Tired of city life, you recall that your grandparents had a lovely farm you visited as a child and so it’s the perfect solutions to all your woes so you go there- such is more or less the premise of every Harvest Moon-style game…A premise that used to really drive the charm of the franchise…until it stopped, with new titles offering little beyond basic grind.
The Harvest Moon franchise is one that I’ve enjoyed playing up to Trio of Towns, because even though the games have always been a little schematic, some, like Trio of Towns, Animal Parade or A Wonderful Life made an effort to be immersive with a ton of things to discover and keep me invested.
The main appeal has been caring for nature and the charming world. Along with fun characters to romance and additional fun mechanics like generational change. As Marvelous forays into more neutral territories in Olive Town, what has happened to the storytelling and fun gameplay? Olive Town is a very polished experience in which farming keeps you busy, but it lacks the immersion of the past titles. Indeed, the gameplay is maximally simplified, and penalties that strengthened the message of caring for nature (like littering) have been removed. In general, I have found it to be a very lazily made, bland game, with lots of areas that weren’t thought through. In turn, Natsume lacks technical and visual experts to make their game look appealing but “One World” retains at least a fraction of the feel of past Harvest Moon games. But both are cumbersome and ultimately boring.
I get excited when I see a Harvest Moon / Story of Season game. I love them because the world tends to be charming and they used to combine good premise about caring for the land (they used to even penalise littering!) – which couldn’t be more timely nowadays – with fun activities, such as foraging, farming fun crops, and dating sim elements. Between Olive Town and One World, Story of Seasons, for me, is a bit of form over content – farming is engaging but questline not so much, and the lack of little details that made older HM games special (littering, bonding with characters, husbands with functions like helping at the farm, cooking and eating with the family) make Olive Town a simplified version of what HM games can be. I prefer games with complex gameplay and mechanics (Draqon Age), so I prefer HM games that have richer gameplay (Trio of Towns). The gameplay in Olive Town is very simplistic, not to mention this part feels insanely uninspired, but it may well be that the formula has worn off. They don’t try to do things differently.
One World has a bit more of the charm and feel of older harvest moon games. But in both cases – I was struck by how little I found myself engaged and invested – in contrast to previous games in the franchise.
Story: Put on your motorbike boots and head to Olive Town that your grandfather pioneered. Help redevelop the town to make it more attractive to tourists. You also take over a farm that’s been neglected for years and has become completely overgrown.
CONTROLS / TECHNICAL
- Production values are great. Beautiful day/night music and sound effects, lovely colour palette. However, seasons are no longer detailed. I used to love autumn and winter in older games because whole maps changed.
- Customisation options are extensive. Absolutely lovely colours / shades but the female character is too flat-chested for me, while models in older HM games were great.
EVENTS / CHARACTERS
- They advertise the game as having over 200 events but the events and plotlines lack charm. Even the story: make the town a tourist attraction, and the goal is to bring in a cruise liner. It departs from the spirit of older Harvest Moon games, is simplistic and ends too soon. Town quests really amount to making the town hall pretty, laying golden tiles (they don’t even look that good), and it doesn’t take all that long, the quests don’t require you to do much, you mostly have everything ready anyway. The premise about grandfather and pioneering promised something heartfelt BUT the main questline turned out to be vapid – a tourist town, really? With golden tiles? That’s not what harvest moon has always been about.
- The bachelors / bachelorettes are not as interesting or likeable as I found them in older games, there’s little I want to say about them. The interactions are lacklustre, limited and feel like they cut corners on writing them. I don’t feel like they care so much for my character. I feel like interactions in older games were a lot more lovable and enjoyable. They no longer care if you run around in snowstorms or typhoons, a detail which added warmth to the bonding overall. There are heart events for every level and even for post-marriage (that makes me think of Animal Parade) – and that’s great, 6 hearts are “friend events”, which makes it easier to avoid seeing romantic events you don’t want BUT characters are boring. The interactions – lines are limited and don’t feel written genuinely, unlike in older games when the lines were really nice. I don’t really have any bachelors I want to marry as a straight girl. Ralph is okayish – I liked some of his events, Ludus has nice events too (but those make me miss him in Lulukoko, I’d rather have him there). I don’t have a favourite bachelor here, unlike in previous games where I tended to have several. Residents and marriage candidates of Olive town are, generally unlikeable, very empty, unlike in a lot of previous games. Instead of getting a birthday dinner, you get some lazy patronising lines. I do like that raising hearts extends beyond marriage but it’s pointless when I don’t enjoy it. It feels as if bots assembled the lines and that’s it. I liked a few events but especially the early ones do not really make me invested.
- Clemens and Lars should have been eligible. Especially Clemens. At least Beth and Lars are a little cute.
- Lack of special candidates also makes it boring for me, though I suppose exansion pass count as “special” but that’s just lazy, if that’s the case. I want special special like in previous games. Plus, I miss the anticipation connected with some characters appearing later in the game…here you get everyone and that’s it.
- lack of reverse proposals and dating is no longer a commitment. The confession and reverse confession in older HM games felt special and it was lovely. It’s no longer the case in newer games, and I find that it bothers me. I also prefer and miss reverse confessions – but they aren’t strictly necessary. Animal Parade didn’t have them and yet it remains one of my top favourite HM games in nearly all aspects. I’m also not fond of divorce but at least it’s more like “reverse time” feature. That’s okayish. I still prefer “change generation” mechanics instead (see Animal Parade).
- Much like marriage candidates, the townsfolk may be diverse but they lack charm, flair, there’s nothing fun about them. They don’t have backstories or lines that would make them fun. It’s boring and a lot of them are simply unlikeable. They no longer care if you run around in typhoons – a little detail that added warmth to the bonding. I miss it. The mayor and his quests are vapid. I really love characters in older games. Here, they are easy to ignore, I really don’t have a reason to talk to them.
- I like romantic festivals but they are too short and there are not enough fun festivals like cooking or decorating. There’s little use for your quality crops, aside from doing the gourmet’s quests- which are fun, but it’s not the same as a cooking festival. Moreover, after 2 years in game, the festival announcements should change. They stay as if doing them for the first time – that’s a problem here because they come to your house with elaborate speeches, unlike Mayor Thomas who kept things simple so repetition was acceptable. Here, these lines should change in year 2.
- Wedding and child event are lazy and lacklustre in this game. I want trio of towns standard – that was great.
- Expansion passes – bringing bachelors from older games seems like cash grab. Their islands are empty and they don’t come to town, though after an update they attend romantic festivals but it feels wrong to have them here. I miss Trio of Towns festivals and Trio of towns in general.
- I like the zoom-on characters (camera chat, you can enable it from options). They don’t need portraits…and actually, Animal Parade was the same. There were no portraits but the game zoomed on speakers. I like that. The character designs are as always nice.
- Despite marketing it as a game with “unprecedented freedom”, I feel like there is actually less freedom than in older games. While you can do whatever at the farm, foraging and exploration is limited. You no longer walk to town, you just sort of teleport, it’s not an open world – it feels very hermetic, and there’s little to explore. The lands you unlock are mostly for raising skill levels, seasonal farming or playing minigames.
- time flies sufficiently fast for there to be a challenge to the daily grind
- You start in a tent. That’s new.
- House decoration, including shelves for trophies but there’s zero flexibility with how you decorate and arrange your house – you can’t even rotate the furniture to place it where you like. You can’t put things on tables, nor can you buy more countertops to add more decor. In order to put a picture above the fireplace, you have to move the fireplace and then you can’t have the fireplace under the picture. This is not done well.
- many clothes to craft BUT they are as neutral/boring as they could make them. The wedding dress is the only piece of clothing I’m happy with. The updated clothes are not better. I want dresses, not pants. I hate this game’s clothing selection. Really pales in comparison to older games.
- mining is ok. It tries to mix mining points and traditional mining. It’s not difficult but the moles in mines will drain your stamina so it adds a bit of challenge. I find it mediocre. I prefer either mining points or mines like in Friends of Mineral town.
- The camera returns from animal parade and here it combines critter catching and wild animal taming. This is one of the fun things about the game. But shouldn’t there be online features to share the pics?
- it’s nice that cooking takes time, the dishes are quite nice. I still prefer assembling kitchen. I hate the laziness of this game.
- Tool bag to hide your tools
- The farm is nice, a few areas to unlock, with lots of things to do but the world is hermetic, not as open as older games used to have, and exploration and foraging are limited. Mounts are gimmicks, there’s nowhere to take them. There’s a new element – scooping water puddles and finding treasures.
- The farm keeps you busy because trees, grass, rocks respawn fast. You can craft various items to decorate it as well.
- farm animals can be tamed because they are wandering around, but animal interactions are limited, we no longer speak to them. There’s no reason to breed sheep type animals to level 10. At least with cows / goats you have to think of gourmet’s quest dishes.
- Upgraded tools are fun to use – chop several trees within a square, or smash several rocks.
- Makers are a good system. You need to work hard to get best results later on. I like it.
- skills with perks – once you raise the skills, you get bonuses, a bit like in Stardew Valley.
- There’s a nice reward system for getting new titles and some titles are very fun.
- New crops can be foraged around the farm, when shipped they will be added to the stores. Flowers as always are a pleasure to find and plant. Some varieties include black roses, primroses, petunias.
- You will unlock a spirit who live in the forest shrine. The shrine spirit will give you special blessings like unlocking gardens, raising stamina – this is nice.
- There are a few nice lands to unlock, including seasonal gardens – those are a very nice change from a greenhouse, though you also get a greenhouse to plant crops out of season.
- earth sprites to help. A backstory with your grandfather. After you unlock them, you will start getting access to special places.
- board request quest system – I like those. You can also help the sprites (with the expansion pass). There’s a gourmet in town – you will find requests for dishes in his house. It must have been a last-minute addition, at least there’s some use for high quality crops. Although I like quest board quest systems, they could be a little more involved or rather I’d like to feel more urge to do them. It helps when I like the characters and want to do things for them. Here, I don’t get that feeling.
There are no long-term objectives, like in older games. For me, the game isn’t enjoyable in the same way older games used to be. I feel like they lose sight of the game’s charm, feel, message. The dialogues and quests have lost their spark and in general this title is very bland, boring and utterly fogettable, not worth its price.
This release is ok but poorly prepared for PC. They didn’t adapt the controls from the console version to PC and I don’t see any way to rebind the keys. You have to rely on XASD and no mouse control. It’s uncomfortable to play. It seems they rushed the release on steam to bring it earlier than Olive Town…I don’t think it did them any service. Still, the game gets too much hate.
Story: The world has forgotten to care for the land, forgotten plants and animals. You run around collecting seeds as you relearn and regain the variety of plants out there
- Keeps more of the spirit and message of harvest moon games.
- The world is very nice – extensive, with different climate-specific regions. You can move your house/farm around and take it closer to plot questlines.
- added challenge: going into extreme climate areas drains your limited stamina. Though in the winter regions, they’ll make you some clothes.
- lots of things to do
- I like the plot and quest lines that focus on caring about the land.
- Mining is similar to Olive Town in that you return to mines. The bit of challenge is that your low stamina may run out before you manage to find staircase down.
- The crops and terrain-dependent mutations are fun. If you buy extra content, you get access to the island with paddies – makes farming certain crops easier. And not just such nice plants like lotus or rice. You can also grow certain types of watermelon and others.
- I like the few characters there are, and can easily pick someone to marry
- Character interactions
- Day and night music is quite nice, albeit not as polished as in Olive Town.
- I like the female character model.
- Mythical creatures to meet
- sprite wisps – love the idea of collecting / foraging crops.
- Vastly inferior production values: textures and art could be improved – the first time I opened the game, I was struck by how out-dated the visuals feel. I get used to it as I play.
- too many generic npcs with no name or backstory, the communities and towns are very underdeveloped and not very interesting.
- too much empty space, towns are small
- It’s hard to upgrade tools because you need to speak to a miner in one of the mines until he tells you about the option..it can be random but I think you just need to raise his friendship.
- I’ll repeat: they didn’t adapt controls to PC experience, it’s uncomfortable to play
- too few heart events, but at least I find them rather enjoyable.
- characters don’t seem to care if we run around in typhoons / snowstorms (although Sami will be strict with you for running into snow land in your flimsy attire) – that added a lot of warmth in interactions in previous games.
Story of Season’s Olive Town is a polished game that’s pleasant to look at but the writing and questline which I feel depart from the spirit of harvest moon make me feel less immersed then I used to be in older games. I feel like it tries to emulate Stardew Valley for some reason – and that’s not necessary. I also note the lack of such fine details as penalising littering – they not only added to the challenge, they reinforced the meaning of the game. Other immersive little things are also missing (cooking for the family, husbands helping at the farm, littering. Interactions and heart events are no longer as lovable as in the past. This game is like you both want to play it because it’s got this polished look and pleasant controls and throw it out of the window because the world is not as open as in older games and interactions don’t feel as fun. I guess Story of Seasons’s glory days are over – they ended with Trio of Towns for me.
That said, the farm keeps you busy, the game is easy to play and has a few fun features but I feel it’s mostly a grind and lacks the charm of older titles – the main problem I have is the questline but also lack of fun festivals like cooking and in general fun activities, things to DISCOVER. Despite being advertised as “freedom to do what you want”, this game actually feels WAY more limited than older games that had more of an open world. Olive Town feels sterile and lacks more complex gameplay and attention to little details that made older HM games. Polished as it may be, the game is really not as engaging as the best titles in the franchise- for me that’s Trio of Towns, Animal Parade, and Wonderful Life that tried to offer something really fun.
One World offers a more traditional approach with no customisation but it also keeps more of the message of Harvest Moon games (to care about the land, restore it, relearn how to love it, and appreciate its gifts).
I’d definitely wait for a sale in both cases. Each has ups and down, but in general, the formula for the story of seasons has worn off and they don’t try to make an effort to add mechanics or narrative branches or just make the gameplay more exciting. They throw a bunch of features players request without changing the general mould, making the games feel rigid and stale. It’s a shame because in the process they lose the warmth and charm they had.