Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life Review
Remakes and remasters are more common than ever in 2023. What's most interesting is seeing how these new versions handle the issue of completely rebuilding versus simply making modern visual improvements. Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life is a remake of Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life that straddles the line between these two philosophies fairly evenly but still delivers an outdated experience in various aspects.
Releasing on modern consoles, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life initially looks like nothing more than an updated re-skin on the surface. However, some significant changes have made it more inclusive for players. A Wonderful Life establishes each player as a young person who has inherited a farm from their father in a small town called Forgotten Valley. Before claiming your inheritance, you must name yourself and decide your appearance.
The customization suite is where the updated version exceeds its predecessor. Players can customize their avatars with gender-inclusive pronouns, body, and fashion options. Beyond that, none of the clothing or hair options are gendered either. You can combine any body type with any hairstyle or outfit you want. Once you settle on your name, look, and pronouns, you're ready to head to Forgotten Valley. But note that you can't change your pronouns after the selection screen, so be sure of your decision before you depart.
In what has become a staple of the farming sim genre, your character packs up and moves from the big city to the farm to live a quieter life. When you arrive, an old friend of your father gives you a tour of the farm and provides you with notes that serve as the game's tutorial. These notes are extremely useful in the early game, offering guidance when questions come up without forcing players to sit through a restrictive tutorial sequence.
As you'd expect, you grow crops and raise animals whose products you can sell for profit. There are the usual four seasons in A Wonderful Life, and each lasts 10 in-game days. These days last 24 real-life minutes, which doesn't sound long but can start to drag the longer you play. Ideally, your daily loop includes tending your crops and animals, visiting the forest spirits to see if they have any new recipes for you, helping to dig at the archaeology site, fishing, foraging, cooking, and chatting with your neighbors around Forgotten Valley.
Getting to know the other residents of your small town is key, as the game insists that you must get married to one of the local singles by the end of your first year there. I appreciate that A Wonderful Life removes the gender-locked nature of the original game's romances, meaning players can marry any eligible single in Forgotten Valley, opening the door for queer romances.
That said, these relationships are disappointingly shallow. Since your courtship is barely a year long, you don't get much time to build an attachment to your future spouse. There are relationships already ongoing between some of the villagers when you arrive, which are then never really addressed if you decide to marry one of them. This takes away a potentially interesting element of small-town drama from the game and is also unsatisfying from a storytelling perspective.
In addition, in-game spouses don't have much that's novel or interesting to say once you tie the knot. After marrying Cecelia, she largely stayed in our house and repeated the same line about learning new things about housework over and over again. My young child had more unique dialogue for me than she did outside of cutscenes.
Unfortunately, A Wonderful Life's mechanics feel similarly shallow during your day-to-day loop. While the pronouns, customization, romances, and visuals have been updated, your daily life in the game hasn't received the same treatment. Doing your daily chores doesn't take long, especially once you start upgrading your tools. Chatting with the forest spirits is also a quick errand. Digging for artifacts can take as long as you want, but the process is slow and monotonous. The game encourages you to chat with everyone in town to help build your relationships with them, but their dialogue is often repetitive, and it takes almost no time to give them gifts from your inventory. Even fishing and foraging can be done while you do other tasks around Forgotten Valley.
When the original version of this game came out, I'm sure this seemed like plenty to do. But in the wake of games like Stardew Valley, this level of activity is underwhelming. It's easy to find yourself going to bed early to advance the calendar instead of utilizing every waking hour to maximize what you can get done. In theory, some of this time should also be devoted to cooking, but I often only used my kitchen when I really needed to. Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life has a Fullness meter, but it doesn't decrease quickly. I only really paid attention to it when my character gave me the hungry icon, which usually seems to trigger when the bar is about one-third full.
This meter is somewhat emblematic of my overall experience of this game. Ideas that were once novel are outdated or uninteresting by today’s standards. While Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life is a welcome update to a classic farm sim, stripping away nostalgic fondness leaves you with an experience that feels lacking in the genre's modern landscape.