When I first played Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life—back in 2003 when it was still called Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life—I couldn’t really get into it. Truthfully, I couldn’t come to grips with how different it was from more “traditional” Story of Seasons games to fully appreciate all the interesting things it had going on. As I got older and looked back on it, I always acknowledged it was special but never really got around to playing it properly.
Thankfully, Marvelous has been making remaking the classic Story of Seasons games for modern consoles a somewhat regular thing, allowing me to have a proper re-examine of this unique entry in the series that others have certainly borrowed ideas from, but none have really tried to replicate.
To start, I want to say Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life scored MASSIVE points with me by addressing an issue I mentioned in my Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town review. You may recall that I was slightly disappointed with that game’s decision to attach a gender to your character after seemingly giving you options to create a character in non-binary ways.
Well, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life has finally reached the finish line of inclusion by allowing players to create their characters with masculine and feminine features and giving them an option for pronouns instead of gender. While the options are limited to he/her/them, it was genuinely nice to see that Marvelous is finally being as inclusive as possible when it comes to this franchise. Hopefully, this will carry forward in future games.
“Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life has finally reached the finish line of inclusion by allowing players to create their character with masculine and feminine features and giving them an option for pronouns instead of gender.”
Anyway, anyone who has played the original—or any Story of Seasons game, for that matter—will know, the story is as old as time. You play a young person who has recently come into possession of a farm and must use a combination of crops, livestock and miscellaneous to turn it into a thriving source of income. Along the way, players will make friends, find love, and even start a family. However, what separates Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life from its predecessors—and even its successors—is not only its gameplay structure but that it’s also a much more narratively driven game.
This is what I was referring to when I said I couldn’t come to grips with how it played in relation to other Story of Seasons games. A Wonderful Life has so many interesting little mechanics that set it apart from other games, adding challenge while also providing freedom to experience the game’s story and interact with characters. The thing I found most jarring when I first played was how seasons only had ten days—compared to every other game’s 30. But upon reflection, this really isn’t a bad thing since most crops can survive multiple seasons, and the game has a chapter structure, so it doesn’t want players to be stuck in a year for too long.
Much like many games that came after it, time progresses on a second-to-minute scale—so every real-life second is an in-game minute, giving players roughly 20 minutes each day to water their crops, tend to their animals, and converse with the townsfolk. But A Wonderful Life introduced so many charming elements to the gameplay that make it such an interesting experience.
The way crops will dry up throughout the day and can be killed by over-watering or even under-watering; the way cows don’t give as much milk in the summer because it’s too hot, even the way the weather can sporadically change throughout the day makes the gameplay feel genuine and makes the Forgotten Valley feel like a living, breathing place.
But what really makes Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life stand out is its story, which unlike previous entries in the franchise—or ones that came after the original—features a forward progression of time. As players complete chapters, their character will age and will see their child—should they choose to have one—watch them grow into an adult and help shape the person they’ll become. Not only that, but things will change around the Forgotten Valley as well, creating a world that feels like it’s growing with the player.
Functionally, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life still plays and feels much like the original—though I’ll admit it has been 20 years since I played it, so my memory is a little fuzzy. It’s definitely a “don’t fix what isn’t broken” mentality, although if there’s one criticism I have with not only this game, but also Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, it’s a general lack of polish.
Visually, the game looks great, maintaining the charm of the original while updating character models and graphics where they were needed, and the updated character models give the game a fresh look while staying true to the original. But the lack of polish shines through—ironically—with the little things.
Character animations are a little choppy, and certain animations feel a bit underwhelming and pull you out of the experience. Also, and this could just be a Nintendo Switch problem, textures load in at a pathetically close range, which bothers me particularly because the game would actually look better if they were left out.
At a distance, objects and environments have a kind of watercolour aesthetic that is broken the moment the textures load in when you’re two feet away from them. If the game had just left it as is, it would’ve added to Story of Seasons’ iconic cute design.
Also, the game is significantly lacking in music. This was something that bothered me in the original as well, and while I love the game’s iconic “Breezy” theme—updated as it has been with live instruments and a new modern arrangement—a remake is a chance to do new things, and adding some new music to the game would’ve been great. The game’s audio is another instance where the lack of polish becomes apparent, as music and certain environmental audio play on very specific triggers and can feel a bit unnatural.
However, with some minor issues aside, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life remains true to all the things that made it great while updating and modernizing enough to feel fresh. Fans of the series will certainly love how much of the original is both intact and expanded upon, and newcomers to the franchise—or even fans of the farming genre that never played the original—can find a lot to love in this unique outing.