Review – Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life
A MERE FANTASY!
In today’s burning world, it’s nice to know there’s a type of game tapping into the good of humanity. Some would scream it’s a fictional take on reality, and to that, I say, yeah, you’re goddamn right. Slice-of-life romps would be depressing if they attempted to emulate the bullshit we live through daily. I don’t know about you, but that sounds miserable – so I’m immensely appreciative of developers like Marvelous and publishers such as XSeed. Their fantastic Story of Seasons franchise, formerly known as Harvest Moon, is one I hold dear to my heart, but it isn’t without stumbles. Pioneers of Olive Town, for example, wasn’t terrible, but I wouldn’t say it was up to snuff, either. Regardless, I’m chuffed as nuts to play a classic in the form of this remake.
Now, I never played A Wonderful Life back on GameCube. I’m going in blind as a bat. The only murmurings that I’ve heard is how it’s a far departure from the traditional formula. That fact has me ecstatic, but also cautious. See, change is frightening. Well, I better get over it and throw on my big boy pants because it ain’t going to review itself, so let’s dive waist-deep into an in-depth analysis of this title’s inner workings.
IT’S FOR YOU AND ME!
First, I must recognize how code has been rewritten for the sake of inclusion. As someone that enjoys choosing a female, a habit that began as a tribute after the death of a close friend, I’m absolutely jovial that I can still experience marriage, among other nifty gameplay features. Pronouns can also be freely chosen, giving my non-binary homies a chance to represent themselves. Romance isn’t affected in any fashion, and even my avatar is visually ambiguous regarding sex. All identities are embraced and welcomed.
CHAT THEM UP, YO!
If you’re a virgin of the genre, know that interactions are the bread and butter. To grow a bond with the villagers, sometimes to blissful degrees, I have to exchange pleasantries. Doing that opens the door to learning about their personalities or what kind of material gifts intrigue them. That one piece of information is especially crucial in A Wonderful Life because, for the first time I can recall, there’s a story. Moreover, it isn’t the tired cliche of inheriting a farm from a dead grandpa. No, Dad takes his place – I mean, baby steps, I suppose.
Individuality is vital to the lifeblood of these experiences. If everyone has the same demeanor, it’s boring. Sadly, it’s middling here. Sure, a few have it in spades, but roughly 50% feel tempered. It’s as if they aren’t permitted to burst out of their bubble and show us their authentic selves. I can see it hidden between the lines, and signs do appear periodically. Their charm is trying to bust through, but when it tries, it’s hampered by generic dialogue. The hesitance to let the characters be lively is an odd choice. Again, it won’t apply to everyone. I did find the other half of the cast delightful.
While on the topic of NPCs having their own mannerisms, it’s not vast in the sense of having a strong variety. It plays into stereotypes, such as the loathsome guy that, back in my day, would be seen as emo. As someone with swishy hair as a teenager, I salute the representation. It was also interesting to unravel his background and discover the reason for his distant behavior – it isn’t earth-shattering, of course, but he gains heft. Another girl, the woman I eventually married, has interesting tidbits hiding in her past, but the caveat is that it isn’t as explored as it could have been. It’s surface-level drivel, and while I liked courting her, I wish our conversation delved deeper into detail – whispering sweet nothings into her ear is cute, though.
Speaking of, the second in-game year is friggin adorable. I felt the ice encasing my cold heart melting as warmth settled. Not only that, but it causes a huge wave of immersion to crash into the shores of my brain. If you’re familiar with the marketing campaign, the primary hook for A Wonderful Life is the ability to raise a child. It’s during this portion that I’m given opportunities to personalize my session. For instance, I can choose a name for the baby, though whether they’re a boy, girl, or non-binary is up to Lady Luck. You know, watching the discussions between my family felt wholesome. While I’m sure it won’t be universally praised, I couldn’t stop grinning.
Something else I’m a fan of and hope is carried to future installments is the flirting. I am smitten by how, after having a date with someone, their dialogue reflects it to show, hey, we connected. This year, I gave Persona 5 Royal a ten, but also went on to criticize how NPCs weren’t reacting accordingly after straying away from a platonic relationship. Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life won’t, and again, while minute, it injects a noticeable breath of life into these 3D models. It’s wild how such a small consideration can have such large ramifications on the quality. The playfulness is another aspect I hope slowly slips into the series. After all, there are already remnants in A Wonderful Life, also contributing to believability.
IT’S SILLINESS OVERLOAD!!
What gives me that childlike enthusiasm are the puns. There’s a healthy dosage of them being dished out, and I can’t get enough. Granted, a specific sense of humor is required to appreciate it fully. With that, though, one can notice the charismatic energy I alluded to above emanating from these one-liners. Honest to God, they’re horrible, like, I’m talking bottom of the barrel. Yet, because of how atrocious they are, they manage to circle back to being glorious. It’s as if XSeed rang up my dad for his best, and by that, I mean the dumbest ones he could muster.
LIFE HACK TO EASIER PLANTING!!
Upgrading tools is typically guaranteed in these simulation jaunts. The steps to achieve the next step usually has the player visiting the blacksmith. By trading in materials I gather while inside the mines or foraging in the wilderness, I can build an improved variation that wastes less energy and makes farming easier. It sounds cool, but it’s not applicable here. Speaking to NPCs is the golden ticket to that breezy workload. There has to be a commitment to cozying up to the villagers to form that firm bond. It’s why I vomited about literary prowess. If one isn’t aware of what lies ahead in terms of the writing, then one might feel dissatisfied.
Before I continue, yes, purchasing early upgrades is viable. It’s really only the later forms that need motormouths. I can go from the default to the copper version by shelling out cash. To procure the best of the best, the cream of the crop, I need to make friends. For us introverts, that’s a scary proposition. Thankfully, my girl isn’t a loser. Her extroverted ideologies allow me to live vicariously through her. I should note that the rate at which said tools become available at the merchant, which by the way, he’s accessible on select days, is random, I think. See, I’m not confident in that. There may actually be a couple of prerequisites, but it’s not obvious. Regardless, it acts as evidence of the poor ability to convey things.
I’ll be upfront with y’all; when I saw how the game handles enhancement, I was giddy. I love to mingle, and if the script is superb, which happens to be serviceable, I’m on board. The thing is, not everyone’s an English dweeb like moi. Having to go through the rigmarole of reading dialogue may be a barrier. To be blunt, I know a couple of people that couldn’t be arsed, and as a result, they moved on. Not having the pull of crafting could be a deterrent. There has to be a balance between text and gameplay, but currently, the scales are lopsided. Reading isn’t everyone’s cup of coffee, and that’s what A Wonderful Life wants you to indulge in.
Another reason is I never knew how to get a certain item, as it wasn’t clear who gave me what. It was a complete shot in the dark that didn’t always pan out. Even if I’m diligent in making acquaintances, my efforts could be for naught. Without a goal to strive towards, which is how I’m usually driven in farming simulators, it’s difficult to differentiate the importance of speaking to the elderly couple as opposed to the hippie bard playing guitar underneath a tree. It becomes a mindless task of blabbering to NPCs. Unless there’s genuine intrigue in unraveling pasts, which thankfully is the case 50% of the time. Incidentally, that’s the amount I found well-penned.
Inflation is running roughshod in Story of Seasons. Things like extra clothing options for my avatar aren’t expensive, though. I can easily make enough to supplement the prices and dress up my girl with a limited selection. Where it starts getting egregious is in dwelling expansions. The number is outrageous, reaching well into six figures. It isn’t even exclusive to that, as grabbing cows capable of giving special milk costs an arm and a leg, too. Try as I might to sell what I could, my efforts were for naught as it takes forever and a half to scrounge up the necessary funds. Hopefully, a recession will hit soon and reboots the economy because it’s unsustainable.
My biggest gripe with it, however, is how it bars off a portion of the title. If I can’t afford to expand, I’m only experiencing three-quarters of what was coded. It isn’t very encouraging because the sense of progression is bogged down. In slice-of-life romps, particularly other Story of Seasons entries, affordability seems to be at the forefront. My advancements are also visual, bringing a strong sense of accomplishment to my soul. Seeing those changes is the motivation I need to keep pushing. What’s baffling is that, based on my research, the prices of the GameCube original were modest. For some inexplicable reason, they were raised for this remake. Look, I understand the basic notion of the genre is to mimic reality, but as the kids say, it’s too real. Fishing isn’t even profitable anymore, while crops have minimal value. So, what about mining, you ask; I’ve got bad news.
ROCK WITH ME, BABY!
Going spelunking for different gems was always a great method for quick dinero. It’s a high point because not knowing what I may trip upon is a joy. I don’t know what to tell you; having that element of surprise is low-key addictive. Sure, the act itself consists of repeatedly bashing stones until they crumble, but the repetition never settles in, thanks to that tinge of mystery. As I walked into the underground here, however, I sighed – I wasn’t ready for the disappointment.
See, I’m not breaking rocks with a pickaxe. No, the good of this mechanic has been stripped and replaced by an archeological dig. It sounds sweet on paper, but then you realize what it entails. I have to hover by a hole, mindlessly smashing a button over and over until a fossil or gem appears – it’s tedious. Yeah, I can move around, but when I find my next spot, it’s back to redundancy. It’s a chore, and I’m positive folks will argue how it’s no different in other entries, but it is.
For starters, the site is tiny during the initial year. Given the size, the pool of items I can excavate is decent, so that’s not the issue. The waters get murky when I’m accompanied by two NPCs that circle the area, and they’ll stop suddenly at intervals. If they do so near me, selecting the piece of dirt I was shifting through isn’t easy – my cursor defaults to that character. I’ve got to situate myself precisely for that not to occur, thus making it inconvenient. Now, this gripe alleviates during the second year, but for forty in-game days, I found I’d skip out on being Indiana Jones until the change – constantly readjusting isn’t fun.
The major crime, and one I’ve already touched on, is that nothing holds value. Part of the intrigue and desire to dive into the darkness is knowing I can turn a profit. That sentiment helps to negate the cycle of slamming an input since I’m encouraged to work for my reward. If a patch was released to balance the costs, I could overlook how lame this mechanic is in A Wonderful Life. It would give purpose to the act and help me stomach how monotonous it is because, and it’s worth reiterating, I can visually recognize the strides I’m making. I can’t understate how vital it is to have affordability, but it’s doubly as vital to have the pros outweigh the cons.
UNTIL THE COWS COME HOME!
Animals are essential to the slice-of-life genre, with cows, chickens, dogs, and sometimes, other livestock up for grabs. One aspect that sets A Wonderful Life apart from the others is if you neglect to look after any of them, they perish. See, this remake axes that mechanic, which could be a repellent if you like to have a one-to-one. I didn’t mind the exclusion since my memory is below crap. Luckily, you still obtain a horse to make traveling quicker. What’s probably my favorite feature is how showing affection, be it by brushing or snuggling, boosts the quality of the product they give – milk and eggs receive a higher worth. It’s just a shame exorbitant prices undermine that.
IT’S HARVESTING TIME!
The action of planting veggies and fruit trees won’t bring about innovation. It functions as expected, but where cracks start to shine through is in the cogs powering the machine. When it comes to the length of time it takes for crops to reach maturity, it’s vague. Normally, an exact window is outlined, letting players plan their next move. Instead, it’s a cryptic description, simply stating very quickly or slightly less so. The assumption then, especially of the former, is around three days. Yeah, that’s not what it means, with it taking closer to seven. Since an in-game equals ten, it makes you wonder how it’s considered rapid. Again, tweaking it and ensuring the duration is clearly shown would help – for instance, I could better manage my time.
A POPULATION OF NOT A LOT!
Normally, a title within this genre is focused on a cute little town. Well, we can check that requirement off the list because A Wonderful Life has one. However, the landscape is ugly. One peek is more than enough to acknowledge how empty it is. It would’ve been beneficial to use the power behind Nintendo Switch to bring it up to modern standards. It’s quite weak graphically, with wide open spaces. Thanks to a stronger CPU, it could output many more trees and lush greenery without strain. It needs some serious sprucing up. Nothing occurs, though, resulting in a lifeless layout.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a massive fan of the cartoony look. The cheery blossoms as bright, and the homes have adorable details. The characters aren’t bad, but their designs could have been a bit more inspired. Some look plain, with two girls eerily near identical with subtle differences. It’s also odd that cows are authentically proportional, yet the other animals keep the exaggerated appearance, especially compared to their 2004 iteration. It begs me to ask why the most inane alterations were made, but the important stuff wasn’t fine-tuned.
PEACEFUL AND CALM!
It’s guaranteed that when Story of Seasons releases, the ambiance will be crispy. For example, it never ceases to amaze me how soothing the raindrops are. If I’m near water, a sense of relaxation swallows my body. The music is serene, caressing my ears gently until ecstasy is reached. I loved how depending on the season, what I heard varied. In Springtime, birds chirp loudly. These effects merge together to bring about immersion. It felt like I was there. I also want to acknowledge the seamless transition when I walked on surfaces like grass or dirt.
AND THE FARMER’S VERDICT IS…
Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life likely deserves the praise it received back in 2004, but in 2023, bad decisions prevent history from repeating. Fortunately, a patch or two can address the bulk of my qualms. While I’m bewildered by the price increase, I reckon putting it on par with its former edition will bring the fun factor to its former self. The writing is above acceptable – a fair amount of hits, some misses, but it’s consistently pleasant. I felt a calm in my heart each time. The familiarity is like a toasty blanket encasing me. It excels at being tranquil, but until the hiccups are dealt with, the absence of progression made me want to jump to past entries.
Compared to the original, there’s a huge difference in regards to lighting. The colours are much more vibrant, as well, matching the general vibe these games strive for.
It has that tried and true formula of farming and tending to animals. I love that there’s a story to follow, allowing you to have a child, and growing old.
I love how the sound effects for weather are consistently top-notch. The music is cheerful, although it would have been nice to see it take more of centerstage. The lack of variation is unfortunate.
The ideas here are superb. I was more than eager to see things through. The pricing of upgrades is astronomical, though. It’s going to take a long ass time to reach those numbers.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life is available now on Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X|S.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life was provided by the publisher.