Telling you to clean manure with a pitchfork and making it fun is the mark of a well-crafted fantasy farm simulator, and Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns makes scooping poop and dozens of other unpleasant-sounding tasks into a fun way to unwind. Trio of Towns works because it keeps its daily chores from becoming too repetitive. There are a few bumps on the road to market, but overall, Trio of Towns is an old-school farming simulator in the school of Harvest Moon honed to a razor-sharp edge, with gorgeous graphics, adorable characters, and a rewardingly timed drip of new activities and areas to unlock and explore.
Farm life is repetitive and routine, but in a way I found comforting. Each morning I woke up, filled my watering can, and tended each of my varied crops. After watering and fertilizing, I visited my livestock, feeding, brushing, collecting eggs, and cleaning up as needed. Most of these tasks are a simple one-button click, with cute sounds and animations. Not every chore needs to be done every day, so finding a huge pile of crap in your barn every few days is enough to break up a process that could grow repetitive otherwise. Once my chores were complete, I’d head into town to chat with the locals. Crop maturation and harvesting, plus the randomness of cleaning out barns that would periodically become dirty broke up the predictability of my morning routine, as did rainy days.
It sounds silly, but the simple change of weather acts as a great way to keep things from feeling overly rote. When it rains, crops don’t need to be watered and animals are left inside. Free from my morning chores, I’d hit up one of the local fishing holes to bide my time until the shops opened in one of Trio of Towns’… trio of towns. Rainy days are just frequent enough to keep the dust from settling on gameplay.
When it comes to pacing, Trio of Towns nails it. New towns, people, and mechanics are introduced at just the right time, so I never had a chance to get bored with my initial set of tools, crops, and townsfolk before something new came along. Just as I began to worry I’d never make enough money selling crops and doing odd jobs, I got a hammer and began to mine valuable ore. When my farm was starting to feel too full, more farmland opened up for me. I felt neither overwhelmed nor impatient. The steady drip of new things to do is very well timed.
The whole purpose of Trio of Towns is to prove to your father that your choosing to live the farm life was a good decision. That’s the entire plot, and it’s completely forgettable. Proving yourself is done by completing three simple challenges in the Farm Tips screen. Overall, they’re a tiny portion of Trio of Towns’ content, and given that this game is called Story of Seasons I’d expected a bit more for a plot. Instead, you’re encouraged to create your own story by interacting with the nearby towns.
he three towns from which Trio of Towns draws its name are each unique and colorful. There’s Westown, a Western-American themed town with rusty red deserts that’s unlocked from the start. Lulukoko is a Hawaiian town built on warm and inviting sandy beaches, with residents tossing out greetings like “Aloha” and “Mahalo.” Finally, Tsuyukusa, a traditional Japanese village that borrows the color pallette of a woodblock print, unlocks through the simple passage of time. Each area would fit right into a modern Pokemon game, but they push the limits of the 3DS’ graphical capabilities to the point where the frame rate occasionally stutters.
Building relationships by shopping in local stores, giving residents gifts, participating in festivals, and talking to people is a big part of Trio of Towns, and having strong bonds with each individual town is the key to unlocking new items and animals. New items and animals lead to better farm products: your milk will be better and fetch a premium price, for example. Having better crops and critters gives you a better chance at winning prizes during competitive festivals. It’s fun to win prizes and get better stuff, and building relationships helps win more than just the treasure of friendship.
One thing I really liked about Trio of Towns, as opposed to its Harvest Moon forebearers, is the conversation shortcut: you don’t need to stop and speak to every person who walks past because pressing the L-button on the 3DS triggers a quick greeting that increases your standing within the community without having to read a text bubble every time.
That’s not to say every conversation is a breeze. The unskippable conversations have nothing to do with relationship building. They are either tutorial in nature, move the dull story forward, or play out during a festival or other event, and the whole time their interstitial animations drag on too long. I would have liked an option to skip through them, but there just isn’t one. The emote animations are cute, but I’m a fast reader and I like to blaze through in-game text as fast as I can. Watching every animation that appeared over a character’s head was time spent not getting back to playing.
I really enjoyed the novel approach to building my good-standing with each town, in which you’re given tasks that must be completed in order to advance from one rank to the next and unlock more items to buy. Completing a set of tasks to move up a rank is about the closest thing to a boss battle there is in a farming simulator, and it works great. Early on, tasks are simple, like shipping some crops and completing part-time jobs, but as time progresses they become more complicated. For example, you have to work with someone in a town to craft new menu items for their restaurant or build a new structure.
What’s even cooler about the town relationship system is that it’s not a requirement at all. There’s also no way to hurt your town rank, so I never felt like I was obliged to greet each passer-by or shop so many different times at one town’s shops just to keep from losing progress. It’s a great low-pressure approach where the promise of reward, not the fear of punishment, is the driving force.
In fact, many of the activities, like town rank, festival participation, and marriage, are entirely optional and there’s no downside for not taking part. The only parts requiring constant upkeep are crops and livestock, so I approached everything else at my own pace. That leisurely approach is one of my favorite parts of Trio of Towns. If I wanted to, I could visit the towns only to stock up on supplies, simplifying the experience to the barest minimum. But getting new crops, items, and livestock is all part of the fun.
Unlocking new things to buy is great, but I did find myself frustrated with recipes and building new plots and structures for my farm because of their inconvenient placement. The shop to build the individual parts of your farm, known as Farm Circles, is in Lulukoko. The shop to buy raw materials is in Westown. I ended up having to write down notes (a decidedly old-school approach) detailing the materials I lacked when I wanted to build new Farm Circles for my farm. Then I’d travel to Westown, refer to my notes, and buy the lumber and other material needed, then travel back. Making matters worse, Lulukoko is on a different schedule than the other towns because its residents take a long afternoon break, and I kept returning to find I’d need to busy myself for a few in-game hours until the shop opened back up.
Recipes are similarly frustrating, in that I’d get back to my kitchen to discover I didn’t have the ingredients for a recipe I had just purchased from one of the restaurants. That’s because there’s no way to quickly check a recipe while you’re standing at the grocery store. Once again, I adopted the old-school approach of writing it down on a slip of paper. If I had a physical copy of Trio of Towns I might have actually used the notes section of the manual for once.