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Clash Of The Farming Sims – Natsume VS Marvelous/XSEED

One hoe to rule them all

March 2021 served as something of a battlefield between two of gaming’s largest farming sim production companies, either coincidentally or perhaps by design – when else would it be okay for two separate-but-connected lines of games to duke it out than the 25th Anniversary of Harvest Moon? Now that the dust has settled and both games are officially out everywhere I wanted to dig into the strengths and weakness of each of the most recent releases from each developer: Harvest Moon: One World  (HM:OW) from Natsume and Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town (SoS:PoOT) from Marvelous/XSEED Games. I was lucky enough to have reviewed both games on the Nintendo Switch at the same time, so I’m giving myself the stamp of approval to make judgement calls here.

For those who may not know the history between these two franchises, here’s the low down. Harvest Moon as a franchise was created by Natsume. However, the original team at Natsume splintered off and started creating the Story of Seasons franchise – so named because Natsume still owned the rights to the name Harvest Moon. Natsume has continued to make games under the Harvest Moon moniker but with a new development team.

Appearance

Art styles can be subjective but I think people will generally gravitate towards games that look inviting and alive as opposed to those that look bland and simple. Visuals are an important, though not critical, part of farming sims, but we do eat with our eyes and aesthetics can play a major part in helping gamers connect to the in-game world. A game’s visual style can be something as simple as pixel art (see Stardew Valley) and work just perfectly, but it depends entirely on what the game is aiming for.

Both Natsume and Marvelous/XSEED Games chose to go for a far more expansive world in their latest games. Natsume went with a very simplistic art style, which could have worked with the more condensed worlds of earlier games, but with HM:OW it turned out to be a misstep. The basic art exacerbates the barren and lifeless feel of the larger world, which makes exploration feel like a chore. SoS:PoOT also went bigger on exploration, but the world is much brighter, has more texture and variety and remains pretty to look at even when you’ve harvested ever tree in an area. With that said I think it’s pretty obvious who comes out on top in this category.

Winner: Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town.

Performance

Farming sims are games that rarely come up in discourse around technical performance. After all, the framerates at which one can plow the earth are hardly life or death. However, poor performance can mar what is supposed to be a chill and tranquil experience. While neither of our competing games is perfect in this category, it’s fairly easy to differentiate between the two. Both games suffer from occasional frame drops, with SoS:PoOT already seeing at least one patch with another coming to further smooth things out. HM:OW, on the other hand, hasn’t had a single patch to fix its menagerie of problems, from annoying frame drops to glaring visual and AI bugs. Ptoactive problem solving trumps radio silence every time.

Winner: Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town.

Quality of Life

Both games have implemented a different array of quality of life additions that will make many farmers happy, and both games make some important new additions. HM:OW decided to simplify tools to a new level and automated the farming process while SoS:PoOT kept the tools in a more traditional sense but added a tool bag to mitigate any inventory clutter. While they result in different-feeling playstyles I wouldn’t do away with either choice. Both games have also effectively removed animal-related tools which is a welcomed simplification. There are some other design choices I question, in HM:OW in particular, but I feel I need to be merciful somewhere.

Winner: A draw.

Activities

Most farming sims have a variety of activities to enjoy and these new instalments are no exception. SoS:PoOT has all of your traditional pastimes like growing crops, mining, fishing and caring for animals but also adds in exploration, refurbishment of both farmland and buildings and a huge amount of material refinement and crafting. While I know the material side of things may not be for everyone, the sheer volume of things to do and the engagement they bring gives SoS:PoOT a lot of points in this department. HM:OW also has a variety of things to do like farming, fishing and mining but they’re far more simple than SoS:PoOT and that, combined with the need to repetitively collect seeds, makes the different activities feel more like chores. Doing chores, even in a farming sim, is definitely not what I play video games for.

Winner: Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town.

Final Thoughts

If the scores on Metacritic haven’t been enough to convince you of where to invest your money, I hope this piece and my reviews may help you reach farming sim happiness this year. While some gamers have felt the need to defend HM:OW on Metacritic by awarding ridiculously high scores, there’s no sugarcoating its issues. Natsume needs to seriously up their game if they’re going to survive in the farming sim genre into the future, and for a pure farming sim experience (i.e. little to no combat) Story of Seasons is the recommended go-to. If you’ve already bought HM:OW and enjoy it, all the potatoes to you, but if you’re looking for a new sim experience then do yourself a favour and get your PoOT on.

Written By

When Eleanore isn’t trying to figure out how the Earth works she’s trying to pay off her loan in Animal Crossing, complete her Pokedex or finishing one more RPG or platformer. She is a lover of great characters, cute or creative art styles and awesome game soundtracks.

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