I remember happily collecting cows and raising a child in the now two-decade-old Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, but now I realize how tedious it was after playing the 2023 remake.
Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life is about building a family as much as a farm, but both the farming and socializing fall short in comparison to modern farming sims. This could be a charming adventure with a literal lifetime of activities to do thanks to its aging process and speedy day-to-day gameplay. Developer Marvelous even added same-sex marriage and new bachelors to help spice up the dating pool. However, those additions don’t do enough to cancel out the bland backdrops, forgettable characters, and a few quirks that make it feel more dated than it should.
Your story, as so many of these do, starts with taking over your father’s farm in Forgotten Valley – however, this adventure quickly becomes about more than just planting crops.
A Wonderful Life makes it clear early on that your relationships with the local townsfolk are the goalposts that matter rather than how much cash you’ve invested into your barn. Of course, improving your farming and relationships go hand in hand, but farming goals don’t have a time limit. Meanwhile, your playthrough will actually end abruptly if you don’t manage to get married within the first year – a strange choice that forces you to interact with romantic interests rather than letting those connections come naturally.
However, one of A Wonderful Life’s highlights is its aging system, which encourages newlyweds to start raising a child into a functioning adult with their own hopes and dreams. The town, which will start to feel like its own character after a season or two, also changes in interesting ways as the years pass over six different “life chapters.” Townsfolk will age over time, new furniture and upgrades will become available, the dig site will expand, and other changes will slightly affect gameplay. That’s assuming you can stay invested for that long, though; A Wonderful Life can last you 30 years of in-game time if you play until the end, so it appears to lean on the hope you will feel invested enough in raising your child to build your farm up over those years. Each day takes about 25 minutes to play if you stay up until late evening, and since there are four seasons with 10 days each, it takes about 15 to 20 hours to finish a single year. While I did enjoy my first full year, it didn’t intrigue me enough to want to make it all the way into old age.
Characters don’t have interesting backstories to invest in.
“It’d be more exciting to nurture relationships if the characters had interesting backstories to invest in, but they just don’t. A Wonderful Life doesn’t put enough detail into relatable inner conflicts or complicated pasts for me to connect with. The bachelors and bachelorettes here bond with you in short, uninteresting cutscenes that try way too hard to ship you together. Many of the conversations I had with potential love interests felt surface-level, enough that it was a drag for me to get to know them in that first year. Most of the dialogue feels like small talk that you would have with the cashier at a coffee shop rather than neighborly banter. I don’t need another person to ask me about the weather or start explaining their life story unprompted. To its credit, the dialogue sometimes changes contextually depending on your location. The manager of the neighboring farm once explained why she was helping the inn owners with their crops when I spoke to her at their garden in the middle of town. A couple of villagers even commented on the milky soup they bought from my shop. One of the bachelors also told me that my crops tasted terrible after I gave him an orange as a gift (thanks, Matt). That’s more than a lot of farm sim residents can manage, and it made them seem a little more aware of the world around them.
The townsfolk also mix up their dialogue through the seasons and growing affection levels, and A Wonderful Life’s commitment to being a “living” game helped carry me through its otherwise repetitive structure. This inspired me to investigate if any of the gifts I gave them would lead to an amusing conversation. Sometimes, you want the aloof farmhand to tell you all your crops taste terrible so that you can feel joy when he finally says one of them tastes good. Or maybe you want to play until at least autumn to witness the grouchy girl at the inn say she actually enjoys the weather for once.
A Wonderful Life does a good job streamlining many of the tedious bits from the original game with item stacking, the ability to sell more than one item at a time to the peddler, and a more straightforward way to upgrade tools. Its updated graphics brighten and smooth the grittier texture of the original game into something that feels more cutesy, too, and it offers more customization options so that the protagonist feels more like you.
You can choose from a variety of skin, hair, and eye colors, specify your gender, and even buy seasonal outfits that I enjoyed changing between to shake things up. Some things felt unintuitive as a fan of the genre.
“These quality of life changes make it easier to play than the original. However, it frequently pushes you to learn through trial and error and read Takakura’s Notes, the text tutorials that teach you everything from how often you should water crops to where you can buy animals. Things that I took for granted in other farming games, like how much food cows need and where to sell items, are hidden in the pages of these otherwise easy-to-miss notes. It might’ve been wiser to have them pop up during relevant moments of gameplay instead of relying on me finding them by chance.
I stumbled through a few hiccups even after finding those notes, like not realizing that the soil was empty because of lingering green leaves left on the ground after harvest, or that my potatoes wouldn’t grow fast enough to survive the spring in poorer-quality soil. Takakura’s Notes, which are lengthy enough to cover most topics, didn’t prepare me for that. A Wonderful Life does its best to weave these tidbits of information into random dialogues, but even then, you might mess a few things up because of preconceived notions of how farming sims work. That does at least mean it might be less of a hassle for people new to farming sims to understand because they’ll have to learn from scratch, but these things felt unintuitive as a fan of the genre.
I eventually hit my stride about a season or so in, when I’d learned more about the crops and animals. An average day consists of watering crops, milking cows, collecting eggs, picking flowers off the ground, and generally finding the best way to monetize everything. Unfortunately, the cash creeps in slower than your average farming sim because of how the shipping box limits what you can sell. You can only sell items that can be produced on your farm like milk, eggs, and crops, even if they come from other sources. That means no selling flowers, fish, or failed dishes. You need to wait for Van, the traveling vendor, to sell the rest of your junk. You could also sell it yourself in the middle of town, but that requires standing in the middle of the street for hours at a time when you could be doing something more productive like fishing…