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The joy of slow living in Story Of Seasons: A Wonderful Life

Stop and smell the flowers

My Dad likes to tell this story from when I was a teenager. I had grumpily asked if he could pick me and a friend up from a local park one afternoon, and he remembers us bundling into the back of his car all smelly and sweaty and terrible as teenagers so often are. But as he pulled away, he caught a snippet of our conversation that was so unusual it's the reason this seemingly normal car ride has cemented itself as a core memory. We were talking about the price of eggs. And tomatoes. And the order in which we were planting crops to ensure the greatest yield.

My poor father interrupted us, turning in his seat to ask what the hell we were talking about. “It’s a game we’re both playing called Harvest Moon” I scoffed in his direction. “You wouldn’t understand”.

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Although I had spent a lot of time with Marvelous’ PS1 farming sim, it was its GameCube iteration that consumed me completely. It’s hard to describe what made Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life so compelling. Structurally this was the same as any other game in the series, tasking you with cultivating crops and tending to livestock. There were folks for you to marry, festivals for you to attend, and little tree goblins that served an ethereal goddess that lived in the woods. You know. Harvest Moon stuff.

But! The magic of A Wonderful Life lies in the introduction of time skips. At various points the game would jump forward by a few years, ageing both yourself and all other residents of the Forgotten Valley in which it takes place. As the years go by your farmer’s hair turns grey, your bond with your partner deepens and you watch as your child transform from a curious toddler to a full-blown adult, complete with their own personality and life decisions based on the way you’ve raised them.

The result is a peculiar game that has never quite been replicated. Until now, that is, thanks to Story Of Seasons: A Wonderful Life, a full remake that launches on June 27th. After only ten hours with the game, I don’t feel entirely equipped to offer you my full verdict, but I will say that so far it’s been a refreshing experience that has taught me the joy of living deliberately.

A group of residents gather around a large cooking pot
Even by farming sim standards, the residents of A Wonderful Life are a weird bunch. Sure, there's the elderly couple and the café owners, but then there's the eccentric scientist, the modern art creator, and the firework-making twins that live in a wooden water tower.

You see, I have been spoiled by modern farming sims. We all have. It wasn’t until I started playing A Wonderful Life that I realised just how rich and generous Stardew Valley truly is. Compared to Stardew’s customisable fields, inventive festivals, randomised dungeon and expansive world map, A Wonderful Life feels severely limited. You are given two fields to work with at first, with a third unlocking later in the game. An archelogy site lets you dig up objects, but there are few other minigames to occupy your time on rainy days. Characters repeat the same lines of dialogue every single day. Even seasons last a fraction of the time they do in Stardew.

My first few hours were spent panicking. Is this it? Has Stardew reduced this once essential game to little more than a tedious list of repetitive tasks? What’s the point of playing beyond simple nostalgia? I was bored, and that boredom was bumming me out. I have thought about this game frequently for nearly two decades, but here I was, struggling to find a foothold.

A farmer fishes beneath a waterfall
A farmer fishes in the ocean in front of cherry blossom
A farmer tends to their crops
I played the game pretty much exclusively on the Steam Deck, which is where these screenshots are from. It performed largely OK on medium settings, hitting a consistent-ish 60fps. It did, however, push the Deck to its limits, with the battery lasting just over an hour. Not ideal, but maybe something a performance patch could improve in the future.

Four hours later, something clicked. A Wonderful Life isn’t sparse, it merely provides space to breathe. I am not rushing from activity to activity, desperate to squeeze in as much “game” as possible before the sun sets, or my energy bar reduces to zero. It has been so long since a game has given me the opportunity to do so that I am left feeling weirdly emotional every time I play. I am simply taking my time.

It’s hard to nail down exactly what it was, but I think it was something as simple as the emergence of a regular routine. Every morning I would brush and milk my cows. I watered my crops. I gave a flower to my sweetheart (Molly, who works in the local café). I bought some seeds from Celia, who would blush and fumble whenever I went to visit her. I did a spot of fishing by the waterfall. I went to bed, tired and content. Every other day, I was treated to a cutscene. The scientist and the bohemian guitar player are talking about apples. Molly has come to visit but has annoyed my mentor Takakura by interrupting a conversation about turnip deliveries. The twins are about to begin their annual firework festival. They recommend I ask someone to be my date. From the beach, Molly and I watch them sparkle and fizzle out above the waves.

Because what else is there to do but take it easy? My fields have limited space and my farmer is capable of only doing so much work. After that, my options are few. It's because of my limited options that my decisions have started to feel like they carry more weight. I am being forced to live deliberately, and it is giving me the chance to breathe. There are no battle passes. No quest markers. No rush.

A couple laugh as one holds their baby
It's great that you can romance whoever you want now, but it does mean that the second you arrive the majority of residents can't hide the fact they want to kiss you.

And when I have caught my breath, there is an imitation of life waiting for me to experience that is as intoxicating as it was when I was twelve years old. Except now it’s bigger and more complete than ever before. A Wonderful Life is the definitive version of the original game, combining both the additional features of its expanded editions as well as a bunch of other bits and pieces. You are no longer limited to one gender, and can now play as a male, female or non-binary protagonist. You can romance anyone, as long as they’re single and open for love. A bunch of new events and festivals pad out a simple yet expansive storyline that gives you additional opportunities to connect with its eclectic cast of characters.

My only gripe is the way it looks. This remake replaces the original’s slightly grimy aesthetic for the lifeless block colours of the more recent Story of Seasons titles. The muddy textures and drab colour palette gave A Wonderful Life a rural feel, grounding it in realism despite its cartoonish characters. Bereft of that, the game has arguably lost something integral to its tone. It’s OK for a game to be a little dirty, Marvellous. Not everything has to resemble something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Early Learning Centre.

If I wasn’t so grumpy, sitting in the back of my Dad’s car all those years ago, I would have told him how exciting it was to play a game that wasn’t about killing. I would have told him about the joy of the pastoral, of nature and nurture. It’s enough to simply exist.

Instead, I rolled my eyes because teenagers are fucking awful. Sorry, Dad. It’s nice that you were taking an interest.

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