Ask your average kid what they want to be when they grow up, and you'll likely get all kinds of answers - an astronaut perhaps, a singer probably, or maybe even a dog (true story). One profession you probably won't hear as much, though, is a farmer - which is perhaps why Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns, the latest in a long line of farming-come-life sims, starts the way it does. Beginning with your average nuclear family sitting down to dinner, your father ends up flabbergasted when his kid (that's you) refuses to move with the rest of the family to follow dad's work. Instead, you announce that you intend to go your own way as a farmer, and eke out a living on the land. Eventually, your father begrudgingly relents, but only on a few conditions - one, you must move in with your pro farmer uncle, Frank, in order to learn the tricks of the trade, and two, you must prove you know enough about farming to survive on your own, or else you'll be back home for good.
If nothing else, the plot at least offers a bit of a variation on the usual dead-relative-leaves-you-a-dilapidated-farm story found in many of its predecessors. You see, despite Story of Seasons being only the second game to carry the Story of Seasons name (we really enjoyed the first game when we took a look at it in our review), it's actually the umpteenth entry in the long-running Harvest Moon series. Thanks to a bit of a confusing falling out between the companies involved, a name change was in order from around 2013, and all the Harvest Moon games after that became Story of Seasons. To muddy things further, Natsume are actually still releasing games under the Harvest Moon label, developed by a different company (which, so far, haven't been as good).
At the heart of any good Harvest Moon-type game is its simple, slice-of-life farming mechanics - you inherit a vacant plot of land, and set about tending to crops, raising animals and generally carving out a little agricultural niche for yourself, while chatting with the townfolk (and romancing the villagers) in your downtime. Fortunately, it's nowhere near as back-breaking and time-consuming as actual farm work, as everything here's been streamlined to the point where a handful of button presses will see your fields ploughed, planted and watered, and your animals, fed, groomed and milked, leaving you with the rest of the day to wander around town, for a spot of shopping and chatting with the locals. As time passes, the seasons change and the crops you can grow will change too - and with each crop taking a certain number of days to fully mature, time management is somewhat important too (you don't want to leave it until two days before the end of the season to plant your potatoes, for example, when they take seven days to go from seed to edible tuber, as that would be a waste of good seeds).
But while crops tend to be only available seasonally - seeing as you can't grow strawberries in the middle of winter - your animals can be a reliable source of income all year round, providing you keep them well fed. Whether it's your standard cows, sheep and chickens or the more exotic alpacas, quails and angora rabbits, looking after your animals is a similarly refined process, with daily maintenance condensed into a simple set of brief button presses to milk, shear and brush your way to perfect produce. For both animal produce and crops, the overall quality of each specimen is graded from one to five stars, with higher star ratings commanding higher selling prices - so it's well worth taking the time and effort to befriend your animals, because happy animals make for happy produce.
Once your chores are done and dusted, you're largely free to explore the surrounding towns as you wish, shopping, chatting and fishing away the hours until it's time to return home and put yourself and your animals to bed. While there's not really any particularly outlandish characters to befriend (unlike some games we could mention!), everyone in Trio of Towns is friendly enough, in a light-hearted and innocent way, even if they are a little too two dimensional. There's a gruff guy of few words, a ditsy harvest goddess, a chatty grandmother, a somewhat strict OCD doctor, a sassy restaurateur and an adorable florist to name but a few.
It's in these characters where Story of Seasons really shines, as you stumble upon all kinds of cute little story scenes along the way, whether it's the village ladies learning about the language of flowers, or cowboy postman Wayne's harem of crazed groupies (clear off hussies - he's ours!). That being said, as much as we like Wayne's flirtatious friendliness, there's something to be said for the swarthy Lulukoko handyman, Ludus too, who could fix our farm any time - as with so many Harvest Moon style games, figuring out which of the towns' eligible bachelors (or bachelorettes, if you're playing as a guy) to pursue is half of the fun.
When you're not farming or playing the field, though, Trio of Towns has another way to keep you busy, in the form of 'Part-Time Jobs'. A great way of earning a bit of extra cash while you're still learning your way around a hoe, these are essentially short little jobs posted by the townsfolk for you to do, seeing as you seem to be the only one who bothers to do anything around there. There's wood to chop, crops to water and animals to brush, most of which take you all of a minute or so to complete - in fact, it probably took the character in question longer to post the ad than it would have for them to get off their backside and weed their own garden, but hey ho, their loss is our gain. Other requests include shipping a certain number of vegetables, delivering packages in and around town or becoming a test subject for Dr. Ford's medicine, with the latter paying exceedingly well, but which is also a bit of a health lottery as to whether your stamina will suffer, which could see you collapsing into your cabbages if you get too tired.
As you can probably infer from the title, Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns has not one, not two, but three different towns within walking distance from your farm. Despite their close proximity to each other, each different town has its own unique feel, characters and atmosphere, as well as a few local speciality crops and/or animals. Westown, where your Uncle Frank lives, is a wild west-themed town, complete with cactuses, cowboy hats and saloon doors, specialising in all your familiar farm animals and crops, while Lulukoko has more of a tropical, Hawaiian-esque feel to it, with its sprawling sandy beaches, palm trees and plentiful flowers, and a preference tropical fruit trees and fishy produce. The final village, Tsuyususa, is very much a traditional Japanese-style town, with paddy fields, oriental buildings and traditional tea houses galore, selling unique animals and produce such as quails and rice respectively.
The three distinct towns that surround your farm make for one of Trio of Towns' more interesting mechanics. Farming veterans will likely be aware that, in previous Story of Seasons/Harvest Moon-type games, the produce you ship out gets picked up by a local shopkeeper/an unknown figure in the night, with cash deposited in exchange. For Trio of Towns, however, you can choose which of the three locales you want to sell to, which helps improve your working relationship with the town in question, bolstering the 'Town Link Rank' you have with each place. Graded from E to A for each of the three towns, your 'Town Link Rank' is the key to unlocking new items in stores and opening up new story segments along the way.
You can bolster your standings with towns by simply shipping stuff off to them, or helping out the townsfolk from time to time, in order to raise your bar to the next milestone - but when it comes to transitioning form an E to a D, for example, you'll have a handful of more concrete objectives to fulfil first. Perhaps collecting the materials for a bridge repair, perhaps shipping a ton of milk products, or perhaps renovating the local hot spring, you'll need to work a bit harder if you want to actually be able to rank up. With five different ranks for each of the three towns, you've certainly got your work cut out for you, ensuring that you've always got something to be working towards.
Another person who's keen to make sure you're not slacking off with your farming duties is your father, who'll periodically send you letters/a list of demands, which you must fulfil before he'll even think of seeing you as a competent farmer. Known as 'Farm Tips', they're less about handy secrets to make your life easier, and much more random objectives you need to meet along the way - whether its scrapping together enough money and materials for a house upgrade, owning a certain number of animals, or simply working your backside off to grow a great quality crop. As well as your father's begrudging approval, you'll also earn an extra stamina heart and a farm expansion for your trouble, letting you grow more crops and raise more animals than before. As with the Town Link Ranks, your father's Farming Tips add some structured objectives to work towards in what is generally a bit of an open-ended, free form game.
In fact, about the only real negative to Trio of Towns is that it takes quite a while to get going. Initially, there's but one town to explore, with the others opening up after a fortnight and a month, respectively. New characters move in somewhat slowly, and saving up the money and/or materials for house expansions and new farm buildings can be a bit of a slog, especially in the early days when chopping down a tree takes three days because it saps your stamina so quickly (upgrading your tools can help though). We're not sure if its just us, but we also found watering your crops to be a little finicky at first, seeing as you need to hold down the A button until your character decides they can water no more, rather than trying to gauge it by the colour of the soil - break it off too early and your crops won't 'count' as being watered, and they'll take longer to fruit. We also found ourselves getting our animals stuck on the table in the barn while trying to push them through the door; and once a cow gets jammed on the desk, its exceedingly hard to shift it again without waiting till it decides to move of its own accord. A bigger door - or indeed, some kind of automatic get-your-animals-outside device - would have made things a lot easier, and a lot less arduous, given that shoving six wayward sheep through a small door is finicky at best.
As your writer's first real foray into the series, Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns rekindles a love for the farming/life sim we haven't really felt since Harvest Moon: Animal Parade - with a solid cast of characters, oodles of content and a laid back pace, there's plenty to keep you going here. While it can be a little slow to get going, by mid-summer, when all three towns have opened up, you'll soon find you don't have enough hours in the day, trying to balance all your farm commitments, bachelor-wooing and part-time jobs. We're going to need a bigger barn though…
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS