The original Game Boy release of Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town seems like a distant memory now. Over 17 years have passed since the initial 2003 release, and it initially seemed like remaking the classic at this point would be redundant. However with old faces come new features and the new potential the Switch offers. It’s been over a decade since Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness introduced me to the franchise, and it was a no-brainer to check the newest addition to the re-labeled Story of Seasons franchise.
I’ll start this review off by saying I’m a slow game player. Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is the perfect kind of game for me as it’s one you can dip in and out of at will. Much like quarantine classic Animal Crossing: New Horizons, you live in a secluded community and make friends along the way- it’s a good slice of life, distraction game and perfect for either daily doses or enthusiastic binges. I’ve been playing Friends of Mineral Town at a slower pace, and have completed year one on my farm for the sake of this review. Undoubtedly when I finally decide which of the many suitors to pursue as my spouse, I’ll have many more happy years logged.
The first thing that stood out to me were the updated graphics. The old 2D style art has been replaced within the gameplay by 3D-esque avatars with large heads. I’m not usually put off by style updates in game serieses, but there’s something unappealing about the controllable avatar’s design. At times the character animation is hard to read, such as when expressing hunger or exhaustion. I feel as though part of the charm in the original 2D gameplay has been lost in an attempt to bring the graphics up to speed with more current games. However, the updated talk-sprite images more than make up for it. Many characters have gone through updated style changes, and the new illustrative style is charming in a way that calls back to Harvest Moon DS games such as Island of Happiness and Sunshine Islands. There’s no shortage of appeal there, and considering it’s where most interactions and expressions are needed, the otherwise clunky 3D aspects don’t detract too much from the overall charm of the game.
Characters and Relationships
The first major development in Friends of Mineral Town is that it’s the first game of the series to include the option for same-sex marriage, as opposed to a covert “Best Friends” option. Previously, you could only play as a male character and pursue eligible bachelorettes from around the town in the initial 2003 Friends of Mineral Town. A later follow up game, More Friends of Mineral Town, allowed you to play as Claire and pursue the eligible bachelors. In the 2020 release, however, you can pursue either bachelors and bachelorettes irrespective of your avatar’s gender. Before starting the game, I’d avoided many articles and speculations about it in order to start with a clear head- for once, I wanted to try to play a game without quickly resorting to online tips as I’ve been doing since my first Harvest Moon game. Therefore, after several unenthusiastic interactions with the eligible bachelors of the town, I was taken completely by surprise when the tell tale grey heart appeared beside Popuri as well. The ability to pursue either men or women in the game is obviously a much needed addition, and one I’ve taken to possibly too enthusiastically. At the end of year one, I’m still firmly stuck on which of three eligible bachelorettes to pursue. Moral of the story, be careful what you wish for.
This adaptation brings new friends along the way too, mainly the new pursuable characters: Jennifer and Brandon. Jennifer is a free-spirit type and Brandon is an eccentric artist. I can’t say I found either of them particularly engaging or interesting- though I’d say if I’d had the opportunity to play this game as a child Brandon would have been my first choice. To be honest, I’ve found large parts of the dialogue to be boring and repetitive. Each character has stock phrases that change depending on where you speak to them and how much of their affection you’ve won over. While some side characters, such as Manna, have interesting generic dialogue, some of the characters you’re supposed to be wooing have strikingly little to say. Particularly, Popuri’s blunt “What do you want” every day gets a little tedious after a while.
Surprisingly however, matchmaking is not the primary focus of Friends of Mineral Town. The game’s premise involves you inheriting a farm from your grandfather, rebuilding it from rack and ruin, and turning it into a profitable and homely business once again. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed being able to simply grow vegetables in a game until I had my handy till equipped once more. It makes a nice change to grow turnips peacefully instead of engaging in the cutthroat stalk market elsewhere. There are seasonal vegetables to choose from, such as turnips in the spring and onions in summer, which helps keep things varied. One issue I’ve had is how responsive the Nintendo Switch is compared to the controls on the original DS. The character moves quite fast with the slightest adjustment of the controller, which coupled with my trigger happy fingers has led to me tilling and watering willy nilly as opposed to in a neat 3×3 square. It’s a minor annoyance, and one I’ll mostly attribute to my own clumsiness with the controls. It has, however, ruined many an even vegetable patch for me.
Another new feature differing from the original Friends of Mineral Town has been the inclusion of two more farm animals. Aside from the usual cows, chickens, sheep and horses, you can have alpacas and angora rabbits. You can collect and sell the fur of both animals, making them both cute and profitable in many ways. The inclusion of more farm animals is always a plus in my book, even if the rotund chickens remain my firm favourite on my farm.
Ultimately, Friends of Mineral Town is very simple compared to competing games on the market right now. It may have updated features from the 2003 version, but it’s going to find it hard to compete with more feature heavy games, such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons. However, a large part of the appeal is going to be revisiting the game and its litany of nostalgic character, to see them in a new light. For anyone reminiscing about games of Harvest Moon past, or looking for a first segue into the franchise, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is the obvious choice.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is available right now on Nintendo Switch.
Writer, artist, perpetual holder of notions.
Despite being a remake of a 2003 Game Boy title, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town holds its own against games of today. With a combination of nostalgic characters and brand new features, the game has done as good a job as could be expected in bringing the friends from Mineral Town back for a new generation.