Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town Review — Good Ol' Reliable

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town might not re-invent the wheel, but it's an excellent reminder why the formula the original helped create is so beloved and long-lasting.

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town might be new on Nintendo Switch, but the foundation for the game has been around the block more than once by now — Harvest Moon 64 and Back to Nature created the base, while the original Friends of Mineral Town on the Game Boy Advance further refined the formula.

With the genre growing quite a bit since we first met the likes of Mayor Thomas and Popuri, is it still worth meeting the same folks and plowing the same ground again? Absolutely. The game and formula are timeless for a reason.

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town Review — Good Ol' Reliable

If you’ve never played Friends of Mineral Town, you probably still know the basic idea behind it. Dear old grandad’s left us behind and left you his run-down farm in the boonies. Maybe that sounds like a less than ideal inheritance, but it’s where you spent some of your happiest hours as a child, and going back was always your dream.

Now your dream has come true! And it’s time to wake up and get to work because Mayor Thomas wasn’t joking when he called the farm run down.

The premise has probably been overused since it first appeared in Harvest Moon 64, yet that’s not really a problem. Friends of Mineral Town Switch sits on the border between remake and remaster, so it’s not really setting out to overhaul the game’s foundations.

The most obvious change is letting you woo eligible folk of either gender, regardless of your own. Gone is the pearl clutching of Harvest Moon Cute, where the game insisted that woman your female farmer lived with was just your “best friend.”

She is the manager.

Apart from being a long overdue change to the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons formula, it means you get to see more character events. Heart events formerly locked behind gender are free to view as you pursue relationships of any kind, though they obviously become more romance-oriented as those friendships develop.

Friends of Mineral Town Switch introduces two new marriage candidates to shake up your love life: Jennifer the nature woman and Brandon the eccentric artist. Each fits into Mineral Town seamlessly, to the point where it’d be strange going back to an earlier version and not finding Brandon at the carpenter’s house or seeing Jennifer’s tent pitched at the bottom of Mother Hill.

Even better, it’s pretty easy to get to know them both. Unlike others in town, Jennifer and Brandon count basic things among their liked and loved items, things like flowers and eggs. So you don’t have to jump through hoops or break the bank just to get a friendship started with the newcomers.

Outside the hunt for marriage partners, Friends of Mineral Town has an engaging and eclectic cast of townsfolk to befriend as well. And they’re even better than Friends of Mineral Town veterans might remember thanks to Xseed breathing new life into their writing and your responses.

It’s not a huge departure from the original, but everyone speaks a lot more naturally in the Friends of Mineral Town remake. And of course, there’s the usual extra Xseed pizazz added in.

Whether you’ll find the townsfolk worth engaging with is entirely an individual matter of course, but to me, they and their stories definitely still hold up after all these years. No, you won’t find poignant, timely stories like soldiers dealing with PTSD like you do in Stardew Valley, but everyone’s got a story to tell.

Manna and Duke are stuck in a strained marriage, strained thanks to his constant drinking. Cliff has plenty of issues. Gray’s grandfather the blacksmith constantly berates him and seems incapable of showing affection (except to you when you give him presents). And Lillia suffers from an unspecified illness which her husband is away trying to cure.

I appreciate the small tragedies in games like A Wonderful Life and Stardew Valley, but I also recognize the strength of a mostly warmhearted story with a tinge of real-life sadness added in. That’s what you get with Friends of Mineral Town. As you grow closer with your chosen friends, or everyone if you can spare the time, you’ll see new events expanding on their relationships and antics that aren’t revolved entirely around you. 

You’ll learn their patterns and habits, and as you form your own, it gradually feels like you’re fitting into a close-knit, welcoming community — albeit where the residents still only have a few things to say every season outside their events.

More events definitely would have been welcome, and I think it’s past time for farm-sim games to move beyond the one-liners and too-few interactions. But there’s still no denying FoMT’s charm, no matter how well you know these characters.

Friends of Mineral Town pulls this off with the farmwork side of the game as well, which is really the game’s most impressive feat. I was hesitant in the first few, very familiar hours. Mineral Town is small, and your list of tasks is pretty limited compared to more recent games like Stardew Valley. That actually becomes a boon as you start establishing your own rhythm though. 

Time moves fast, and you rarely have a chance to do everything you’d like in a day. So you end up planning out small goals to focus on instead. First is obviously handling crops, then animals, then improving your tools to make farming easier. Then it’s working toward your house expansion so you can actually cook your raw crops, and so on. 

The more prosperous your farm becomes, with much help from the eager Nature Sprites, the more items you get access to, which means more ways to improve friendships with more people.

The number of systems in Friends of Mineral Town isn’t quite as impressive as Rune Factory 4 Special  — which is hardly a surprise given the length of time between both games — but it all meshes together into a compelling package just the same.

That said, you do feel the need for more to do at times, even with a handful of new animals and cows that make coffee milk (Don’t ask how. Just do). If you get the Nature Sprites on your side, they reduce burden of your farm chores significantly, and you’ll likely find yourself at a loose end as the afternoon wears along.

That’s really a gripe with the genre more than Friends of Mineral Town, since the same thing regularly happens in modern games like SDV as well. But at the end of the day, you just… end the day. There’s always something to work towards tomorrow.

Whether you’re jumping in for a few minutes to finish a task or sinking a few hours in while you work through a whole season, there’s something to be said for the strength of a simple framework executed well and the appeal of working towards small goals.

Finally, it’s definitely worth mentioning Friends of Mineral Town Switch’s graphical enhancements. Everyone gets snazzy new portrait art, someone stole Gray’s hat, and the rest of the environments sit comfortable near the Link’s Awakening remake toy-box diorama style, skewing a bit more towards the soft and fluffy.

The soundtrack received a slight overhaul too, making it fuller and more interesting all around. 

A few of the sound effects come across as a bit lacking, and a scant handful of the soundtrack changes are overbearing, like the summer event day music. However the good outweighs the bad in this area, easily.

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town Review — The Bottom Line

Pros

  • Compelling gameplay systems that keep you wanting to do more
  • Strikes a great balance between these systems
  • Interesting and sympathetic supporting cast
  • Big improvements to relationship system
  • Improved translation and localization
  • Lovely graphics style
  • It's Friends of Mineral Town, but on Switch

Cons

  • It's Friends of Mineral Town, but on Switch. It's not reinventing the wheel, even where there's some room for improvement.

If Rune Factory is about fitting as many systems as possible together, Doraemon: Story of Seasons emphasizes character, and Stardew Valley is about beating Jojamart by being a one-farmer variation of the same thing, then Friends of Mineral Town is about balance. It’s about balancing your time, your relationships, and your chores while working for a brighter tomorrow.

Yes, that’s what Friends of Mineral Town was always about, but time hasn’t dented its appeal any. At the end of the day, even if there’s definitely room for more, that’s enough for me.

[Note: A copy of Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town was provided by XSEED for the purpose of this review.]

Our Rating
9
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town might not re-invent the wheel, but it's an excellent reminder why the formula the original helped create is so beloved and long-lasting.
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch

Contributor

Josh Broadwell started gaming in the early '90s. But it wasn't until 2017 he started writing about them, after finishing two history degrees and deciding a career in academia just wasn't the best way forward. You'll usually find him playing RPGs, strategy games, or platformers, but he's up for almost anything that seems interesting.

Published Jul. 14th 2020

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