Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life Review – A Forgetful Experience

    Title: Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life
    Developer: Marvelous Inc.
    Release Date: June 27, 2023
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: XSEED Games
    Genre: Farming, Simulation

The farming-sim genre has seen many advancements over the years, and in that time, Harvest Moon stood out as one of the best, which continued when the team packed up and changed the name to Story of Seasons. Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life was originally released in 2003, but my journey with the series wouldn’t begin until the DS release, The Tale of Two Towns. Given the trend of releasing older titles on newer platforms, I was surprised about the release of Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life. This would ultimately give me a chance to play an entry that I missed out on with modern updates. Sadly, the age of this entry is showing through limited events and slow pacing.

In Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, our destination is Forgotten Valley, a quaint location where everyone just idly tends to their relaxed way of living. You assume the role of a character who is lost and doesn’t know what to do next. So, you move into the valley and decide to take over the old dilapidated farm that your father once tended to under the suggestion of Takakura. And from there, it’s simple: Raise crops, animals, get married and start a family, and enjoy an overall carefree life. It’s Story of Seasons, do you really need anything else?

The first thing that I immediately noticed is that instead of 30 days, there are only ten days before you flip over to the next season. The reason for this is due to the “narrative” of the game, which is divided into six chapters, each spanning one full cycle of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.

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Within that time, you’re expected to marry someone by the end of the year, or you’ll be practically forced to marry Cecilia towards the end of the Beginnings chapter. Personally, I disliked that very much because it creates unneeded time pressure, especially when some love interests, such as Nami, have a very narrow list of liked gifts.

Regarding marriage, A Wonderful Life lets you create and customize your character as a boy or a girl, but regardless of the gender or pronouns you choose, you can go for one of the four women: Cecilia, Nami, Lumina, and Molly or you can court one of the four men: Matthew, Rock, Gustafa or the newly added Gordin. The character customization is rather limited, and many of the clothes look practically the same, but it’s still a step up from the original releases, where you had to buy a separate version just to play as a girl or a boy.

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There are also brand-new features, such as the Request System, where villagers will ask for certain items in the town’s Bulletin Board, and completing those earns you rewards and deepens your relationship with them. Furthermore, going to sleep no longer advances time by 7 hours, as it did in the original. You’ll wake up at 6:00 AM sharp no matter what. However, it’s possible to complete a request to get the Alarm Clock, which will then allow your character to take a nap and advance time.

When compared to the original, 70 new events have been added to this release, such as new family-related ones with your child, and you can also check how close you are with each of the villagers either through their diaries or via the Relationships part of the menu. There’s also the Encyclopedia, which keeps track of all of the items you’ve obtained, followed by the Harvest Sprite Wonders, which function as an achievement system. While these new features are things that you might take for granted from modern titles, it’s nice to see them added to this experience.

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Sadly, the UI and menu design hasn’t received the same attention. The original release had some unique elements. Considering you spend a lot of time navigating them, it makes sense. However, in this release, the charm has been removed for a more straightforward and plain design. It’s also lacking simple things such as an indicator for how much water there is in your watering can, and even the stamina meter is just a generic bar, unlike the hearts from the original.

The 3D sprites also take some getting used to. The animations of the villagers walking around town and how the animals behave on the farm look almost like there was no proper rigging done to them, with some appearing robotic. Furthermore, even though I was playing this on a PlayStation 5, I had many issues with the draw distance and shadow effects, where they wouldn’t settle in until I got close enough, an issue that arguably shouldn’t even be seen on the Switch.

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Despite the new events and modernized features that were added, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life doesn’t address the main problem that the original had, which is the lack of things to do. Before you know it, you’ll be stuck in a repetitive cycle where the only activities are to tend to your crops and animals and then go fishing or perhaps dig for stuff in the digging site.

Further, the dialogue is rather disappointing. Every single one of the villagers have basically just one phrase that changes every season, and some just…don’t change at all. This, unfortunately, extends to your spouse, where even after marriage, their dialogue barely has any variation. And I can’t help but scream at my pillow when I saw that there are a whopping FIVE Festivals in this game, and not only are all of them forgettable cutscenes that last barely a minute, but you’re not even reminded when they’re going on with a pop-up or anything, like in other entries. I ended up missing the Starlight Festival a couple of times, but somehow, I feel I’m glad I didn’t waste my time with them.

Also, instead of getting one unique soundtrack per season, you get a grand total of two: Breezy and Quiet Winter, with the former being the one you’ll hear all the time. At least until you change it yourself through the record player. This was let down for me since while the tutorial mentions that you can get records by befriending the villagers, it takes exceedingly long without a guide. Once you’ve obtained a few, the song you select only plays while you’re inside your farm. Yeah, all you have in Forgotten Valley is silence. There’s not a single ounce of liveliness.

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Yes, yes, I’ve heard you say that…how many times now? 19? 45? I lost count.

Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life is a nostalgic fever dream for longtime fans of the series to experience a title that could be the foundation of some great gaming memories. However, over the years, this series has evolved, which makes this entry more of a novelty than a modern take on a classic title. The added quality-of-life systems and events make for a nice visit to Forgotten Valley, but as the town’s name suggests, this is one forgettable experience.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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