How much is a restoration worth? That’s something we were asking when we played Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, a remake of the 2003 Harvest Moon game on GameCube, and a surprise addition to Marvelous/XSEED’s game catalog. Should a game be remade to bring it up to modern standards, with modern additions like improved UI, extra features, and generally just more content? Should it stay true to the original and simply port over to the new platform as is? Or should it be an attempt to reproduce feeling playing that game for the first time as a child?
We’ve been cautiously anticipating and dreading this remake for some time, because while we’re excited about the complete visual overhaul, the new location, and the ability to play as a male, female, or non-twin farmer, we also have a deep and sacred fondness for the original and enough experience and wisdom from the last 20 years of gaming to know that it does not meet our current standards of “entertainment”. Do we want it revised significantly or presented in an incomplete state? We didn’t know… until we played it.
Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life has many of the things you’d expect from a farming sim. You can raise cows, sheep, chickens, ducks and goats, and you can plant crops and trees in your fields to earn money and cook recipes in your cute little kitchen. It’s a town full of people, all with interesting stories and unique houses, and some of them (eight in the remake) can be married. You’ll be trying to earn money to buy things like tool upgrades, new facilities, and animals, which in turn will hopefully earn you more money. Or you can just buy new cute clothes. Up to you.
What sets A Wonderful Life apart from other farming games is that it’s one long story. Over the course of several decades, divided into six chapters, you’ll go from a young upstart working on your late dad’s farm to an elderly, married farmer with a child who can grow up to take over the farm, or choose something else entirely. career. The townspeople will age and grow with you, and the town itself may change as well. There really has never been another farming game like it.
At first, this remake of A Wonderful Life feels completely new, especially if you’ve played the original GameCube game. The town and the town are no longer muddy brown colors; half the characters you remember are now called something completely different to bring them more in line with their Japanese names (Muffy becomes Molly, Cody becomes Gordy, Celia becomes Cecelia, Tim and Ruby become Tei and Lou); some of the more insensitive or odd features have been smoothed over; even the user interface is greatly improved.
Some modifications remove the bite that the original had. The misanthropic Marlin is now a much younger man named Matthew, but his updated form makes him come across as a whiny incel rather than a grunt. Galen, the old man whose story gets really sad in Chapter 2, is now called Gary, which is just a worse old-fashioned name by any standards, but otherwise everything just feels very fine.
Unfortunately, inflation has also hit the Forgotten Valley and it’s much harder to buy big tickets. The processing room, which turns milk into butter and cheese – the main way to get money in the game – used to cost 30,000G, which you could earn in the first year if you were smart. Now it costs 150,000G and it almost took us two years in a game to make so much money. Plus it will take much longer to earn this money back, and if we want to upgrade the barn to get more cows, that’s another 120,000G. We are not made of G, Marvelous!
But other changes are welcome. Better menus, better decor, and more useful names for hybrid crops (Banani + Peach = Panana, instead of the original name, “Magerum”; Grape + Apple = Grapple, instead of “Phuju”) make the game much more player-friendly. without changing the mood too much. The best change is probably the tools, which now take up their own slots in your inventory, meaning you can now carry a lot more stuff and you don’t have to put them back when you’re done with them. But even with these changes, don’t go into A Wonderful Life expecting an easy ride.
The first year we were very disappointed with how awkward the game seemed. Was it a bad remake or were our memories of loving the game wrong? We had to assume the former, because there’s no way our memories were wrong.
The game is frustratingly stubborn about most things, like how often to water crops, how to make money, and the fact that you can’t interact with anything if you’re holding an item or device. It also doesn’t tell you that many improvements and upgrades that make the game easier can only be obtained by making friends, or that you have to get married at the end of the first year, or that some items, animals, and upgrades are only available at very certain times of the month or day.
Stardew Valley this is not. In fact, playing the game is an interesting exercise in seeing how much farming sims have changed in the last 20 years, and you’ll find yourself missing that comfort from time to time. You will miss sprinklers and machines that automatically collect eggs and milk; you’ll crave real mines that aren’t just 16 grind tiles to dig into. You’ll wish the digging and fishing mechanics were even tiny somewhat interesting or challenging. This can all seem like a big step backwards, if you’re used to more modern farming games.
But the more we played this game – a game that is actually one of this author’s childhood favorites – the more we remembered the original play and the more we realized what this remake really is. unbelievably faithful and we had just forgotten about it. And in fact, there are plenty of quality-of-life changes that smooth over some of the rougher parts, while maintaining the charm. For example, starting farming is much faster, with snappy animations and the ability to water multiple tiles at once, plus there are new events, new festivals and lots of things to add to the encyclopedia that give you a sense of fuller, richer world. Any remaining friction is purposeful – this is a game meant to be slow.
Harvest moon Games were originally based on creator Yasuhiro Wada’s yearning for rural Japan, and this remake is closer to that original vision than the modern take on the genre, which tends to focus on satisfying game loops and automation as the end goal. The satisfaction in A Wonderful Life doesn’t come from making millions of farmers every day, or maximizing relationships, or getting the biggest house. It comes instead from the genuine satisfaction of a job well done and a life well lived; of turning the inhospitable into livable, and then into something you can be proud of. If you’ve ever had your own garden, you’ll know that this kind of work takes years to complete.
Each season is 10 days long, each chapter is at least a year and god forbid it takes at least a year and a half in game before you’ve built enough momentum to really feel like you’re progressing . If you want to “finish” this game, you’ll be looking at about 30-50 hours of mostly repetitive farm work – but at least the game changes with you, as characters age, people move in and out of town, have kids, and watch those children grow up too.
And you know what? We think A Wonderful Life is worth your time investment, especially if you’re a fan of soothing farming/life sims you can stick your head into for half an hour a day, or you’re a fan of the OG experience, lovingly recreated left by the designers. A Wonderful Life will never be Stardew Valley, it’s true – but it’s refreshing to see a remake that avoids playing catch-up by staying true to its roots and by reminding us of our roots too.
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