Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town – This is the Farm You’ve Been Looking For
In 2003, when I first played Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, I was ten years old and living in a world where I was not only allowed but encouraged, to go outside. Obviously, I didn’t, I chose to sit inside and instead tend to my virtual farm, but it’s nice to remember a world where the choice was mine. In 2020, playing what is ostensibly a remake of the Game Boy Advance classic, though now called Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, escaping to my little farm is about the closest I can get to any kind of outdoor activity, and it still brings with it the same kind of joy it did when I was a kid. I may be an adult now, but there’s something about the little world of Mineral Town that sucks you in, calms you down, and makes you long for simpler times. Sure, it does have to be said that in some ways it also makes you remember some of the progress we’ve made as a society when it comes to relationships and gender roles, and that nostalgia for the past often makes us forget how far we’ve come, but… we’ll get to that.
At its heart, Friends of Mineral Town is a game about establishing and running a farm while also finding your place in the community surrounding it. The premise is simple: you visited the farm as a child, made some very fond memories and lifelong connections, and then due to some unfortunate circumstances you’ve now inherited it. It’s nothing like it was in its heyday, and it needs a dedicated individual to help return it to its former glory – with little to no direction from anyone else. When you arrive, you’re given some tools, a foal, and away you go. It’s up to you to figure out the rest.
This is partly because even though your goal is to build a thriving farm, what that means is really up to you. You can spend your days and energy tilling the land and planting seeds, making sure your crops are watered and keeping your fields clear of weeds. You can fill your pre-existing but upgradeable coop and barn with chickens, cows, rabbits, sheep and alpacas, and focus on making your animals love you. Or, if you’re particularly interested in small-town life, you can spend the bulk of your day running around town trying to get to know your neighbours and learn little tidbits about their lives and relationships. You’ll have time to do all these things during your days, as well as dedicating some time to checking out the nearby mine or fishing in one of the many lakes, but the hours and your energy are limited, and you’ll quickly learn that you need to figure out what you want to prioritise.
The tools that you’re given at the beginning of the game aren’t particularly great, but some trips into town will teach you that the guy who runs the local forge will upgrade them if you bring him some ore. To get it, you’ll need to spend time at the mine, but that’ll eat up your stamina, and you won’t have any energy left to collect things like lumber or stone, which you’d need to upgrade your house. It’s a balancing game, particularly when you’re also getting limited income and deciding where to spend your money can be tough. It’s a game about setting small goals, and seeing where the achievement of those goals will lead you next. Many things are possible, but they all take time, and part of the joy is found in discovering what’s possible, rather than constantly making quick progress. At times, that can feel like a bit of a slog, particularly when you’re saving up for a big purchase, and it’s easy to become single-minded. But as the seasons change, there are usually new things to discover, and there’s always a way to fill your days.
Eventually, you’ll meet a household of nature sprites who’ll help you out with your chores and buy you a little more time in your day, by doing things like watering and harvesting your crops for you, or tending to your animals. Despite the fact that it seems to be their only job, they’re fairly terrible at it to begin with, but if you ask them to do the same chore over and over again, they’ll get better. You can speed up the growth of their skills by playing mini-games with them, but these games are pretty repetitive, especially when you have to play them repeatedly with each of the seven sprites. So, unless you have a burning desire to pump up their skills quickly, letting them develop naturally seems to be the more enjoyable option – especially given you won’t have that many animals to tend to or crops to harvest at first, so employing the colourful sprites doesn’t actually save that much time.
You can zoom through this game if you want, only doing what needs to be done to generate income and then sleeping to speed up time, but you’ll miss some of the smaller moments that make this game lovely. A calendar hangs in your house, telling you when there are birthdays or town events coming up, and while many of these require minimal input from the player, they do help to foster a real sense of community with these little pixel people. Some events let you show off the bonds you’ve formed with your animals, or require you to cook a tasty dish for your fellow townspeople. It takes time for you to raise animals that can compete in most of these events, or to upgrade your house enough to get the kitchen you need to cook, but if you miss them one year, it gives you something to work for in the next. This is not a game you’ll finish overnight, and it constantly offers incentive to keep playing through to the next day, next season, or next year – provided the slow, farming life is for you. If it’s your thing, it’s calming and amazing, if it isn’t, it’ll be cute but boring.
If you loved the original, however, there’s even more for you here. The town map is in many ways identical, with a lot of the same layouts carrying over, even down to the positioning of the furniture inside the buildings. A lot of the characters are the same, and the ways you can win their affection haven’t really changed from the original. That said, there’s a whole lot of updating that has been done. Obviously it looks much better – that’s to be expected. But this entry in the series has come with some much-needed improvements. It’s the first game in the series, for example, to include the option for same-sex marriage, which is a pleasant and welcome change in a series that was previously ridiculously heteronormative and intent on reinforcing gender roles from decades past. There’s still some of that here – it hasn’t shed all its problems. But it feels like a step forward. References to gender are less explicit, though a large part of that might have to do with the remake allowing the player-character to be male or female. You can romance who you like, but all the relationships feel very surface-level. Hopefully, it’s a sign of better things to come, but there are still moments that feel forced. The morning after my female character married one of the women from town, for example, she suggested some potential nicknames she might want to call me, one of which was ‘my friend’. Would she have suggested that if I was a man? I feel like no, but I can’t be sure. There are weird things like that that I wish weren’t there, but that are vague enough that I could excuse them. It’s still a huge step forward, and that shouldn’t be ignored. But it isn’t perfect yet.
In the end, there’s a lot to love here, even if it does often feel like the game is set in a bygone era. If you focus on continuing to build your farm, your relationships, and your family as the game years go on, there’s plenty of room for a charming, quaint, calming time to be had, and it’s a game I’m definitely going to be revisiting for some time. Technically, the credits rolled when I got married, but it didn’t feel like an end. It felt gross and a little archaic, and a little awkward given marriage never felt like the ‘main’ objective of the game, but it also felt like the start of the next chapter. Like with Animal Crossing once you finally get K.K. Slider to visit your island, there’s so much more to be done – and I’m excited to do it.
Story of Seasons was reviewed on the Switch with code kindly supplied by the publisher.
Jess is a writer and researcher who loves games with good puzzles, good stories, and a tendency to punch you straight in your feelings. She is one of the directors of not-for-profit organisation Queerly Represent Me and is particularly interested in games told from unique perspectives that highlight themes or characters from groups that are often underrepresented. She also just really loves coffee, hot chips, and terrible superhero TV shows, and is always secretly hoping that one day the world will give her a good Sherlock Holmes game.