After being pleasantly surprised by the adorable Story of Seasons Doraemon spin-off, I couldn't wait to dive into the next Switch game in the franchise which just happens to be this remake of a classic.
Since I first got into the Harvest Moon games which was during the GameCube era, I've been hooked on the series. Some of the best titles to come out have been those released in recent years under the Story of Seasons branding. Trio of Towns was a blast and as I played it, I found myself constantly discovering new things to do. As I mentioned, even the recent Doraemon Story of Seasons was a ton of fun and it featured impressive graphics although it was a little rough around the edges.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town has gone through a few incarnations in the past, starting as Harvest Moon: Back to Nature on the original PlayStation. This Switch remake bears many similarities to the previous versions; so much so that you can follow a guide for an earlier version and use it to get your bearings quite easily which I actually did. It also has plenty of differences that may catch you off guard such as how you obtain the new kitchen appliances or woo your prospective partner.
The story is introduced quite quickly and you're then plonked into the middle of a field that was handed to you after the death of your grandfather. Other than a few Polaroids at the start that depict you hanging out with other villagers in the same town as a kid, there certainly isn't much pomp and circumstance around your arrival.
Unfortunately, this is the theme throughout the entire game. There's no real overarching story to guide you; heck, it even took me about a full season before I realised that there were little harvest sprites hiding behind the church. In order to catch a glimpse of the Harvest Goddess who plays a key role in a lot of Story of Seasons games, you have to throw something into a pond and watch her briefly thank you then she'll perhaps offer you a reward. This is quite a big difference from her more prominent role in the other games.
All of that being said, not having a story to keep the experience going can be forgiven in a game that offers a lot of gameplay in return. Other recent Story of Seasons titles have really ran with innovative concepts by introducing new elements such as traders, multiple towns, the ability to rent land, making foraging more complex, and significantly upping the variety of makers you can use. In Friends of Mineral Town, you're stuck with the basics: farming, fishing, foraging, mining, and occasional cooking.
The farming is decent in that there's a good amount of seeds to unlock but there's no seed maker and it simply lacks depth. It's cool that you can hire sprites to help you on the farm although it doesn't take much effort to befriend them as once you've friended one, you'll soon friend the others. It would have been more rewarding if you gradually unlocked sprites with specialized tasks.
Fishing can be done in multiple spots around the town which is nice but the fact that the variety of fish that you catch ends up counting as only small, medium, or large takes away from the fun of collecting fish. Villagers don't even seem to prefer certain kinds of fish as gifts; they only care about their size. Given Mineral Town is quite small, there isn't much foraging to be done either. Most of it involves collecting grass of a variety of colours which feels like an excuse to claim that there's more variety than there actually is.
Mining is something that Friends of Mineral Town does well and it's even better than in some other Story of Seasons games. There are 2 separate mines to explore with hundreds of levels to reach and one mine is only accessible in winter until you unlock the ability to access it year round but the variety in rocks that you can find there helps make up for the lack of farming that occurs during winter. Having said all of this, I must mention the fact that it takes a ton of time, patience, and save scumming to dig down to the lower levels.
The graphics in this adaption of Friends of Mineral Town are adorable and the chibi characters themselves are really quite cute. I got the background music stuck in my head on multiple occasions, too. Anyway, all 4 seasons are represented and with them comes new items to forage, seeds to plant, and on the odd occasion, a new villager arrives. Weather impacts your crops and animals as much as it does in other titles in the series and there are some days when you're not allowed to leave home due to a storm so you're stuck inside while you worry about the safety of your cows, sheep, alpacas, chickens, and cute rabbits. I'm sure we can all relate to that!
One thing that I was delighted by is the variety of cows. There are 4 distinctly coloured varieties that can produce regular, fruit, strawberry, and coffee milk. The Angora rabbit is adorable as well with fur that covers its eyes when it's ready to shear.
As I mentioned, the town is small and the surrounding area isn't much bigger. Specifically, there are a few rows of buildings, a few small field areas, and a little lake with a cave in the middle to explore. It all features decent visual variety but it was simply not enough to keep me entertained. Speaking of which, keeping myself busy seemed to become a familiar struggle once I got my farm going and bought at least one of each type of animal. Giving gifts to villagers (including my potential partner) and tending to my field and livestock only takes so long, especially when you have sprites helping you do the work.
On top of all that, I found that I was constantly in need of cash so I could upgrade my farm and tools but there's no good way to earn it other than farming. Mining and fishing aren't lucrative, especially when you don't have access to the lake mine. As a result, when I waited for my crops to grow in the early days of a season, I often got bored and just went to bed early. If there was a story to keep me entertained, more tasks to do, and a larger potential for upgrades and farm expansion, I would have felt more of a drive like I did in most other Story of Seasons games. One thing that I looked forward to was festival days because they can be pretty fun to attend and there's a good variety of them, even though you have to wait for the second year to actually take part in a lot of them.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is a faithful remake of its previous iterations. However, there's simply too much missing when it comes to story and gameplay which holds it back from being a must-have game in the series.
- + Cute graphics and animals, especially the 4 different types of cows
- + Faithful remake of the classic game
- + Lots of mining fun to be had
- - Not enough things to do that feel like they're worth your time
- - Missing an overarching story
- - Very small town and surrounding area