Back in 2003, the Game Boy Advance was treated to a beautiful Harvest Moon entry dubbed Friends of Mineral Town. In this classic, you inherit a farm in Mineral Town where you harvest crops, tend to your barnyard animals and befriend the locals. Now in 2020, with the new branded name Story of Seasons, this gem has been revisited with a whole new coat of paint and a plethora of improved quality of life features. And yet, it still begs to question just how the crux of Friends of Mineral Town‘s gameplay holds up to this day in a post-Animal Crossing: New Horizons world.
If you’re not in a reading mood today, we also have our video review that you can watch below…
From the get-go, you can choose between starting on Simple or Normal Mode. Much like with any easy/hard difficulty setting, it dictates your time throughout the game, however Friends of Mineral Town highlights exactly how it does this with adjustments to your starting gold, sell prices, your ability to raise affection with the townsfolk and some complimentary turnips that you can harvest as you step out your front door. By highlighting exactly what is effected, it allows the player to make a more conscientious decision, which is crucial considering you cannot change this partway through the game.
Friends of Mineral Town plays out a lot like you’d expect from the franchise, being all about upgrading your tools, tending to your animals and wooing a potential partner. With a strategy of streamlining your workload to make more time for your personal life, the gameplay loop and overall goal often hits very close to home. Farming and tending to crops can become monotonous if you bite off a little more than you can chew and you may find yourself simply waking up, watering your plants, tending to chores, rest and repeat, which is why it is very satisfying when you’re able to upgrade your tools to better streamline this process. With the core of the game largely based on the idea of getting out what you put in, it speaks on a personal level. You can also befriend Nature Sprites who can help you with your daily chores… imagine having that option in real life!
However, the repetition can be broken up by talking to townsfolk, undertaking requests and finding your potential match. In this remake of Friends of Mineral Town, you’re not only limited to heterosexual relationships, which is very innovative and refreshing for the series. For myself, I chose to woo Karen, because apparently I like sharp-featured, strong-willed women who share the same name as those who ask to speak to the manager at shops… but I digress.
As the Game Boy Advance was limited with its buttons and features, this new Switch version offers a lot of streamlined options and newly implemented features. For one, HD Rumble effects add intuitive tactile feedback when performing chores like chopping wood, fishing and the like. It provides more depth during moments of monotony that all farming life simulators are prone to. In addition, you have two inventories (tools and bag) and you can easily flick between each one by the use of the d-pad and the right analogue stick. It was also a godsend when I discovered that I could hold down the right bumper to autorun. It’s the little things, but they make the experience less cumbersome and more enjoyable.
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Your farm is in a great position on the map, allowing you to easily access each area and not making it feel like a chore when you need have a busy day ahead. The map is easy to read and navigate through, not being overly complicated but still hiding secrets within nooks and crannies.
Story / Personality
Much like all other entries in the series, Friends of Mineral Town is bursting with its own charm. Farming life simulation games are difficult to pull off without coming across as generic and Friends of Mineral Town does a great job at avoiding this by featuring some relatable and loveable NPC characters.
Each season within the game takes place across 30 in-game days and you can check your calendar to note festival events and birthdays. Whilst this isn’t a new feature by any means, it’s important to reaffirm just how well this helps to break up the game’s sometimes monotonous pace if all you were doing is chores around the farm.
Graphics / Art Direction
The art aesthetic in this reimagining of Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is absolutely adorable. Colours are bright and pleasing on the eye and the barnyard animals have their own mannerisms that are just so cute. I also love the character designs of both your characters and NPCs; when I first saw them, I was instantly reminded of the Funko Pop! Vinyl figurines with their heads being wider than their shoulders and wide anime eyes. You’ll never be able to unsee it now.
Music / Sound Design
In regards to the soundtrack, each season has a new music theme which are all very catchy and upbeat. You’ll often find yourself humming them for days, doing chores around your own house like I was. You may also have these themes stuck in your head thanks to how repetitive they can be, so it’s certainly a double-edged sword.
Final Score: 82%
With this remastered edition, I can’t remember a Story of Seasons game that allows for such streamlined convenience whilst not detracting from its core concepts. Friends of Mineral Town may not be for every player out there but it’s certainly a calm and relaxing way to spend and evening. And besides, comparing a confirmed classic such as this to Natsume’s new Harvest Moon title releasing later this year, it’s clear who came out on top in this battle.
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