While I am certain I played earlier versions of the game, the one I vividly remember obsessing over was Friends of Mineral Town. As the series progressed, some of my favorite aspects were dropped from it, such as the in-depth mining system, and the farming system increasingly became more difficult, much more of a chore. By the time I had seduced Sanjay in A New Beginning, I swore that I would not play the next game if they added any more complexity to the crop raising system.
And then I rejoiced, because with the announcement of Story of Seasons came the promise of a simplified crop system. I was elated. The game promised so much that I wanted: The chance to run my own store, character customization and wifi gameplay. Bring it on!
Unfortunately, once I had the game in my hands, I found that Story of Seasons had fallen far behind similar games in its addictive and entertaining qualities. The tutorial itself was painfully slow, lasting one full in-game week, and sadly, seemed to set the pace for the entire game. Not only was I unable to skip or even speed up this tutorial, it failed to provide some very important information, such as having to press a button while looking at the calendar in order to see when traveling merchants were scheduled to come to town.
While simplifying the crop system was very much needed, it seems that the developers decided to remove the chance to get ahead along with crop complexity. There was no longer any reason to try and discover how to best utilize every second of every day, because you could not unlock anything, such as those precious silky chicken eggs, any sooner. New items, crops and animals were all time locked, encouraging you to blow through the days as fast as you can to get to that magical unlock point, rather than carefully managing your time in order to see just how quickly you could accomplish a goal.
|Image courtesy of videochums|
And then there was the social component. While Story of Seasons does support both an online connectivity feature and a local Streetpass option, they are both so minimal and uninspiring that you may as well be playing Farmville. One upon a time, the ability to enter into someone else's game with a 'magic wand' to offer some invisible boost to the happiness/value of an animal or crop was mind blowing. It would have been cutting edge technology. Those days passed, and we're not on Facebook. Gamers who use the 3DS system expect far more at this point in time.
|Image courtesy of gameinformer|
While games like Animal Crossing, Fantasy Life and Monster Hunter 4 allow up to three players to enter a host's game and play mini games, chat and trade items in real time, the online gameplay in Story of Seasons allows for no text chat, and does nothing to encourage social bonding. Instead, players get a magic wand and sprint across the farm, 'blessing' everything they can as quickly as they can, so that they can rush off to do the same for the next host, all with the hope the host will reward their time with a useful item. Hosts are not even allowed to offer some of the most useful or exciting items, as things such as silky eggs are not allowed to be gifted.
The social component in the Story of Seasons games needs a drastic and immediate update if the franchise hopes to remain relevant. This does present some rather difficult challenges, the biggest of which has to be the time factor. Time ticks away quickly within the world of Story of Seasons, and time is far more important to game play than in Fantasy Life or Animal Crossing. Having other players over could mess up your gameplay and could potentially require some pretty intense planning. So what is the solution?
One simple solution is a mulit-player co-op.
Instead of bringing others to their own farms, players could band together at a communal farm, where those who have exchanged 3DS codes can farm together. Combining their resources, co-op members could contribute animals, seeds and other resources. Everyone involved in the co-op could receive a portion of the harvest, either equally distributed or based upon the amount of care given. Players could also exchange their goods with other members of the co-op. In order to ensure everyone is still active and involved, those who do not visit the co-op for a certain amount of time could be removed, with the option to be invited later.
|Image courtesy of gameskinny|
Imagine, also, being one of those dedicated players who has carefully budgeted time and resources and has unlocked silky eggs or five star crops shortly after the games release. Being able to sell those items at a premium to other players could easily fund your farm upgrades. On the other end of the spectrum, offering up such desirable items at a low price could be a blessing for a new player, giving them an extra cash boost in that lean first year on the farm. Pokemon players know the joy of getting a rare or powerful Pokemon via Wondertrade, imagine the same kind of item coming from a generous farmer in Story of Seasons. It is this kind of human connection, even if virtual and anonymous, that helps bond players to a game.
So far as graphics are concerned, well, I have another complaint there. It's hard not to compare Story of Seasons with Animal Crossing, as the two games have so much in common. While Animal Crossing has kept its graphics cartoony and bright, Story of Seasons moved to an odd mishmash that is overly simple in some cases and overly textured in others. Its color pallets have also suffered. While winter in game is lovely, the ground covered with twinkling snow, I find autumn to be downright depressing. Instead of painting the game with vibrant, inspirational colors, everything turns brown and drab, leaving me yearning for a blanket of snow to just make it stop. Also, while spring is nice, it is visually dull compared to spring in Animal Crossing:
Despite all my complaints, Story of Seasons did offer some improvements to the overall series. While it was slow going, there were certainly well developed characters who made it worth the slog. As mentioned earlier, the simplified crop system makes growing crops more enjoyable and less of a chore. Then there is the ability to (finally!) customize your character was also a real treat. While Story of Seasons did not allow for same-sex relationships, the customization allows for all characters to wear all apparel and hair styles, so you could effectively cheat the system by selecting a male and dressing it as a female, or vice versa. It's not the same as an actual same-sex relationship, but at least it's one step closer.
|Image courtesy of Cruchyroll|
Until then, all I can do is hope that the next major title in the Story of Seasons franchise will find a way to, once again, offer the charm, addition and entertainment of its earlier installments.