Monday, May 4, 2015

The Story This Season

I'm a huge fan of Harvest Moon and similar farming 'simulation/role playing' games. My favorite was A Wonderful Life on the Gamecube, a close second would be Runefactory 4 for the 3DS. Story of Seasons is a newer release from Marvelous/XSEED for the 3DS - Natsume owns the 'Harvest Moon' name, so they were unable to run with that trademark and took a new turn. About a month after Story of Seasons came out, I got it and... well... I kind of don't like it.

yeah yeah go ahead and be upset

Now, I'm pretty alone here - and it really bothers me that I don't like it. I want to like it. The graphics are fine, the mechanics are fine, they have all the same attributes that previous games had, and a bunch of cool new stuff! Well, it would be cool I guess, if I could actually experience it.

Please note, tons of plot and gameplay will be revealed in this post, i.e. spoilers.

The problem I'm having with the game is that it moves incredibly slowly. On the surface, it's like any other farming simulation game. You have stamina like normal, and all obvious activities that would deplete stamina, do. You're given a farm with rocks and other crap in the way, just like always, and you're given a rudimentary set of rusty old hand-me-down tools to use until you get upgrades, just like always. You can collect random stuff everywhere and give gifts and talk to the repetitive town NPCs all day. Most of it is business as usual.

farm: check, town: check, able to sell things I find on the ground: check

The new key differences are what break it for me.

First of all, even though it's not a persisting issue, I still feel like it needs to be mentioned - the first entire week of the game was an agonizingly slow tutorial. You stayed with your soon-to-be next door neighbor because they had to get your farm ready for you. Considering you were invited to the town on purpose, I'm not sure why they didn't think of that sooner. I hoped I would endure the trial of the tutorial and things would get better from there, but honestly the tutorial set the pace for the game to come.

Each day you get up the first week, an old woman teaches you a 'new', simple procedure, and you are only allowed to visit the town on some of the days. As a seasoned farming simulation gamer, this was excruciating. I watched that week go by as entirely wasted potential. The game basically started at the beginning of the second week of Spring. Considering the general playstyle in these games is "do everything you possibly can every single day," this week long tutorial was not a pleasant experience.

took you a week to get this dilapidated house ready?

The way you ship your goods is fundamentally different, because it coincides with the 'theme' more or less of the game. Instead of having a shipment box, you have to sell all your crops, fish, and assorted things you picked up off the ground to a trader who only visits on certain days. The trader also brings in new and exciting things to purchase, as well as animals. Now, it's clear from the gameplay so far that the entire point is to make the town livelier as to attract more traders, who I'd assume would come on varying days, making this "one trader once or twice a week" thing a non-issue.

However, I'm not seeing it happen, and instead of making me hyped to play each day and hopeful to unlock the new traders, it just makes the gameplay feel constricting. I spent the first two weeks unable to do much of anything due to not having any money most of the time. The only cure was to plant an unwieldy amount of turnips - which meant buying nothing but turnip seeds - so that I could have money once the trader finally came, so I could finally buy things other than turnip seeds.

your life is turnips

The second big difference is that instead of buying or trading for new tools, furniture, etc., you craft everything yourself. Now, yes, I'm totally aware that crafting yourself is not entirely new. Runefactory has the same aspect to it. The new part is that you get a huge library of things you can make - the blueprints and crafting aspect of Story of Seasons is intentionally supposed to be this "wow" factor, this new exciting addition to this kind of gameplay.

The thing about it is, you have to buy blueprints for every single thing and you need more than just lumber and stone. In fact, there are different tiers of lumber and stone - small lumber and stone being the rudimentary tier that you start with, and yet for some reason, the upgraded tools and almost anything worthwhile immediately start needing higher tier materials. These higher tier stone and lumber require the breaking down of the humongous stones and trees in your farm, which require so much stamina to break down that you need to spend several game days whacking away at just one before you see any progress.

after a week of effort

Additionally, almost anything worthwhile also takes varying types of metals or precious stones - iron, copper, or what have you - which you can't mine for and are destined to hope you randomly find while diving in the rivers. You can buy it from the trader who, as mentioned, shows up once or twice a week, and they only bring a couple with them (or also possibly none). There is no sure way to get these rare materials other than extreme patience and luck, which means you can't experience this cool, new and exciting feature of the game until later on, either.

Obviously, I haven't played it enough. I'm not naive enough to say that the game is horrible because of my personal hang ups. I'm on about the last few days of Spring with eight hours played. If I kept playing, I'm sure I could coax the additional traders from the woodwork - who knows, maybe they are destined to pop up on the first day of summer - but instead of anything to do with traders, the only 'big event' that happened was me being able to 'rent out' a second field to work on. I don't even have enough going on in my original, actual field that I would need a second field. The only benefit it's given me is a new place to gather bugs and wild plants.

dragonflies show up there. those are pretty cool

You are taunted with all these cool sounding things - you'll be able to use honeybees to make honey! You'll be able to domesticate wild animals with gifts and offerings and convince them to live with you at your farm! You'll be able to buy all these awesome blueprints and make your own better house, unique decorations, and cool furniture! But it's like the game

just

d r a g s

o n

         f  o  r  e  v  e  r.

As is the nature of a farming simulation game, it's a huge waste of allocated time to wake up, tend to your farm, gather everything for the day, and immediately go back to sleep. You want to use up as much of the day as you can - you should get a gift for your romantic interest, you should talk to everyone in town, you should try to clear as much debris from your farm as possible. They even make it so that you can water your plants twice a day to get them to mature faster. If you water them at 6:00-7:00 when you wake up, you can water them again somewhere around 15:00 or 17:00ish. This means that to make the most of your day and your farm, you have to stay up each day until the evening in order to water your plants twice.

But nothing happens. Each day that I had maturing crops, I ended up putting my DS down and doing something else until I could water my crops again before going to the next day. Your stamina gauge depletes rather quickly, which I'm assuming is because of the low quality tools like usual, which would mean this is another thing that would be solved if I just kept playing.

not as busy as you might think

The amount of items you can pick up off the ground and dive for in the rivers is set each day. The only somewhat infinite thing you can do each day is collect bugs, which is much more frustrating than fishing would be since you have to run around and find the bugs, but you can't fish until later, either.

The only cure to the rampant stamina depletion in the beginning is to go all the way to town (about four unique zone maps away) and eat something at the restaurant, which still only replenishes your gauge a bit, which means you need to buy several meals, which means you need money. You'll note I was pretty broke for a good length of time in the beginning, so once my stamina was gone, I was pretty much done.

and I don't even know how to pronounce the guy's name

You can eat your own crops, but then you won't have anything to sell. Making your own dishes requires a kitchen to be built, which needs a blueprint and a good amount of that rare and elusive iron, so it's not an option in the very beginning unless you're very lucky.

The restaurant doesn't open until 11:00 and it's closed one day a week. You could easily deplete your entire stamina bar to a fraction in a couple of in-game hours - so, about a minute or two. Some days you just can't do anything except diddle around on the farm, gather some stuff, and go to bed before noon. That doesn't feel fun.

I know this post sounds like a big whinefest - I wrote it, read it, re-read it and re-read it again, so I know for a fact that it does - but the overarching complaint is just that it moves so slowly. I've played a myriad of these types of games and none of them were ever so restricting. There are very few small, easy things to do each day, and very many big, overbearing tasks ahead of you that are out of reach for a long time. Usually the games start out slowly, that's not unusual, but this... this is a new definition of slow.

ahem

Each big issue I have with the game is solved by playing it longer - I know, I've confirmed it personally. It's just such a drudgery that I can't bring myself to power it up, and when I do, I'm too stubborn to just go to sleep at 11:00 in the morning to speed things along.

Honestly, I want to keep trying to play it - and being as stubborn as I am, I'm sure I will push myself into it. Hopefully I can get to a point where the game doesn't feel like a chore, and if it gets better later on, I'll give the game closure by writing an apology post to it. Until then, I'll avoid it at the water cooler and pretend I don't see it when I walk past it in the office.

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