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Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life review: This provincial life

Bynewsmagzines

Jul 19, 2023
Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life review: This provincial life

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The farming sim genre has certainly come a long way, hasn’t it? Not so long ago, the Harvest Moon games were the only ones of their kind in town. Now, thanks in part to Stardew Valley and the new popularity of cozy life sim games, we have a number of different titles that fit that mold — you attune yourself to nature, grow crops or something similar, get to know the residents of your new hometown and eventually find someone to marry and settle down with.

In fact, the genre has flourished so much that I think it may have spoiled me. Marvelous, the longtime developer of the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series recently released a remake of its GameCube-era title, A Wonderful Life. Playing the remake feels like going back to your hometown and realizing you don’t miss it as much you thought you did.

The story is a familiar one: You’re a city kid who inherits a farm in Forgotten Valley from your late father. When you arrive, his old buddy Takakura tasks you with bringing the farm back to its former glory. From that point, your character can spend years of in-game time doing exactly that, raising crops and livestock into a proper business. You also socialize with a small town’s population, finding one special someone with whom you can settle down into marriage and parenthood.

This all sounds very standard, right? That’s the problem: experiencing a cozy, rustic life may have been enough to sustain a game at the time of its initial release, but now that’s the bare minimum for this genre. At this point, most gamers will expect more from their farming sims, and they’re not getting it here. While it’s no longer Harvest Moon in name, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life is held back by the original game’s simplistic, provincial design.

A simpler life: What’s to like

A Wonderful Life is a beautiful game, with cute character designs and the most huggable animals. The graphics are nothing to sneeze at, smoothly transitioning from the bright, cheerful village to the slightly supernatural aspects along the periphery. The basic controls, including the actual gameplay of farming, harvesting and exploring, is simple and intuitive. This isn’t a game where you’ll be battling off enemies in your pursuit of the perfect pumpkin patch. Just till your soil, talk to your neighbors and pet your animals — that’s it more or less.

This game is also slow-paced compared to other farm sims. In other games, even other Story of Seasons entries, you’ll hustle to make money and buy your way to a better farm by the end of the first year. In AWL, you have no choice but to slow down. The game takes place over your characters entire life, meaning you don’t have to grind hard from the outset. You have time — and the game gives you plenty of incentives to use it.

While I’m not a fan of certain structural elements of the game’s design, I liked that the game restricts how players can make money. No ripping up weeds in the forest and selling them for some quick cash: You can only ship actual products you grow or harvest from your animals. You have a way of selling extra items, but it’s much more restrictive. It sounds counterintuitive, but I appreciated the extra challenge in an otherwise straightforward game.

Rustic restrictions: What’s not to like

As charming as AWL is superficially, some aspects of its design feel dated. For example, the game is a third-person exploration title, as opposed to a top-down perspective. This makes the world, as beautiful as it is, feel bigger and emptier than necessary — certainly emptier than the GameCube original. With fewer things to do in any in-game day, life in Forgotten Valley can start to feel boring and monotonous — especially considering AWL expects you to live out 30 years of your character’s life.

One of the most important components of AWL is marriage and family. From the moment your character steps foot on their dad’s farm, Takakura pressures you to get married and start a family ASAP. He’s not just saying it, either — the player must marry by the end of the first year in order to progress. I’ll leave aside that some players might not even want to get married and have children. My question is: Why would I want to marry any of the bachelor/ettes in Forgotten Valley?

Perhaps this is another way I’ve been spoiled by newer games, but the characters in AWL feel one-note and unremarkable. Only one of them — Gordy, for the record — even gave the vibe of having an interior life and complex thoughts, so I married him. This wouldn’t be an issue if romance/family were not an inescapable part of the story. To the game’s credit, once you are married there’s much less pressure on the player to accomplish any particular goal. However, the initial pressure to settle down still feels artificial and forced. The developers had the chance to fix that with this remake, and they didn’t.

Welcome to the valley: Should you buy this game?

I think any gamers who want a farming sim with less grind and hustle will enjoy Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life. It trims a lot of the fat that has become common in the genre. You’re not a warrior or a spelunker or a craftsman. You’re simply a farmer trying to live a quiet life and make your way with the resources you have. If you played the original and loved it, you’ll definitely enjoy the remake because it’s almost the same game but prettier.

However, if you’re more used to modern farming sims and want one that will give you more to do on a daily basis, AWL might be too simplistic for you. There’s just not a lot happening in Forgotten Valley. Regardless of your preference, the in-game marriage being pushed within the very first chapter felt way too rushed and forced. If you were hoping to have fun, interesting characters to spend your in-game life with, you’ll again likely be disappointed.

Death From Above gets three stars out of five.

Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life is currently available on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC. Publisher XSEED Games provided GamesBeat with a Switch code for review.

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