Farm work often builds more calluses than character. Baling hay and operating heavy machinery under the sun’s stare isn’t what I’d call fun, as even my few high school summers spent helping a farmstead to flourish had me pining for the comfort of a cubicle. It’s wearisome work, but as Story of Seasons proves, it also has its grand rewards. Watching a field of seedlings transform to a sea of stalks—along with raising a calf to not only produce milk, but also show well in competition—can be worth the hours of tilling, watering, feeding, and grooming.
The fruit of your labor is yours to ripen, but it takes time and patience to see your farm in Story of Seasons—a Harvest Moon game in everything but name—progress beyond a small patch of unripe tomatoes. Tilling dirt, planting seeds, spreading fertilizer, keeping your animals happy and healthy—the list of chores is long (and yes, these are chores.) You won’t gleefully rush to brush your two rabbits and water your spinach crop before the day’s end, but you’ll still push through these menial tasks for the good of the farm. The products that come from the processes drive you to action, and while these procedures are often tedious, the payoff of your hard work is too rich a bounty to resist.
When you’re first planted into town, there’s actually very little to do. As a new farmer looking to sell your goods and attract fresh business, your customizable character (who can be either male or female) has very few tools and tokens to work with. You’re given a ramshackle dwelling stationed on an unkempt plot of land, as well as an assortment of equipment with rugged grips and dull edges. It’s from this unremarkable cocoon you must emerge, and while the compulsion to create proper plots for crops and to tidy up this agricultural mess is strong, making any real progress takes time. Your first few weeks feel empty, and at times even aimless, since you don’t have the means to accomplish much.
It’s not just your budding flowers, fruits, and grains that determine the pace. It’s your character’s insufficient stamina that drives activity, and while cooking the various purchasable recipes and ordering an entrée at the local restaurant gives you a healthy boost of energy, the consistent burden of running out of juice is wearisome. Every swing of the axe, thrust of the hammer, or flick of the wrist as you water crops affects your stamina, and that’s a nagging, momentum-killing issue early on. Without the proper funds or food (or if it’s a Wednesday and the restaurant’s closed), you can easily wind up with depleted strength before noon. After that, you’re left to either socialize with your neighbors or sleep the day away to fully restore your energy. Story of Seasons’ biggest flaw is its insistence on too literally conveying the world-weary axiom, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day.”
The fruit of your labor is yours to ripen, but it takes time and patience to see your farm in Story of Seasons progress beyond a small patch of unripe tomatoes.
You learn to work within these tight boundaries. After watering your crops and tending to your livestock Monday morning, maybe you’ll spend the next three hours fishing—an activity easy on your stamina—with the hopes of nabbing a rare catch. If it rains on Tuesday and you don’t need to manually water plants (an occurrence you’ll cherish), you can spend the morning selling crops to the merchant visiting the market. From there, you can allot your waning hours of sunlight to chopping down trees to free up additional space for barns, or working the land for all those sweet potato seeds taking up space in your inventory. Once you discover valuable minerals like copper and purchase enough blueprints for new tools, though, the stamina restrictions loosen. By the time I crafted a gold brush and watering can, I was able to attend to almost every errand in a given day without depleting my food bank or splurging at the restaurant.
Unfortunately, digging up dirt and picking up stray branches isn’t fun. In fact, gathering materials and making sure everything on your farm is in tip-top shape before you hit the hay can be an lifeless grind. But even after spending three in-game days doing little more than watering plants and milking cows whilst waiting for a merchant to come to town, the compulsion to continue expanding my empire was strong. After playing a marathon session and with every intention of putting the 3DS down, simply waking up to the pitter-patter of rain against my roof was enough to get me out of my virtual bed and back into the fields. Story of Seasons intelligently doles out new tasks and items that build upon its basic farming mechanics, so it’s easy to just barrel through weeks at a time in anticipation for bigger and better results.
The deliberately paced farm work coupled with the time between planting crops and seeing results only makes cashing in your trove of goods sweeter. A calendar tells which days of the week merchants come into town, and the more you sell, the more unique buyers visit the market. Different items are also in-demand during certain weeks and with particular buyers, so while you might have moaned and groaned as you slaved over dozens of different plants, selling an entire crop of chili peppers at above-market value can turn the whole game around. This sudden influx of cash allows you to lease new land, buy more cows, or even expand your house.
That’s when Story of Seasons is at its best. After spending weeks digging through your couch cushions for enough loose change to simply feed your cows, finally selling your goods and using this influx of money to upgrade each aspect of your agricultural business is wonderfully satisfying. The subsidiary activities, such as fishing, decorating, and (eventually) mining for rare minerals can be entertaining on their own, but they all feed into Story of Seasons’ primary goal—to build the biggest, best farm possible.
Every swing of the axe, thrust of the hammer, or flick of the wrist as you water crops affects your stamina.
Because of how single-minded you can become, it’s difficult to find entertainment outside of the farm. Poking the townsfolk to hear repetitive dialogue is dull, and the planned events that range from cooking competitions to fashion shows feel more like roadblocks during your daily routine than novel ways to interact with your neighbors. Different events through each of the four seasons do well to break up the pace, but every moment you’re not farming can feel like a waste of effort.
One nagging distraction is the frame rate, which noticeably dips as you travel from screen to screen. Story of Seasons isn’t a visual powerhouse, even if the cartoony characters and vibrant colors of the different seasons are nice to look at. But as soon as you step into a patch of land littered with seeds and budding plants, the presentation stutters. It doesn’t prevent you from completing any specific tasks, but the frame rate remains a consistent nuisance.
Even so, Story of Seasons is a wildly addictive, bizarrely rewarding adventure constrained by tight restrictions that only loosen after a significant time investment. The early pacing problems do well to bolster the sense of progression later in the game, and while the restrictive stamina system tempers the fun early on, the eventual payoff for all your hard work is enhanced by the early days spent toiling in the fields. There are blatant issues—some of which might keep you from advancing beyond the first season—but once Story of Seasons has its hooks in you, it’s difficult to walk away from the farm.