I loved the early Harvest Moon games, particularly Harvest Moon 2 on GameBoy Colour. I’ve been put off by some of the more recent titles (mainly by the unappealing art styles) but after many iterations and the popularity of games like Stardew Valley, the original farming simulation series is in need of a bit of a comeback. It’s pretty rare that you see a game these days that references material from the 1970s, but Doraemon the blue robot cat does just that. In an unusual pairing of Japanese manga/anime icon and the Story of Seasons franchise (i.e. Harvest Moon), Doraemon Story of Seasons is the farming simulation series’ first ever crossover.
We find ourselves initially in a typical Japanese home where Noby, friend of Doraemon, finds a mysterious seed which he decides to plant as a part of his summer holiday homework project. In a proper anime cutscene the seed magically grows (to the amazement of his friends Doraemon, Sue, Big G (Takeshi) and Sneech, until it’s a full-sized tree in no time at all. A storm comes out of nowhere, uprooting the tree, carrying the kids, Doraemon and the tree into some sort of wrinkle in time and space.
As a robot cat, Doraemon has lots of weird gadgets, but after their tumultuous interdimensional flight, Doraemon realises that all of his gadgets – effectively their way home – are gone. All that can be done is to figure out where they ended up, which ends up being the town of Natura, in a completely different time period. You stumble onto Harmon and his Grandmother Navi on their farm and they decide to help you out of your precarious situation. They show you around the town and introduce you to most of the inhabitants, including Mayor Ryam who enforces that all kids must earn their keep, in a long introduction sequence. I highly recommend sticking it out through this lengthy introduction as the game really opens up once you get to your farm.
You get to play as Noby and after the intro you start on Harmon’s second farm which, like most farming simulation games, is unloved. You get a dilapidated little house, chicken coop and barn, a pond, as well as one large farming area and a smaller field. You get given some tools in the introduction that allows you to start clearing the land. Like most farming games there are additional tasks you can do to earn money, such as foraging, mining, catching bugs and fishing, and trust me you’re going to need to do all of them. Fishing is very similar to Animal Crossing, with some patience required, but leaving your bobber in the water and letting smaller fish try and run away can lead you to bigger fish, which is a welcome difference. Another good thing about foraging and bug/fish catching is they don’t use stamina, so this can be good when you’re running low or finishing up your day.
Noby is a lazy, skinny boy and therefore doesn’t have much stamina (100 points, expandable to 150 when you’re richy rich). Planting seeds and using tools, like a watering can or axe, all use stamina (1 point per standard action), but laying fertilizer doesn’t oddly enough. Noby makes up for his little stamina by being able to nap throughout the day to regain some stamina (as opposed to the typical hot spring in many Harvest Moon games). While you can eat harvestable or foraged items in their raw state they don’t give you much stamina (honey is the best). You can buy food from the restaurant but it’s all quite expensive when you’re starting out, and you can’t cook until you upgrade your house and get a kitchen, so stamina management is key. In particular because you will pass out if you run out of stamina and wake up part way through the next day or if you stay up till 6am the next day.
Your horse is an amazing investment for getting around
Your stamina information as well as any information you need is located in the main menu which also has tabs for your animals, the town’s people with your friendship level, the map of the surrounding area and many more things. Whilst the game has an infrequent autosave you can save at any time within this menu, allowing you to stop playing the middle of a day and not lose any time which is really handy for on-the-go play. You inventory is located in a separate menu and is initially very tiny, I highly recommend saving up and buying the larger backpacks as soon as possible.
Noby’s napping function is also handy to kill time when waiting for the shops to open. The shop hours are weird and kind of easy to forget. You’d think the general store would open at 9am-5pm right? Wrong, it opens from 3-8pm and not on a Thursday, which always seemed to be when I would save up enough money to buy more stuff. Because of the funny hours I always seemed to forget them initially and even wrote them down so I wouldn’t rush over to one of them for them to be shut right when I inevitably needed something.
One of the things you are bound to struck by with this game is the wonderful art style. Framed by a fluffy edged border, the game takes on the appearance of a moving water colour painting with a textured painterly art-style. This is enhanced by the 3D character models, allowing you to flow through the world easily, while most of the objects acting as layers in the painting. It is easy to see which objects can be picked up or interacted with as they take on a yellow border when you get close enough. The use of layers in the world and building design can be a little annoying at times as you can’t see an outline of your character or items through trees for instance when you stand behind them, but this layering is also used to good effect in hiding little special areas in the world like a pond in the Rolling Forest for example. So when in doubt try walking behind things and testing the boundaries of an area. You can freely zoom in and out as you like with the right joystick allowing you to see where NPCs and collectible items are, or to get a closer look while completing tasks.
Seasonal events are great fun and the game loves its puns
There was one shortcoming that’s particularly annoying, especially in the early game where it’s quite frequent. When you go into certain conversations it goes into a separate cutscene (like when you first go into a shop) and once the cutscene is over you go back to main gameplay where the NPCs you just talked to may or may not still be there. This is problematic when the cutscene involves you getting given an item as you don’t actually receive it as part of the cutscene, and sometimes you have to actually track them down. Sometimes I completely forgot and when I’d talk to them to increase friendship later they’d give me the item. I would hope that it is changed, but it becomes less of a problem later in the game when there are fewer items for you to be given.
The game performs and controls really well and looks amazing in both handheld mode and docked, with no frame drops. Unlike some farming games it’s not too easy to make money in this game, providing a good degree of challenge. Like any game in this genre it does get easier as you progress, but there’s always something you need more money for to go with that. There are also certain ways to make lots of money but I’ll let you figure those out for yourselves.
The story progression is largely unobtrusive, with a cutscene popping up when you enter a particular area and meet a particular requirement (usually friendship and money/farm progression). This allows you to freely play the game and not worry too much about the story, though trying to get back some of Doraemon’s gadgets should be your priority as they are very handy, in particular the Anywhere Door which allows you to fast travel across the map. There can be some lag when you get a directive cutscene and completing an objective but it is dependent on your playstyle and what order you do things. 20+ hours took me to about half way through year one and there are at least two years of gameplay (some items are available in year two exclusively).
Each season brings new crops and aesthetic changes
While there isn’t anything necessarily ground breaking about it, Doraemon Story of Seasons is a beautiful, peaceful experience that you can sink hours into while escaping from the drama of real life. The music in the game is wonderful and peaceful and meshes with the scenery and tasks of gentle farming life. Once you get the intro out of the way the gameplay loop is really enjoyable. The writing is fun and the array of characters enriches the experience and you don’t have to be a Doraemon fan to enjoy the game. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the game and can see myself sinking many more hours into this unexpectedly engaging crossover.
Reviewed on Switch // Review code supplied by publisher