Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town Review
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is the newest game in the Story of Seasons franchise (previously known as Harvest Moon in the US) and a remake of arguably one of the more popular games from the series. It’s been over 20 years since the original Harvest Moon game was released and 17 since Friends of Mineral Town first made its way to the Game Boy Advance. With all the time that has taken place between now and then, it’s valid to wonder if in 2020, can Friends of Mineral Town hold its own amongst a large variety of farming simulation games in the modern landscape? In some ways it does, but in others, it really does not.
The main story of Friends of Mineral town begins with a flashback to your time as a child, visiting your grandfather’s farm one summer and befriending another child who lived in town. With a promise to return, many years pass and it becomes your responsibility to take your grandfather's farm and to restore it to its former glory. The storyline doesn’t really evolve from there. I’ve personally never gone to Story of Seasons games for an incredibly strong narrative, so this wasn’t surprising, but it was the first indication where I felt a remake in 2020 could have been a great opportunity to expand on that. You pick from four characters (two men, two women) and three skin tones (the range is negligible) and off you go.
Friends of Mineral town functions like most any farming sim. You start with an overgrown plot of land, a single animal. and a house that has the barest of minimums. Time passes quickly and simple chores chip away at the amount of stamina you begin each day with. Each tool starts at level 1 and has to be used enough to then be upgraded with money and materials. Getting money quick in an attempt to min-max the leveling system in Friends of Mineral Town won't' work. You have to work the land and forage in order to get better tools. It’s a small piece of immersion that both slows down the game and makes a simplistic mechanic feel meaningful.
Those are the parts of the game that I love and have always loved. Going to the library to figure out which seeds I should plant in the Spring versus the Winter or walking around and picking up stray logs to craft with are slow moments but feel comfortable and familiar. The day to night cycles are smooth with daylight gradually fading away as the sound of distant wolves howling begins. Friends of Mineral Town handles the basics incredibly well.
The game continues to excel with the world-building that’s done through character relationships. It isn’t impossible to get through this game without being friendly, but it will limit you. Visiting Zack at his home gave me a fishing rod, other villagers' gift recipes as you get to know them more. It’s rewarding and they all have their own personalities and special cutscenes that allow you to explore the narrative behind the world in a way that the basic story doesn’t. Character cutscenes are detailed and full of life regardless of how you approach them. Seeing relationships develop between two characters was always a small and sweet break between farming and trying to make money or running around to find materials. So, beyond using friendships as a tool to advance the game, I was eager to get closer to neighbors simply because Friends of Mineral Town makes these relationships incredibly rewarding.
The most important change for me in this remake is the fact that I can play as a woman who marries another woman. As much as I love a farm sim, I’m an even bigger fan of games with multiple romance lines. I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time in other RPGs simply dipping my toes in every romance route, specifically the queer ones.
As a child Harvest Moon was the only role-playing game that mattered to me and being limited to a male protagonist and women partners sent a very specific message. I won’t say that Friends of Mineral Town has a robust queer narrative or that romancing a man versus a woman (regardless of your character's gender) feels too different, but it exists and that’s important. You don’t have to continue forming “friendship marriages” as a slick way to circumvent any notion of queerness and that alone is at least a step in the right direction.
Despite enjoying the character relationships and solid farming fundamentals, I wanted a bit more from Friends of Mineral Town. As a remake, I knew much of the game would remain the same. However, after the announcement of the tweaked marriage system and seeing the new art style, I had hoped for and expected more. Character interactions were one of the strongest parts of the game, but gift-giving was often received with a simple "Oh, thank you" and special cutscenes felt rare. While festivals happen often, their intractability still feels low and the moments are fleeting. For old fans of the series, this is still a fine remake, and the quality of life changes make the transition from GBA to the Switch worth it. I’d say even new fans of the series will have a good time while playing. The game is still fun to be in, and I’ll continue to play it as I progress through the years in-game, but it just misses the opportunity to be spectacular in any way.
Versions tested: Nintendo Switch, PC
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.