While Harvest Moon will always hold a special place in my heart, I think it’s safe to say the series hasn't been good in quite a long time. The last one I thoroughly enjoyed was Harvest Moon: Magical Melody on the Gamecube, and since then it’s been 12 years of waiting. Much like the Sonic franchise, Natsume seemed confused with what to do with Harvest Moon, consistently trying new things to see what would work. Then Story of Seasons appeared on the 3DS back in 2014. While Natsume would retain the rights to the name Harvest Moon, Story of Seasons was the true continuation of the series. While Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley would try to capitalize on the Minecraft craze, Story of Seasons delivered the Harvest Moon experience fans wanted. It was by no means a perfect game, but it was at least focused. The newest entry into the franchise, Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns, fares about the same: focused, but problematic.
In Trio of Towns, players take on the role of a boy or girl who leaves home, much to the contention of their father (which hit a little close to home) to start a simple life of farming. In traditional HM fashion, players will grow crops and tend animals, slowly reaping the fruits of their labour. As the days turn to months players will expand their home and their farm, find love and eventually start a family. All the bones are there for a proper HM, but it lacks quite a bit of the meat for a worthwhile experience.
So much of the core farming experience feels streamlined and removes a lot of the methodical fun of earlier entries. Tilling a plot of land may take four swings, but it yields six crop spaces in an instant. Watering only takes a few seconds to quench a full plot, and harvesting pulls all crops from a plot in a snap. Now it may seem odd to complain about quickness and convenience, but part of what made HM challenging was trying to plan your whole day to incorporate farming, interacting with townsfolk and exploring and gathering other necessary resources. Now, you finish farming in a few hours, and you’re just running around for the rest of the day, wasting time. I end up always sleeping at 1 p.m. because I’ve done everything I can, and there’s no point waiting out the rest of the day.
Then there’s the titular trio of towns. As the game starts, there is only one town available, the Western-themed “Westown,” but as the day goes on the Hawaiian-themed “Lulukoko” opens up, as does the Japanese themed “Tsuyukusa.” Each town has specific seeds and items you can purchase or find as well as new characters and bachelors/bachelorettes to meet. Oddly, it only takes about one in-game month for all the towns to open up, which raises the question of why they were locked off in the first place. I could understand if it were to not overwhelm the player, however each town is fairly similar in design, all made up of two parts: an initial farming area, and a main town area; and you’re given so much time in a day, it’s hard to imagine any player would be overwhelmed by the amount of choice on hand.
Furthermore, having three towns feels somewhat redundant since, as I mentioned, they’re all fairly similar in design, and the game loses that sense of familiarity you get from having a single town. It’s something I think was best displayed in Harvest Moon 64; the town wasn’t just a hub to buy items, but a community that you became a part of. Here, the three towns kind of blend together as you bounce between them on days, grabbing whatever flowers or fruits you need and running back home.
Trio of Towns does look nice; environments are unique and full of colour, character models look good and their profiles have a beautiful hand-drawn aesthetic to them. However, the game does fall short in a few areas of presentation. It always bothers me when characters walk together in perfect synchronization, and it was doubly offputting when certain characters invite you for meals and everyone eats synchronized like robots, or during festival dances when characters moved in a similar fashion. I can understand why that might have been done on the GBA or N64, but I know the 3DS is a capable system, and small details like that would’ve made for a less cheap-looking game.
Trio of Towns is by no means a bad game, but I don’t think it succeeds some of the franchises earlier entries. It’s sure to please fans and newcomers alike, however, I can’t help but feel like maybe the series needs to go Back to Nature and find A New Beginning.