5 Ways Story of Seasons Improved upon A New Beginning
I recently picked up the newest entry in Marvelous's beloved Bokujou Monogatari series, which due to various levels of corporate shenanigans lost its localized branding of Harvest Moon in favor of the moniker Story of Seasons. Due to this confusion, a friend of mine accidentally picked up the newest entry in Natsume's knock-off series Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley thinking that it was the sequel to A New Beginning. I feel very sorry for him.
In a farming RPG like this franchise, which is heavily based in daily grinding for rewards over time, I do not like to feel frustrated. This is not to say I do not like the formula of the game: the daily watering of crops, brushing of cows and offering of random things you found on the ground to the townsfolk in hopes of earning their favour or unlocking new recipes are all part of slow but rewarding processes of building your small-town empire.
However, many entries in the past of this series have been marred by lengthy tutorial cutscenes, annoying animations, difficult RNG for simple tasks, and guide-dang-it hidden values that are nearly impossible to track without meticulous pen-and-paper bookkeeping. I do not like these things. In some circles these may be considered 'part of the challenge', but generally to me they are just annoying and force you to slog through mechanics that are uninteresting.
Story of Seasons owes many of its good ideas to its predecessor, and many of its character models as well.
Prior to A New Beginning, my favorite entry into the series was GameCube's Magical Melody. The game had an easy-to-navigate town, a LARGE cast of characters (10 bachelors and 10 bachelorettes!), tons of optional goals in the musical note acheivements, and the world was modular enough to suit my needs for control over my farm without being cumbersome. There were many things in this game that gave me a headache (mining was an enourmous part of this game, and lengthy animations slowed gameplay to a halt at times). I have played several titles since then, but been turned off by weird camera angles, boring world design, and uninteresting bachelor/ettes, or absolutely ridiculous mechanics (sun and water points from Sunshine Islands, anyone?)
A New Beginning instigated many good things. The near-abolishing of the mine and the implementation of the character customization system were some of these things. Story of Seasons owes many of its good ideas to its predecessor, and many of its character models as well. However, there were many things in A New Beginning did that were downright annoying that Story of Seasons sought out to fix.
1. Limited marriage candidates.
I struggle with this one a little bit, because the two titles offer the same amount of marriage candidates, which I think is too few. However, I appreciate that the reason for the shrinking of the cast is because they have put more thought into the storyline for each character. Playing as a male character, I think that there are good options for either game, but the female options are vastly improved in SoS. ANB's candidates were all very similar to each other, but there is more of a variety in SoS. Overall, I was a lot happier with the options. (that said, its a bummer you can no longer marry the witch).
2. The gradual 'trickling' of important villagers into the town.
Story of Seasons starts you off in a town that's already built up enough to be workable, and replaces the modular system with a series of plazas you can unlock customization rights to.
I understand that part of this series has always been about building up a quiet small town into an economical powerhouse, but ANB was just ridiculous. Nearly all of the villagers had up and left the town, and it was up to you to get back what I would consider essential characters. I understand the gradual unlocking of characters keeps the game interesting, but ANB was just too much. Also, the entire system had several flaws- many items required to advance the story were seasonal and difficult to predict you would need in the future, so you ended up needing to either look up what you would need to advance the story or just hoard everything. It was difficult to find room to place the buildings in town, often requiring days of cutting town rampant trees that seem to self-plant and regrow in less than a week and carefully squishing buildings as close as possible to have enough room. It was absolute madness!
Story of Seasons starts you off in a town that's already built up enough to be workable, and replaces the modular system with a series of plazas you can unlock customization rights to. This keeps the spirit of ANB's editing system- allowing you control over what the town looks like- without all the headaches of trying to find space to put someone's house just to unlock them. It is an incredible improvement and I think its the most important one on this list.
ANB eschewed tradition and adopted a 2x4 field system. One bag of seed yielded 4 plants in a 2x2 pattern, and large crops such as trees would take up the entire 2x2 area. I found this to be a weird system, although it was workable. What made this worse was that after planting, each crop was considered to be its own entity, requiring separate watering and fertizilizing. In addition, fields were crafted with soil and placed in Edit Mode instead of being directly tilled from the ground, allowing you to shuffle your crops around even while they were still growing in the earth, something I found to be useful but in the end story-breaking.
Harvesting crops is easier too.
In Story of Seasons, each field is a 3x3 area, tilled directly into the earth and treated as one entity. Watering and fertilizing the field effects all 9 plants. This allows you to manage much more crops than in the past. On top of that, fertilizer in ANB was expensive, and sucked up most of my early-game money. Fertilizer in SoS can still add up, but the cost is much more managable for a few fields. Harvesting crops is easier too- instead of picking each crop individually, you harvest the whole field into a box that you can pick up at your leisure (useful for managing limited rucksack space!)
4. Increasing animal productivity.
In the past there were ways to improve the quality of your animal goods, usually just by increasing friendship with the animal. In A New Beginning, this would net you quality points in the form of star rank, but that alone could never get you to the best quality of goods. They would need to spend a 50 hours in the Animal Sanctuary in order to attain 'Great' rank, and there was not much else to do other than care for your animals. This ended up being really boring for a lot of players.
I no longer find the treat-feeding process a cumbersome chore!
Unfortunately, this wasn't really changed in SoS. In order to get '+' quality products you need to spend a lot of time in the Safari Park. The only improvement is that the Safari Park contains the mine, a lot of foragable goods and unique animals, so its worth visiting even without your animals, but its still pretty boring to wait for your animal to stand around for weeks on end in your free-time whenever you buy a new one.
The major improvement to this system is the volume-increasing one. This was an absolutely infuriating part of ANB. It required me to keep detailed records of every time I fed my animal a treat, and what kind I fed it. I had no way of knowing what progress I had made if I took a break from playing the game and couldn't find my notebook, and it made casually playing the game in bed impossible. Luckily SoS streamlined this system, adding a 'Treat' bar to their information window and no longer requiring that a certain ratio of 'normal' and specialized treats be fed to the animals, as well as adding a Treat Bin to the barns and coops. I no longer find the treat-feeding process a cumbersome chore!
5. Goodbye, shipping boxes!
As far as I know, the Harvest Moon game Grand Bazaar attempted to do what Story of Seasons did with its merchant system and failed at it, but I never played Grand Bazaar because of its very poor reviews. In that regard, I will not laud Story of Seasons for being the first to abolish the shipping-box system, but I will talk about how well it works.
The idea that I have a wooden box in front of my house that I can fill with any amount of fragile and perishable farm goods... was silly at best.
Shipping bins are the farthest stretch of my suspension of disbelief that Harvest Moon has ever asked me to endure, even more than the Breadfruit days of yore. The idea that I have a wooden box in front of my house that I can fill with any amount of fragile and perishable farm goods thrown haphazardly inside, and that someone will want to pay me for them and will whisk it all away as I sleep, was silly at best. However, they have been a mainstay of the series simply because it streamlined the process of selling your farm goods.
Story of Seasons implements a trading hub, where merchants from foreign countries will set up shop and sell goods from their homeland, and buy your goods to take back to their home country. At the beginning of the game this can be challenging because you will be lucky to see a merchant twice a week, but as you progress the system gets much more interesting. This also effectively replaces the "travel agency" system from ANB, which existed in order to allow the character access to goods from foreign countries. In SoS, the merchants bring the items to you, cutting out the airplane ride. Another thing I like about SoS is that all merchants- including the local ones- have a limited stock of items, which also makes more sense than allowing me to buy 99 bags of turnips at a time (and another layer of tasty challenge managing your resources). The merchants will only come a few times a week, but they are not affected by random effects such as weather, and it appears that the game tries to schedule the appearance dates around festivals as much as reasonably possible.
Overall, Story of Seasons is a streamlined game with a lot of interesting challenges. I didn't cover all of the good aspects of the game, but these are the ones that stood out to me after being frustrated at A New Beginning.
What were your favorite (and not-so-favorite) parts of these games? Leave your comments below!