In the last couple of weeks, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town has become my go-to game any time I need to just take a load off. Get home from a long day of work, fire up Story of Seasons. Downtime before going to sleep–Story of Seasons. Not feeling well–Story of Seasons. Between its cute presentation, slice-of-life charm, and simple, satisfying game loops, the Friends of Mineral Town is the perfect chill-out-and-feel-good game.
The game opens with your player-named main character moving from the city to inherit an old, rundown farm. After receiving a friendly welcome from the mayor, clearing the rocks and weeds from a small patch of the field, planting your first seeds, your adventure in agriculture begins in earnest.
Much of that adventure revolves around a daily routine: wake up at 6am, water your crops, gather up anything that’s fully grown, drop some (or all) of your harvest into a nearby shipping box, maybe plant some more seeds. Once you start getting livestock, add daily feeding and grooming into that mix.
There’s no way to describe that without making it sound boring, but it’s far from—mundane, certainly, but in the most soothing, relaxing way possible. There’s a low-key sense of accomplishment that comes with finally being able to harvest the vegetables you’ve been tending to for the last few in-game weeks, and a nice financial return when you ship them, too. That money then goes into upgrading your farm, improving your tools, and buying new animals.
Once all your chores are done, the rest of the day is yours to get to know the people of Mineral Town. It’s a small town, but full of interesting people like Popuri, who lives on the chicken farm next door—her cheerful attitude and love of chickens is infectious, but she also struggles with feeling overshadowed by her older brother, especially since their father left to try find a cure for their sick mother. Or Kai, a handsome, mysterious traveler who shows up in the town every summer, much to the delight of some of the thirstier people in town. Or Marie, the painfully shy owner of the local library who’s also trying to write her own novel.
Farming may be what much of the core game loop revolves around, but it’s building those friendships (and maybe even finding love and marriage) that makes up the longer-term goal of Friends of Mineral Town. Talking to people regularly and giving them gifts are a surefire way to get others to like you, and when certain conditions are met—typically based around having relationship values at a certain level, and showing up in the right place at the right time—you’ll be treated to a little vignette that gives you a little bit more insight into the lives of the other residents.
One particularly welcome touch for the global release of Friends of Mineral Town is that same-gender relationships are fully supported. In the Japanese release, as with a couple of previous Story of Seasons games, there was a system whereby you could become “best friends” with someone of the same gender. Best friends are functionally the same as marriage, right down to a “Best Friends Ceremony” at the local church, but the fact that it wasn’t called marriage still created a sense of being equal but different.
For the Western release, XSEED decided to just turn that into marriage proper, and it’s a very welcome addition for a game whose whole appeal is an escape to a sort of idyllic, simple life. (And before anyone starts throwing a tantrum about “SJWs” or whatever, Friends of Mineral Town‘s producer is fully on board with the decision.)
Mineral Town is also home to plenty of festivals, which offer a chance to both bond with your fellow Mineralites (?) and take part in some fun little mini-games and challenges. A seasonal horse racing derby is a chance to bet on races and win tickets that you can exchange for rare items, and if you have a horse of your own, you can take part in the races yourself. There’s an annual cooking contest, a pet appreciation day, dedicated festivals for chickens, cows, and sheep where you can show off your animals, a harvest festival where everyone in the town contributes their choice of vegetable to massive stew, a fireworks event, and a New Year’s soba party, to name just a few.
If you’re feeling a bit less sociable, you can also explore Mineral Town’s nearby surrounds in search of materials that are vital for improving your farm and gear. Stumps, logs, and rocks are an important source of wood and stone for building and upgrading structures, and a couple of mineral-filled mines offer a sort of dungeon crawling experience, only with stamina management in lieu of monsters to fight, as you search for rare metals, ores, and items. Keeping your stamina in check is a key part of Friends of Mineral Town‘s basic game loop anyway—there’s only so much farm work you can do before you need a good meal or a dip in the spring to recuperate—but the mines up the ante a bit since you can’t just nip out to to the hot spring. Each time you enter, they start again at level one, with a new semi-randomised layout to explore.
The mines are probably Friends of Mineral Town at its most traditionally “gamelike”, but there’s a lot you can do with the rest of the game to raise the stakes a bit. Between different growing times, values, seasonal factors, and whether a given crop is able to fruit repeatedly, there’s plenty of scope to dig into the nitty-gritty of optimising your farm’s production if you’re that way inclined. Basically, if keeping a spreadsheet open while you’re playing to track your growing operations appeals to you, Story of Seasons will fully support you in that endeavour.
Likewise, if you really want to game the relationship system to try and maximise your friendship stats and get married as quickly and efficiently as possible, you can do that. There are also a handful of secret relationships to uncover, with the trickier requirements to meet to get things moving.
At the same time, these things are optional. For me—and, I’d wager, most of the people who’d be interested in a game like this in the first place—the appeal lies in those simple joys of daily life in Mineral Town. This is a game that doesn’t ask a lot of you in terms of mental or emotional investment, but it gives a lot back in exchange. It’s soothing in a way that so few other games are, with adorable character designs and presentation and cheerful soundtrack to really drive that home. When you’re sick of the bombast of capital-V Video Games, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town offers up the medium’s equivalent of quietly, peacefully pottering around in the garden on a sunny autumn day.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is developed by Marvelous AQL and published by XSEED Games and Marvelous Europe. It launches on 10 July 2020 for Nintendo Switch in Europe/Oceania, and on 14 July 2020 for Nintendo Switch in North America and Steam.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.