You needn’t look far these days to find games that whisk you away to far-off places, letting you explore never-before-seen settings to deliver a rewarding escapist fantasy. Sometimes, however, it’s good to insert a little comfort food into your gaming diet, especially in 2020 when times and the general state of the world seem more uncertain than they’ve ever been. Animal Crossing: New Horizons exploded onto Nintendo Switch earlier this year to provide some of this respite, but if you’re still craving some satisfying simulation thrills, you’ll likely find it in the farming antics of Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town.
A pseudo-remake of the GBA classic Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, fans of that cult classic can rest easy knowing that this is very much the same core experience despite the stark change of brand name. It sees you take on the role of a young guy or gal suddenly gifted with a farm to look after following their grandfather’s passing, tasked with maintaining crops and cattle to make it the most profitable venture possible. Of course, this merely scratches the surface of how you’ll fill your days in Mineral Town.
Much of what makes it work is just how much you’re thrown in at the deep end. Right from the off, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town goes out of its way not to hold your hand, instead relying on your natural curiosity in order to make the most of your newly acquired farmland. Sure, there’s a few basic tutorials you can refer back to in your home if ever you get lost or forget how to perform a basic task, but overall a lot of the enjoyment here comes from figuring things out for yourself.
Mineral Town itself is quite the character you’ll get accustomed to quickly, featuring such important locations as the general store, item forge and mine. All of which are only accessible during specific days of the week, helping to ensure that no in-game day ever need pass the same – you’re always encouraged to plan your daily routine accordingly. Tending to your cattle and crops are regular tasks you’ll need to keep up, but how you spend those extra hours are entirely up to you.
For those unaware, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town differs slightly from Animal Crossing in that time or days do not pass in real-time. Rather, each in-game day here is on its own timer, meaning there’s never any need to wait too long for certain events or someone’s triggered routine to occur. A good example of this is Zack the local delivery man, who will arrive at your farm every day at 5.00pm on the dot to collect any goods you wish to ship and sell. Other events like the derby festival, where horses compete in races for you to bet on, will take place on the 18th of every Spring and Summer season.
Some players might find it frustrating to see timely occasions like these pass them by initially, yet this is all purposefully done to prepare you for when they next roll around and you can take part. Of course, it doesn’t help to have the town’s characters constantly ruffle your patience by way of a, “There’s a cake competition tomorrow. Bring yours along at 10.00am” when you haven’t even mastered the basics of cooking yet. Luckily, there is two choices of mode you can select – Standard and Simple – when first starting out, the latter of which gifts you with a bumper crop of cash to give you a head start.
Eventually, though, you become familiar with all of Mineral Town’s various routines and quirks, earning enough money so you can upgrade your tools and equipment to make the farming process go much more smoothly. Unfortunately this does mean that if you are a bit too overly ambitious in the early hours and begin planting too many crops, it’s highly likely you’ll have worn yourself by the time you want to explore elsewhere or check in with many of the residents. This is because almost every action, like mining, watering and fishing uses up precious stamina, which when fully depleted will tire you out for the rest of the day.
Seasons might be artificially sped up, but that doesn’t mean that all four haven’t been properly accounted for. You’ll begin your endeavour in Spring, raising crops like legumes, turnips and potatoes that are best suited to the climate, before having to shake up your strategy for when Summer and Autumn roll in. Winter, as expected, won’t see much at all grow, so again you’ll need to focus on other profit methods like livestock. Friends of Mineral Town isn’t afraid to force you to adapt in this way, and not knowing what each season has in store is part of the fun.
Add on to this all of the extra layers that sit outside of the game’s core farming, such as romancing eligible batchelors present in the village, raising animals to compete in events and property expansion that enables you to create your dream home, and you can be assured that Friends of Mineral Town isn’t short on things to do. There really is only so much of the game we were able to play ourselves before publishing this review, but it’s quite easy to see how one could routinely stay hooked on Friends of Mineral Town for 6 months to a year, at least. Players think back fondly to the GBA original for a reason.
Much like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon or even Stardew Valley before it, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is a strong reminder of how much fun maintaining a virtual routine can be. In today’s climate games like these don’t come around too often, so it’s nice that new IP holder Marvelous have chosen to remake a pre-existing farming sim they know has a core gameplay loop that works rather than test the waters with an entirely new endeavour.
There’s bound to be players that already know whether a game as slow-paced as this for them. For players that enjoy relaxing in their own virtual space, however, it’s pleasing to know that Friends of Mineral Town does enough differently from the Animal Crossing behemoth to warrant your time and effort. This is a farming/social life simulator that is as in-depth as it is charming, hopefully kicking off a new renaissance period for laid-back games of this ilk on Nintendo Switch.