When Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life released in 2003, even diehard fans of the series knew the title brought change to the series. Putting more emphasis on relationships — and even making the player marry during the first in-game year — satisfied gamers who played the Harvest Moon games for their social element. The relatively small cast of bachelors and bachelorettes stood out from each other, with Nami’s mysterious standoffishness, Rock’s carefree facade, or Cecilia’s good-natured, helpful attitude all doing their part to attract players. Notably, the other NPCs felt more complex, and chasing down Van to give him eggs, for example, was rewarding in its own right. A Wonderful Life did an excellent job at breathing, well, life into its unique cast of characters.
The Story of Seasons remake sought to improve on an already beloved base game while remaining true to its roots. The series has changed a lot in twenty years, and Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life does a good job modernizing the source material without making it unrecognizable to long-time fans of the franchise. Most of the changes made were subtle, with the larger changes being arguably necessary for a game made in 2023.
The Remake Brings Vital Redesigns
One of the most noticeable changes made to A Wonderful Life are the character designs. Most redesigns stayed true to the original — take Gustafa, who still wears a funny green hat with a flower on it — but other redesigns were made with more than style in mind. In the original Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, Gordy was named Cody and he was not a marriage candidate. He was much burlier and rougher looking, and looks-wise fell into the stereotype of an aggressive man of color. His redesign softened him while retaining his impressive height (he stands one head taller than the player!) and, of course, his love of art.
A lot of players argue that the changes to Gordy were necessary to transform him from a caricature into a fleshed-out character like the rest of the cast. Murray — now named Pui — also received this treatment, going from an archetypal homeless person with named flies constantly circling his head to a long-lashed man with a flower on his head that blooms with the seasons.
Another important change was made to the overall design of the game: Forgotten Valley itself. The colors are far more saturated and vivid, lightening the atmosphere of the town. Harvest Moon has never been grim, per se, but the dusty terrain of the original game made one’s eyes ache for a bit of color. The remake definitely delivers on that front, as every season offers a barrage of pinks, oranges, and greens to be had in every corner of the world. Sharp-eyed players will notice a repeating pattern of red, yellow, and blue objects next to each other. While the environment is arguably prettier, the change to the world also makes the game more accessible to those with visual impairments. Separate objects in the world are more distinct from each other, and it’s easier to differentiate items in the player’s menu.
The Quality of Life Improvements Enhance the Experience
It’s hard to deny that there was something special about checking on a marriage candidate’s affection in the original games, darting into Nami’s room and mentally begging her to be awake just to check how many hearts she had accrued, but it’s also difficult to deny that it’s much easier to press a button and know immediately that she’s ready for her four-heart event.
For a game that places so much emphasis on romance, it’s nearly imperative that the game provide the player information about their chosen love interest. Players no longer have to worry about accidentally romancing Rock or Cecilia (who are the default candidates) if they don’t want to. This also applies to non-romanceable characters, some of whom only have a limited amount of time to befriend. For players looking to max their friendship with every character, tools like the friendship menu are vital to their playthrough.
Another convenient change made to the remake is how tools and inventory space function. While tools were previously kept in a shed on the farm, they are now stored permanently in the player’s bag and can be cycled through at will. As tools are upgraded, they replace the tools in the bag. Players are also allowed to stack ninety-nine of any item right off the bat, and there’s a menu in the bottom left corner of the screen that allows the player to see what items they have on hand.
Character Customization Allows for More Diversity
One of the most obvious and important changes in A Wonderful Life‘s remake is the ability to customize the player character. A variety of skin tones are available, and players are able to customize their pronouns between he/him, she/her, and they/them. There are hairstyles to choose from that include textured hair and are not gender-locked. While the player can only select between two starting outfits, one is more masculine and the other more feminine, allowing the player to mix and match their pronouns and gender presentation. The player can unlock more outfits throughout the course of the game, and none of them are gender-specific.
Story of Seasons players are also able to choose any romantic orientation no matter their gender, with the entire cast of bachelors and bachelorettes open for romance. This inclusivity elevates the remake from the original game, allowing a greater variety of players to see themselves in their character. People want to — and should be able to, no matter the circumstances — create a character that shares their own race and gender. From the perspective of the 2003 original, same-sex marriage seemed like an impossibility, and changes like these show how far society has come.
Overall, Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Lifestayed true to its roots. Running around Forgotten Valley, players will notice familiar details from the original, right down to the sound their boots make on stone or dirt paths. It’s still a soothing experience of farming while falling in love, raising a family, and befriending the neighbors. Players can still encourage their children to take over their farm as they grow old with their chosen spouse. The game is as charming as it’s ever been, and hopefully the improvements made to the game will allow new players to fall in love with it just as hard as original fans of the series.
The improvements made to the game were ultimately necessary, and they add to the experience rather than detract or distract from it. As the series continues to grow, hopefully players can expect more remakes with as much attention and care to detail as Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life.