Reviewed by Lachlan
- Developer: Brownies, Marvelous!
- Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
- Release date: 11/10/2019
- Price: $49.99 / £44.99
- Review Code provided by Bandai Namco
Yo-ho yo-ho a farmer’s life for me.
Since the days of Harvest Moon, farming simulators have been a guilty pleasure of mine. Beginning as a seemingly niche genre, it seems that the rise of Stardew Valley has made living the life of a humble farmer a much more attractive prospect to the mainstream audience. Unfortunately, Harvest Moon proper is more or less a shell of itself, and although still an enjoyable experience, just doesn’t have as much of the charm that it once held.
That’s where the Story of Seasons franchise comes in. Taking off where Harvest Moon left the genre, it has continued to bring everything I loved about the series, along with some mild innovation. With the series latest outing, they have added the popular manga series Doraemon to the mix.
Story of Seasons with a twist of manga.
The characters of Doraemon aren’t just haphazardly added to the fold here, instead having a fun little story to strive towards as you farm up a storm. Young Noby is tasked with completing a school project, but can’t seem to stop himself from napping. He finds a seed and decides planting that is good enough for his assignment, and he and his friends go off to bury that weird seed.
Unfortunately, the seed grows into a massive tree almost instantly, and a vicious storm hits that whisks them through time and space. Along the journey, Doraemon, who is a robot cat, loses all its gadgets, and the group must find a way to get back home. Where they end up is a typical Story of Seasons style farming town, with a mayor who is all too keen on child labour.
Although not the most fleshed out story, it acts as a good vehicle for its strong characters to shine, as well as gives you an excuse to farm to your heart’s content. The characters themselves are charming as well, which speaks to the ludicrous amount of character building done throughout the anime and manga.
Even the new characters introduced who already live in the town you end up in are likeable, enough so that I began to remember them by name, rather than occupation. Instead of “I need to go see the carpenter”, I started saying “I need Pent to upgrade my house”, which makes things feel more personable, as well as speaks to the strong world building established in this game.
Old McDonald had a farm.
Doraemon: Story of Seasons is your typical farming simulator, taking place in an isometric perspective, with your farms crops and such being placed on a grid-based system. You must manage your time and stamina, plant and water crops, look after livestock, and interact with the townspeople, who are mostly made up of vendors to sell or upgrade your farming wares. At the end of the day, any crops and other items you want to sell are picked up, and after a sleep, you will repeat this cycle again and again and again.
What makes the Story of Seasons brand of farming sims so addictive is not only the gameplay loop, but how relaxing the whole experience can be. There are no real hard deadlines to meet, time moves at a slow enough pace that you don’t have to worry about not having enough time in the day for all your activities, and there just never is an anxious moment to be had. It makes it easy to achieve a zen state of relaxation, which can be wholly satisfying for those who look for that kind of experience.
The story beats don’t always mesh with the relaxed feel of the game though. An early quest had Noby finding a dog who was hurt during a downpour. He goes to get Doraemon for help, but a landslide cuts the dog off, requiring you to get ahold of a gadget known as the Super Glove to help clear the rubble. That took me four months to do, and everyone continued with their business as if an injured dog wasn’t starving and trapped in the wilderness. Not only that, the day after the landslide there was a watermelon smashing festival. At least I won Noby a trophy for smashing those melons.
Important story elements such as this are definitely at odds with the relaxed nature of the gameplay, but once you figure out that nothing beyond the farming is important enough to pursue, it helps to ease any anxiety associated with completing a set task you may not be equipped to deal with yet. In that moment, the gameplay really opened up, and I would lose hours of my life just farming away, always saying that I’ll farm “just one more day”.
You learn early that stamina will be the biggest issue in this game, so maximising your stamina will be key to a fruitful day. Napping is effective at restoring stamina, but also eats up a chunk of your day, which will make getting everything you want done a lot harder. Thankfully, you can eat meals to achieve the same result without losing time, but food can be rather expensive. Upgrading your house with a kitchen and preparing your own meals becomes the best way to manage your stamina throughout the day, utilise your crops beyond just selling, and allows you to potentially make more money with prepared meals.
There are many activities you can do that don’t burn stamina as well, such as catching bugs and fishing. You can sell everything you catch as well, so these activities become a good way to earn a little extra coin on the side.
Making sure you look after your crops is the main thing you will need to do on your farm though. Not only will you need to keep them watered, but you can use fertilizer to help improve the crops quality. Some crops can only be grown in certain months though, as each month is a new season. I had a crop of strawberries I had planted that ran a day into the next month before they could be harvested. That meant that all my strawberry crops died that last day, losing me thousands of dollars in seeds and fertilizer costs. As a veteran of these games, that was not only embarrassing, but also devastating.
A visual feast for the eyes.
The visual design of this game is absolutely gorgeous. Characters have the distinct look of their manga counterparts, with new characters specific to this game adhering to their artstyle, whilst also having a distinct Story of Seasons vibe to them. Environments are where the art truly shines, as it is like you are controlling a character through a watercolour painting. Crops pop up from the ground in a satisfying fashion, and the animals are adorable to look upon. There are some animation oddities though, such as when you get up out of bed, Noby kind of teleports next to the bed after a big stretch.
Sound design is unfortunately hit and miss. For the most part it is excellent, for example, the soundtrack is a delight, and the few voiced moments are well done. Unfortunately, those same voice-over samples will repeat quite frequently, with one sound in particular driving me completely insane. Whenever Noby uses a tool, he screams ei in a high note that is ear-piercing, and repeats that with every action. Cutting down a tough tree will result in Noby screaming EI, EI, EI, EI, EI, which will get on anybody’s nerves.
Doraemon: Story of Seasons is arguably the best farming sim on the Switch. Sure, it’s not as involved as Stardew Valley, but it has a much more relaxed vibe, allowing you to lose hours within its charming world, and not have to worry about maximising your time to yield the best results. If you want to be a below average farmer just scraping by, you can do that, though if you want to maximise your time and have full flourishing crops to tend to and a farms worth of livestock, then you can do that to.
Everything about this game ticks all the boxes for a successful Harvest Moon-like experience, with a Doraemon twist that integrates itself nicely into the story. Its beautiful visual style offsets some annoying sounds, and while there are some frame skips in certain areas, it isn’t enough to rob Doraemon: Story of Seasons of being a game I can wholeheartedly recommend.
- Gorgeous visuals
- Addictive Gameplay Loop
- Likeable Characters
- Overall Relaxing Experience
- Some Annoying Sounds
- Minor Frame Dips
One of the best farming sims available on the Switch, Doraemon: Story of Seasons is beautiful, with likeable characters and an addictive gameplay loop. It’s just a shame Noby insists on screaming with every use of a tool.