade them to the next level. Doing so allows the watering can to water a bigger area at once, allows the axe to break larger stumps and so on. The system works pretty well, but there are a few things that get in the way.
The first is just how many uses of the fishing rod it takes to get it to a place where it can be upgraded. You’ll probably just result to casting it in the water and reeling it in immediately over and over again. Not having a fully upgraded fishing rod wouldn’t really be that big of a deal because as I mentioned, fishing isn’t really an activity that’s going to take a huge priority, but you need all tools at level 5 to upgrade any of them past that. Upgrading your tools past 5 is where the second issue comes up.
Once all your tools are at level 5, you have to then find stronger versions in the winter mine. Where in the mine are they? Well, remember that guide you had to have open to figure out how you were supposed to activate the various romantic events for your potential spouse? Well open that back up again because that’s the only way you would know.
These kinds of obtuse elements where you find item X on floor #127 of Mine #2 have been elements of Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons for awhile now. I’ve never understood why they’re here. It’s definitely good to have secrets in a game, but there’s no reasonable way you would ever find some of these things without a guide. Perhaps you’d get lucky and find one of the items while you were looking for the stairs to the next level of the mine, but it’s pretty unlikely.
Besides these difficult to find tools, the main purpose of the winter mine is to provide you with an additional source of income during winter in which no crops can be grown. It has various high value gems within it that can make you a good chunk of change each day, especially if you bring along some stamina restoring items because time stops in the mines, so you can stay as long as you have the energy.
As for cooking, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. You can learn new recipes from villagers or be inspired to make your own recipes by cooking with certain ingredients a set amount of times. These recipes require specific ingredients to make. The experimentation that was in the original game is gone. Recipes are mainly going to be used as gifts or as ways to restore energy while you’re mining. Many recipes require produce that you have to grow on your farm so you have to make a choice whenever your crops are ready for harvest regarding how many, if any, you are going to save to potentially cook with later, and how many you are going to sell.
Some recipes require produce from multiple seasons so those can be a little tough. I’ve personally never really liked cooking in these types of games specifically for that reason. I’d rather just sell my crops and buy gifts and stamina restoring items in the moment when I need them instead of keeping everything in a “but what if I need it later?” sort of way. The original game let me play around with cooking by just using whatever I had, but since that’s no longer an option, I’ve had to kind of start hoarding food.
Despite all these issues, the core gameplay loop is satisfying and progression feels good. You’ll just make exponentially more money as time goes on and be able to buy more and more things. There aren’t quite as many things to do or things to buy as say, Stardew Valley, though and in those instances the game shows the age of its roots. It’s really enjoyable to watch your profits grow as the person you’re pursuing falls more in love with you though. They’re simple pleasures, but they make up for a lot of the game’s flaws.
Graphics/Sound – A Small Step Above
Regarding the updated graphics, they’re alright. They’ve taken a chibi style reminiscent of Magical Melody and it looks much better than Gameboy Advanced graphics to be sure, but it doesn’t really look like a 2020 game, especially for near full price. Stardew Valley has only marginally worse graphics (and more features) for almost a fifth of the price of this game. The character sprites during conversations have also been updated and for the most part they’re good. It took me a little bit of time to get used to some of them, but it didn’t take toolong to adjust.
The music in Friends of Mineral Town is pretty good, but I think opinions on it are going to vary. In the original game there was only one song for each season. Each season’s song returns in an updated form in this game, but is joined by a few others. This definitely increases the variety of tracks, but it actually kind of bugged me because a few of the original songs, Summer and Winter especially, had become so iconic to me that not hearing them all the time felt like a little bit of a rip off. If you’re not too attached to the originals though, then you’ll probably appreciate the variety. You can also later buy a record player and records to change the music that plays outside of town, to a track from one of the other games in the series. Hope you’ve still got that guide open though because it’s also locked behind an obtuse unlock condition.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.