Come on down to Mineral Town (again) and date 12 lucky contestants

Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town (2021)

If you were suddenly transported into the last game world you visited, what would it be and how would you fare? Bit of a kick in the teeth if you’re a big Dark Souls buff, but you might be in your element if the last one you played was Minecraft, specifically a Minecraft world with a playable Pokémon Red, enormous booby angel statues, and no spiders. Actually, why not go one better? Does anyone have a lend of Dead or Alive Xtreme Volleyball 3?

It’s always a fun little thought exercise to play, and what made me think of this is my latest game of choice, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town. I must say, and not as a kneejerk, if there’s one place I’d love to be warped into, it’s Mineral Town. It’s just a simple enough town, with a mountain, and a beach either side of it, wish your overrun, rotten farm standing adjacent.

It’s all pretty simple really, but what more could a man want? And anyway, when you try a bit of smalltown living, it’s really the people, the inhabitants who make Mineral Town the place to be. I love the cast of characters in this game, and it was great to dive in and meet them all over again in this much appreciated remake.

This is because, as most gaming legends like me know, SOS: FOMT is a remake of the 2004 GBA game, which I absolutely lapped up. And a remake suits me perfectly, you know. You’re aware of my sentiment that the only games coming out in future should be remakes and remasters. There are no more good ideas left – they’ve all been done – so stop trying to be clever with your farming simulator because you’ll never outsell Stardew Valley anyway should be the message here.

But a remake is advisable as well because there’s already enough Harvest Moon, Story of Seasons and Rune Factory games out there to get you all cabbage-brained, even if you’re aware of the distinctions between all three. Leaving aside the Rune Factory games, which are their own thing, their own addictively, aggressively, anime thing, then I’d have to say that the GBA’s FOMT and A Wonderful Life for GameCube were about as good as things got for the series – after those two, it was all over.

So what we’re playing today in the Nu-Twenties is essentially a GBA game. Not necessarily a bad thing – think of how many zillions of people would rebuy Pokémon Emerald? Or clamour for a localisation of Mother 3. But there’s at least a graphical change here. Mind you, not everyone was happy about the new look, especially the character designs, which I’ll get onto in a minute. I think the new look is alright, personally, but then I thought Secret of Mana PS4 looked grand as well, so don’t take my word for it.

In essence the gameplay is the exact same, bar your usual quality of life improvements that’ll help you keep track of all the townsfolk you’re currently stalking. Oh, and you can now access the centre crop on a 3×3 patch, which is life-changing. One could argue that the game becomes a lot easier due to these changes – you semi-regularly receive items that sell for crazy amounts of Gold, and I don’t think your animals can die anymore, even if you put them on a non-voluntary hunger strike. Still, try going down those bloody tedious mines all over again and telling me things have become too easy.

But are we here to cough up a lung in a dingy old mine? Not at all, we’re here to soak up some proper atmosphere, and that’s what FOMT has always been chock full of. With all the fun Heart Events and other incidental conversations happening, it’s definitely a world to be immersed in, thanks in no small part to the translation being far better this time around.

It’s easy to imagine yourself as the happy-go-lucky farmer in this game, perhaps having a slightly awkward encounter with Popuri down at the beach, before your dog breaks the ice and the tension while catching the frisbee. Or maybe during the winter’s light snow, when the sky is deep sea blue and the air is mighty cold and crisp, you catch the shy Marie just as she’s leaving the library and you help her to lock up. That’s before, if you’re daring enough, you escort her home by holding one of her mittened hands. You see? Never mind trying to find a game with a good romance plot – just play a game like this and insert yourself into the proceedings instead, as you begin to woo a harem of bachelorettes.

Or bachelors? Yes, new to the series is same-sex marriage, although I think the Japanese are still too conservative for this, so instead it’s called Super Fun Happy Friendship over there or somesuch. Anyway, I just take it to mean that half the blokes in the game are now bisexual, which will find favour with many players.

Actually, I sometimes wonder if a straight male farmer like me is in the minority here. There are some game series which find a niche within certain groups – as an example, Need for Speed is a series strictly for chavs. Call of Duty is for hyperactive children. European Truck Driver Simulator is for anoraks and doleites. Well, HM/SOS seems to be the LGBT game, so for those who want to be a gay farmer, you can fill your boots.

I suppose in that case we’d best look at the marriage candidates in closer detail then, since it seems to have become a tradition of mine, and in any case that’s what we’re really here for. I’ll start with the Bachelors actually, and closest to home it’s Rick, who I may have previously called a “bespectacled div” or some other non-PC term. Well, he’s still an overprotective bit of a prat, but I couldn’t deny he’s had a “glow-up” in this game, to use the parlance of our times.

Rick’s an irritable man though, and the usual subject of his ire tends to be Kai, who, now that I’m an expert in Japanese culture (I’ve been eating bundles of ramen lately) reminds me very much of the Dragon Quest V protagonist. But before you laugh, remember that guy got a wife and kids without saying a single word – we’re talking majorly prolific here. If Kai can bring even a fifth of that Hero’s game, he’ll be doing alright.

Another prolific man is the doctor, still just named Doctor, who for me bears a striking resemblance to David Duchovny these days, who you may remember famously “suffered” from sex addiction. Well, if you can’t keep up with that, better try Gray, although he’s less emo and missing his iconic hat these days, so where’s the fun in that? Or Cliff, who I hardly ever saw when I played to be quite honest, so it’s little wonder he left town.

I wonder if the two new additions, Brandon and Jennifer, knocked Cliff’s nose out of joint a bit? Brandon being the new hard-ass, who I’m not too fond of, and Jennifer, our first bachelorette, being a friend of the earth hippy, and hippies we’re not too fond of either. Going less blonde on the spectrum is Karen, whose redesign definitely drew a bit of flack. Well, it’s on the inside what counts, right?

And Karen’s still the same hard-drinking, shit-cooking cool older sister type from before. Popuri is more like the younger sister, and by not putting “step” before sister I’m bringing us dangerously close to a perilous world, so let me switch back and say that Elly is the same nursey sweetheart as ever. Newly named Ran differs from previously translated Ann in that she doesn’t look like a little cowgirl anymore, but definitely is the most relatable and down to earth. A good thing? Hey, it’s your harem, you decide.

But boy, are we saving the best for last. Marie, née Mary, the glasses-wearing librarian. She’d remind you of a nerdier Belle from Beauty & the Beast. In fact, I’d say the old Mary was like the GBA FOMT – cute in its way, yet a bit too childish, and to a lot of people, probably not a standout. SOS:FOMT puts 15 years on Marie and, really makes her a perfect analogy for this game – plenty of beauty if you’re looking for it, charming as well, and she’s something you can lose yourself in very easily, wondering where all that time went, but also wondering where she’d been all your life.

23 December 2022

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