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Story Of Seasons: A Wonderful Life Review - Plenty Of Charm, But Not The Cream Of The Crop

EDITORS' RATING : 5 / 10
Pros
  • Classic farm simulation design
  • Mellow musical score
Cons
  • Controls are not always intuitive
  • Third person view is difficult to manage at times
  • Game design components are aged
  • Visual design is dated
  • NPCs are uninspired

A PC code for "A Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life" was provided to Zaaz for this review. The game will be available on June 27 for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.

Everyone has a favorite farm simulation game. It's a genre that beckons you away from the hustle and bustle of both real life and other, more demanding games. Harvesting pumpkins in the comforting glow of a computer screen while the world outside literally and metaphorically burns scratches a corner in the brain that more responsible therapeutic outlets can't touch. But even with the comfort that it brings, any modern (and future) farming sim faces the significant challenge of creating a compelling enough landscape to which players would welcome investing hundreds of hours in. The mechanics of such a sim game are already polished; this leaves developers with the responsibility of cultivating enough townsfolk drama, magnetic interpersonal relationships, and otherworldly intrigue to command hundreds of hours of play.

In the early days of farm sims, a couple of decades ago, crossing that threshold was easy, especially for one of — if not the — original farm sim, "Harvest Moon," now rebranded as "Story of Seasons." This game franchise was among the first to start working to perfect this menu- and inventory-intensive, long-term-play game style. One of the most successful "Harvest Moon" editions, "A Wonderful Life," was remade for a 2023 release under the new franchise name, and farm sim enjoyers are eager to see how the game has evolved (for better or for worse). Unfortunately, this farm sim doesn't feel like it's breaking too much new ground.

A deeper delve into the mechanics of farming

One point that "Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life" deserves to earn is its dedication to actual principles of farming. In continuing the comparison of "A Story of Seasons" to "Stardew" and other farm sims, there's a lot more attention to species variations and general farming considerations. Most notably, cows must be bred and birth a calf in order to actually produce milk. This is a sharp prong of logic in the sides of anyone who's played "Stardew Valley," where cows — and any milk-producing livestock — will pump out animal byproducts indefinitely without breeding. As another example of this attention to detail, soil has varying quality levels resulting in different fertilization needs. 

Generally speaking, the actual farm simulation mechanics of the game operate much like similar titles. There are four seasons, each spanning ten days, and days can take roughly 20 minutes to complete. Different crops can be grown during different seasons, and the market value of crops varies by what is in season. The dedication to realism is a double-edged sword, though, with nuggets of wisdom about caring for livestock, farming, and the townspeople stashed about the farm in the form of NPC guide Takakura's notebooks. Sure, it's more realistic than, for instance, a handy pop-up reminder when you want to execute a task, but in some way, it can be an annoyance — especially since the instruction in Takakura's notes can be a bit patchworky at times, leaving the player to make semi-frequent assumptions. 

A bigger map would also be welcomed. Your opportunities for exploration and farming real estate are limited, so if you're a player that finds the most thrill in turning over new stones, you'll run out of excitement quickly. 

A grievance in user design

To list all of the small ways the controls of this sim game should be changed would be splitting hairs, but it boils down to misguided user design. Hopping between different control territories is common — sometimes WASD, sometimes the tab or enter or escape command, sometimes the mouse, sometimes the arrows buttons — and far more than what should be necessary. For example, when a fillable form is presented to you (such as to name an animal) you must first click in the form, type your entry, click out of the fillable space, then click the "next" button. Perfect user design would've made these forms as easy as typing your entry as soon as the form is presented, then hitting enter to proceed — no finagling with clicking the mouse necessarily. And since button remapping isn't an option in this game, you're stuck with the clunky control flow. 

The graphics are nicely upgraded from the early 2000s game on which this remake is inspired, but still, the visual design seems to cling to an aesthetic that many similar games have since matured out of. There's also complaint with the third-person view of this game. The view is incapable of smoothly following the player and frequently needs manual adjustment; a fixed third-person view behind the avatar might be much more intuitive here. 

The community has heart but lacks depth

"Story of Seasons" uses familiar mechanisms to encourage conversation and relationship development — triggering some events based on location, relationship level, or game progress. The dialogue and backstory quality of this farming sim's NPCs aren't the worst, but it's nothing to write home about. All of the personal remarks — often based on a shared recipe, a recent gift, or the quality of crops sold — are enjoyable. At times, the dialogue interactions has a vapid, small-talk quality to them, and the lack of depth in backstory development wis most disappointing. 

Most of the eligible singles are also really, really cheesy. Whether that grows on you or rubs you the wrong way will vary from player to player, but the game puts quite a bit of pressure on you to pick one, considering the fact that it's designed to eventually put marriage and children at the forefront over farming. If you're a sucker for cheese, the personalities of most NPCs will likely eventually grow on you, especially with how they're gracefully designed to evolve and age alongside your own character. 

It's a fine game for loyalists

There are a lot of hurdles that modern farm sims face in order to stand out. "Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life" tries, but falls just a bit short. Even the sliver of fantastical element encounters — the so-called nature sprites, pictured above — prove to be by and large disappointing, especially when stumbling upon their forest tree-stump hideaway, hoping for some magical adventure and finding that nothing happened except to be handed a recipe card, which the map was already littered with.

However, the realistic farming aspects and the many quality of life upgrades from the OG "Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life" — such as item stacking — make the game a not entirely unworthy investment. It's not recommend as a first title for farm sim beginners, as overall direction during "A Wonderful Life" is a bit bogged down on more than one occasion. But on the other hand, "A Wonderful Life" does well at presenting the core of what makes a farming sim game successful — family life, and agricultural commodities — and trims out the rest, like combat and crafting, for anyone that wants a simple game that sticks to the necessities. Ultimately, the game intends for you to play through several in-game decades' worth of life, be fruitful and multiply, and eventually each old age. You just might find that there isn't enough gravity to the life you're supposed to be building to justify sticking around for the long haul.

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