We all have our own ways of unwinding. For some, it’s blowing off stress in a shooter; for others, it’s challenging friends to fighting or racing games, but nothing helps me relax like getting lost in a bright, low-pressure, cartoony world of repetition. I discovered the Bokujō Monogatari games while in school, and I frequently escaped into countless hours of zen-like bliss on the farm thanks to Harvest Moon 2 for GBC. While the series may now be going by the new title of Story of Seasons, Trio of Towns proves that the Boku games are better than ever, and this new title provides a blissful mix of story, personality, and good, clean country living.
Getting started on a new farm is always a challenge, and anyone who has picked up a farming game knows the slog that is the first week. Tools are heavy, stamina is limited, money is almost impossible to come by, and bedtimes can happen at two in the afternoon, just to advance the game to the next day. Trio of Towns has provided a rather ingenious way around the drudgery of the first week with the addition of the part-time job system. These tasks provide cash in exchange for carrying out stamina-free tasks, such as cutting wood, caring for livestock, collecting weeds and trash or volunteering as a medical test subject.
The part-time job feature remains relevant throughout the game, and it is one of the main mechanics used to build stronger relationships with each of the game’s three towns. Even better, by holding on to your goods until a town uses the jobs system to request a product, you can double or even triple your income. Even in Seedling (easy) mode, money can be somewhat tight at times, especially if you’re new to the series, so this mechanic is a very welcome and strategic addition.
One of my main complaints with the 2014 Story of Seasons game was the amount of travel required. With fields so spread out and restrictions on what crops could grow where, it was nearly impossible to dominate the farming map and still have time for anything else—like relationships or animal husbandry. While the map of Trio of Towns is also quite large, your farm is all located in the same general area, and restrictions on what crops and buildings can go where have been removed. Most of your walking will occur between your farm and the three towns. Fortunately, once you are in a town, you can reduce some of the travel time by making clever use of the part-time jobs system, which will warp you from one town to another if you accept certain jobs. You will also be able to use a shortcut to run between towns once you have unlocked all three, making it quite pedestrian-friendly.
The tool upgrade system has also been revised, and it provides a great deal more flexibility and strategy. Tools can be made lighter so that they use less stamina, more effective so that it takes fewer uses to plow a field, or they can be made to cover more area. This change requires more thought when upgrading than ever before, because upgrading might not always be the wise choice. At one point, I became over-zealous with my upgrades, and in my thirst for more valuable gems, I upgraded my hammer beyond what my other tools required. This more powerful hammer brought me silver and emeralds, but it also was less likely to provide me with the iron and black rocks I needed to upgrade my other tools. Fortunately, Trio of Towns can be pretty forgiving, and I was able to purchase a second hammer without upgrades to meet my more basic needs.
Despite having three unique cultures within the game, Trio of Towns has a much more clear art style and direction than the previous Story of Seasons title. This game has embraced a more colorful and cartoony aesthetic which, if nothing else, has made the Fall season one of colors rather than the depressing, drab brown that we saw last time. The music is catchy and upbeat, while still being indistinct enough that it doesn’t get stuck on loop in your head. Each town within the game takes its influence from a different part of the world and is filled with characters, animals, foods, and traditions inspired by that region. Westworld—I mean Westown—is your typical cowboy settlement, complete with cacti, eagles, and pizza-obsessed villagers. Lulukoko is a nod to islanders, with white beaches, monkeys and residents who greet you with a wave and an Aloha. The final town, Tsuyukusa, is filled with paddy crops, straw-thatched roofs, and kimono-clad residents.
The story begins when you have a discussion with your family about how you want to move out and strike out on your own as a farmer. Your father does not approve, and it is his disapproval which moves the story forward. Your Uncle Frank, a resident of Westown, helps you set up your farm as you slowly build up your fields and livestock, collect pets, and unlock the two other towns within the game. The story may not be quite as powerful or moving as what unfolded early in year one of the last Story of Seasons game, but Trio of Towns tells a compelling tale about rising above adversity, following your heart, and working hard to accomplish your dream.
The weather system in Trio of Towns has received a small but notable upgrade, in that your farm and each town has their own unique weather. It may be raining on your farm but sunny in Tsuyukusa. Westown starts getting snow flurries in late Fall, while Lulukoko remains sunny and warm through most of the winter. This small change makes the world of Trio of Towns feel bigger without adding more space to the map for you to navigate.
Best of all, Trio of Towns has made brilliant use of the L button, allowing you to shout a greeting to people you pass by. This frees up an enormous amount of time, as you no longer need to directly speak to each and every character every day in order to gain affection points. A simple shout and wave as you run by counts, meaning that building friendships in Story of Seasons has never been easier.
This game does a very nice job of releasing new features slowly. No sooner do you feel like the days are becoming repetitive than a new town, feature, or festival opens up. Even in Seedling mode, you will still have a long way to go at the end of your first year. Unfortunately, one of the things slower to unlock is customization. If you want to change your clothes or hairstyle, you’re going to be waiting a long while, something which can be a big detraction for those playing as the opposite gender in order to get around the fact that Trio of Towns does not allow for same-sex marriage. Crossdressing your character is easily accomplished after a certain amount of time, but the game also heavily uses pronouns and references to your chosen gender, such as “big sister” and “my son.”
One of the biggest obstacles to the busy farmer is also one of the most beloved staples of the Boku series: the heart events. Multiple times, I found myself running through town with a full list of things to accomplish by a certain time, only to trigger a heart event. The cutscenes and conversations are every bit as charming as one would expect from this series, but they also consume a large amount of time. I would sometimes come back to the game to find that I had lost four hours of in-game time, and my part-time jobs had expired, but I suppose a reduced paycheck and a light scolding from the jobs agent are small prices to pay for building friendships and budding romances.
While online play is still a little lacking, it is far more rewarding than the multiplayer in the last Story of Seasons title. Trio of Towns offers a lot of flexibility in the way you play; if you decide you want to be a crazy cat lady and create a dog-free farm full of cats who will herd your livestock in and out of barns for you, well, you can go right ahead and do that; you just might want to save one pet house for the capybara, because that little guy is adorable.