[Review] Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life
Posted on June 20, 2023 by Dennis Gagliardotto(@LyonHart_) in Reviews, Switch, Switch eShop
Release date: June 27, 2023
Publisher: XSEED / Marvelous
Story of Seasons has had a series of ups and downs as the franchise has tried to find its footing in a genre it once had a monopoly on. It’s true that each new title has offered an exciting prospect of things to come within the series itself. It’s also always seemed to go against the idea of being a market leader once more in favor of keeping things traditional, but much that stubborn thinking may be to its detriment. This rears its head in the series’ new remake, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life.
With A Wonderful Life, the series moves forward once more by being the first to have a completely redesigned camera system in which you can view the world in a more intimate fashion, ditching the angled and top-down views for complete 360-degree control. It gives off a level of excitement that makes the game feel like a step in the right direction. However, rather than building upon all of the things that made its predecessor, Pioneers of Olive Town, be so incredibly fun, it’s started over once more and dwelled too much on its past self. A Wonderful Life feels like a “one step forward, two steps back” situation where it’s really neat to see how far the series has come, yet for some reason still retains a dated feel. It genuinely feels like an odd mix of its past two titles – Friends of Mineral Town and Pioneers of Olive Town – and it’s so unfortunate that it seems to borrow more from the shallow Friends of Mineral Town than the excellent Pioneers of Olive Town.
At its most basic, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life puts players in the shoes of a lightly created character that takes over a farm in the town of Forgotten Valley. Once there, they’ll go and meet the residents and get themselves acquainted to their new life of agriculture moving forward. As they do that, they’ll build relationships, grow crops, raise animals, explore, go fishing, and even raise a family all in a slice-of-life-esque fashion as the days, weeks, months, and seasons pass by. As is the norm with these sorts of games, money and equipment will be sparse and/or flimsy at this point, but through a dedicated routine, the player and farmer will grow to become immensely successful. Pioneers of Olive Town had a good flow that never felt like it was fighting to keep me from getting to the actual good and fun content of the game, but A Wonderful Life unfortunately doesn’t pace itself in the best way, and instead feels like you’re just going through a tedious routine of daily habits just so you can unlock the true potential of the title.
When comparing Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life’s remake to its original release, it’s clear that the glow-up it’s received is tremendous, but for today’s standards there’s a want for more. These titles still look as if they’re just cleaned up ports, and though the graphics certainly won’t hinder its gameplay, it’s jarring that Story of Seasons can’t ever seem to make up its mind on just how chibi it wants to be or not. Pioneers of Olive Town finally felt like we were moving away from the Funko Pop keychains found in Friends of Mineral Town into more adult-oriented territory stylized enough that people of all ages could still enjoy it. Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns on 3DS, however, found a happy balance that married the two, and it was an easy game to get lost in – especially for what was capable on the handheld system back in 2016. It’s particularly uncomfortable when there’s an emphasis on building relationships which would eventually lead to romantic involvement and settling down, yet just about everyone still looks like they’re at an age where they’re still playing with fidget spinners – it’s really hard to put yourself in the main character’s shoes and get immersed this way.
Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life has been refined in quite a lot of ways, however, that grants it new events, a plethora of dishes to cook that increase its selection from the original game, a wide array of items, and more robust festivals. For fans of the original on GameCube, this will certainly sate those wanting to come back to Forgotten Valley in a polished way that harkens back to 2004. For those that have stuck with the newer titles, however, it may end up being a bit of a disappointment depending on how much you’re willing to put up with before giving it a break. The game has a lot going for it that does grant it genuine fun, but I personally find myself continuously trying to validate what it is I’m doing despite a lack of any real progression that doesn’t entirely feel randomized or scripted just because I’ve walked into a particular location or it’s a certain day of the year where something should happen. Trying to fill the void between those events can feel ambiguous, and with that ambiguity brings a level of shallowness that I seldom feel like investing time in when there’s a backlog of more worthwhile titles in and out of the farming genre.
I’m typically excited when a new Story of Seasons gets announced, yet whenever I’m finally able to get my hands on one, it’s hit or miss on whether or not I’ll actually enjoy it. I think the genre has gone too far in what’s possible that even more traditional titles like this that continue to come out end up feeling dated or uninspired, and it’s a shame when it comes from such a distinguished brand that is too settled in its own ways. Thankfully, XSEED and Marvelous have announced new Story of Seasons projects that could potentially shake things up, and already from the small batch of screenshots we’ve seen, there seems to be a want to move forward with the series that invigorate the art direction and, hopefully, can reinvent the series moving forward.
Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life has its heart in the right place as there’s a lot of charm, but it just suffers from a dated feel because of the roots of its origins, ending up as a remake that is too focused on nostalgia that dwells too much on the past rather than aiming to renew for the future. Thankfully, it at least looks and runs great on Switch, but its tired formula that it’s gotten all too comfortable with unfortunately makes this remake feel stale in more ways than one. Here’s to hoping that with original successors and fewer remakes comes unique and refreshing ideas that can put Story of Seasons on the pedestal it deserves to be on.
Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.