As a spin-off of the popular farming simulator, Harvest Moon, Home Town Story attempts to break away from the field and plow to see if managing a small town’s general store can be just as engauging. With a large cast of quirky townsfolk to interact with (some of which you can eventually marry) it is up to you to make the tiny store grow large enough to help the tiny hamlet flourish.
Though Harvest Moon fans may appreciate the new focus on interacting more than the daily grind, it is sad to say that Home Town Story’s primary objective gets lost in a clutter of gaming mechanics that need work.
The game begins after the player has customized and named their player character, who is returning to the town he/she spent most of their childhood. After receiving a letter that their grandmother has passed away, the player character arrives at her old store and is greeted by a flying sprite named Pochica. He informs the character that he sent the letter in the hopes that the player would take over the shop. From there, the game throws you right into store managing tutorial and the rest of the story unfolds as you meet the towns residence, new neighbors, and finding and selling items that you know characters need.
At its core, the story of Home Town Story has the potential to be a charming little tale. As a store manager, you get to see characters on a daily basis as they buy what they need and you can support their business by selling their products. The amount of cut scenes in the first few days alone demonstrate that this is a game that wants to be more focused on its characters and how they develop over the course of the game. Something that certain Harvest Moon games have been lacking. Each primary character in the town has their own story arc that the player must take an active role in helping them through it. Which is usually rewarded with a new item to sell in the store. There is also even a touch of mystery in regards to the Harvest Spirits living in the town and even a few dramatic events such as putting out a burning building. But the real charm comes from feeling like an integral part of the town. Like if the store wasn’t functioning, it would fade into obscurity.
While I assume that was the main intention of the plot surrounding this spin-off title, I am disheartened to report that its presentation is confusing to say the least. Primarily due to the game’s monotonous game play and unspecified parameters that must be satisfied for the story to unfold.
As a life simulator about running a general items store, the Home Town Story holds up fairly well. The basics of gathering items from either foraging or purchasing items from the local farm or blacksmith to sell in your story is rather addictive. Players are free to rearrange the store as they see fit, to show off their selection of items to the many patrons that will stop by (which are mostly random NPCs with the occasional primary character). If a NPC sees an item they want, they will take it off the shelf and que up at the register. Checking out several customers in a row will give an added bonus to the overall price of those sold items (Prices can also be raised or lowered as the player wishes). Certain items that can either be bought or given by primary character if they are placed on the store shelves or carried in the player’s inventory, can trigger story events in the form of short cut scenes.
On paper, this is a decent mechanic for a game of this genre. The main issue however is the execution of these triggered events is never properly explained and the fact that these are the only options available to you. No festivals, no fishing, no side activities outside of the store besides triggering events or running the store. While some events such as new characters arriving in town seem to be triggered on their own, and others will tell you exactly what items you need in order to continue, there is a waiting period depending on how soon you can get those items. Even then that is no guarantee that the event will start. Due to the fact that most of them have to be presented to the characters at a certain time and a specific place in the town. All of which is never truly explained. So there is a good chance that you will find yourself running around town for in-game days at a time just hoping for something to happen. Then when it does, you can finish one event, walk over to the next area and trigger another one.
If there was more to do outside of this, the monotony of this mechanic wouldn’t be an issue. Primarily that the Harvest Moon games are no stranger to having to complete slow going tasks over and over again. But at least with those games, there was always something else to do in case you became to bored with the current task. With Home Town Story, there is only one ongoing chore to take up your time. Though its fun at first, the confusing method in order to progress the game turns an addicting store mechanic into a pointless money grinding.
Home Town Story follows Harvest Moon’s cutesy presentation with chibi style character designs but with its own unique flair to it. Though while the designs are adorable, the rest of the presentation is a mixed bag. The town itself is too spaced out, taking extended time in-game to get from one area to another (made to look even worse if you have enough bad weather days). While the game’s music can be pleasant to listen to, certain repeated tunes could eventually get a bit grating.
There is potential for a really good game here. Something that could give Harvest Moon fans a new experience of how to help their town grow and flourish. The store mechanic is only boring due to the fact that the game gives you little to nothing else to do. If that were fixed, chances are the game would be more than worth a purchase. But as it stands right now, Home Town Story is a spin-off that needs more work before it can stand on the shoulders of the rest of the series. Curious fans should check it out for themselves, but if none of what has been mentioned above interests you, then steer clear.
Final Review: 3 out of 5