If real life in the big city is getting too much, you can yeet yourself over to a virtual countryside complete with vast farmlands, adorable barn animals and even the promise of friendship and romance. This is Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, a remaster of the GameCube classic, Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life.
Back to Nature
Much in the same vein as the original Harvest Moon, the game is set in Forgotten Valley and features an even more eclectic cast of characters compared to the original Mineral Town. You have your usual inns and cafes, fellow farmers, shopkeepers and of course, the colourful forest sprites. But there’s now also an eccentric scientist, an abominable snowman called Mukumuku, two archaeologists and a pair of twin pyrotechnicians. With a game that is so character-driven, having these unique flavours switch up the pace from your typical sleepy town arrangement.
At the start of the game, Takakura, your late father’s friend and all-around handyman, shipper and guide extraordinaire, is quick to tell you to settle down. There are no hard rules to ‘success’ in this game, life is what you make it. But for your run to continue past the first year and for you to unlock the full features of the game as well as the rich stories embedded within it, you must grow your farm and make friends with the townsfolk, aka still be a slave to capitalism and also the town flirt.
A Wonderful Life has various features that aim to speed up some of the initial grinds that you may have felt if you played Friends of Mineral Town. The cycle of seasons is shorter, where each season only lasts for 10 days versus FOMT’s 30 days. Crop lifespan has also been adjusted accordingly so some fruits and vegetables are able to thrive for more than one season.
Similarly, you now start off the game with one Regular Cow, an animal that is usually prohibitively expensive to purchase early on. Marble Cows, Brown Cows and Star Cows can also be purchased later on, each significantly pricier but produces better quality milk. There are also sheep, goats, chickens and ducks to spice up the animal variety. Where previous games relied solely on the Miracle Potion to get your animals pregnant, you can now breed amongst them as they are gendered.
Overall, farm life feels simplified which lessens the stress of the day to get everything done. But in my playthroughs, I often found myself going to bed early because I ran out of things I wanted to do.
Finding Love Till The Cows Come Home
For better or worse, interactions with NPCs seem to have become deeper with A Wonderful Life. They remember things you said or did in the past and you can talk to them multiple times a day and at different times of the day, each time getting a unique response. I found myself courting Nami, notoriously the most difficult bachelorette of them all and she never shied away from telling me to low-key go away.
When I got tired of bothering her, I’d go to Matthew (the bachelor formerly known as Marlin), not because I liked him but because he just seemed to always be hanging around. I’d give him my unsellable and undrinkable C-grade cow milk and he’d tell me how awful it was the next day. This isn’t the kind of relationship I was hoping to build but it’s nice to see there actually be stakes in each interaction.
The rest of the marriage candidates are more or less the same as the original, with the addition of Cody, the tortured artist meets metallurgist who was introduced in the A Wonderful Life remake for PlayStation 2. Gustafa too has had a face lift so he looks more like a wandering bard now and less like a bridge troll. Something that Story of Seasons has become more cognisant of in the last few years is gender inclusivity and fluidity – as such, you can have any pronouns (although this cannot be changed after the initial selection) and any appearance while also courting anyone regardless of their gender. These are all great steps towards a more inclusive game and we can only hope for further customisation with face, hair and skin tone in future games.
As facetious as the name ‘A Wonderful Life’ might be, it belies a far more poignant theme to Story of Seasons and the game’s most valuable resource, time. You can naturally pause the game, but the clock continues to tick even when inside buildings. Characters have places to be, and they go to them, even as you’re about to strike up a conversation. As the years pass, you will get married and have a child. That child will also grow up before your eyes, moulded by your teachings and ultimately following their own career path. Your character will die one day. It’s a reality that might be hard to swallow for some, but also a strong reminder to seize the day, grow your crops, fall in love and make the most of this wonderful life.
With the sheer number of farming sim games now on the market, the question remains, is a remaster of Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life still relevant in 2023? The answer is, possibly. The characters have withstood the test of time and are still worth meeting and getting to know, whether it’s your first time or your third time with this franchise. Farming mechanics are fine but forgettable and in some cases limiting when compared to other games in the same vein. While it’s not a genre-defining remaster, it’s a perfectly serviceable one with some quality-of-life upgrades that manage to stay true to the original game.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: NPCs with more depth; Simplified farming mechanics are less grind-y
Lowlights: Easy to run out of things to do in a day
Developer: Marvelous Inc.
Publisher: Marvelous, Marvelous Europe, XSEED Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox Series X/S
Available: 27th June 2023
Review conducted on PC with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.