Doraemon’s second crossover outing with the Story of Seasons/Harvest Moon formula isn’t as impressive as the first. The basic game is the same, but while the first comes across as an inspired effort to bring two of the most wholesome Japanese properties together, now we already know it works, so the spark of sheer inventiveness to combine the is no longer there. On the other hand, it’s a Doraemon game where you can befriend alpacas. I can’t conceptualise a time I wouldn’t be up for more of that.
What I love about Doraemon Story of Seasons is that it goes old-school with its “life simulation” experience. The more recent Story of Seasons and series cousin, Rune Factory, titles opt to zoom the camera right in to give you a far more intimate look at the world around you. Meanwhile, Doraemon (for the most part) pulls right back to an isometric perspective, achieving a diorama or even zen garden-like quality to the pastoral country village that the game depicts. There is one exception, in one area where the camera shifts to a behind-the-back showcase of the beauty of grain fields, but otherwise this title feels more like a Harvest Moon from the N64 than the newest release in the venerable series.
If you’ve been playing Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons for long enough, this is going to come across as nostalgic, and that’s perhaps the perfect way to describe how most people view Doraemon itself. Doraemon’s been around since 1969. Almost any Japanese person playing this game grew up with the character. There is an entire museum dedicated to capturing the whimsical, wholesome charm of the group of kids and blue robot cat that make up this anime. As a game developer, you’d be missing the mark not to make this as nostalgic as possible.
The other side of Doraemon is that it is educational in tone. It’s a little concerning that so much children’s entertainment now is straying too far on the entertainment side of things, but Doraemon is a reminder of when kids television was fundamentally philosophical, challenging kids to develop an empathetic and emotional core while also remaining both light and entertaining. Across the long history of Doraemon, there have been so many motivational poster-worthy quotes that if you throw a stone at Google you’ll hit a million websites such as this one, and the game keeps that tone. All the kids (and Doraemon) end up on another planet after Doraemon’s spaceship takes them into outer space (if you’re a Doraemon fan none of that is unusual, I assure you). There, they immediately throw themselves into the community to help out – even Gian, the “bully”-like character – and the community embraces them with open arms. Sure there’s a bit of a run-in with the Queen and her guards, but what whimsical adventure doesn’t also have some kind of risk to overcome? The point here is that the overall experience is like a glass of hot milk and a plate of cookies. It’s the warmest nostalgia for childhood that you can imagine.
Doraemon Story of Seasons doesn’t stray too far from the established formula. You’ll start out by plowing a small section of the farm to grow a few basic vegetables, which you’ll ship off for some cash, which you’ll use to buy more seeds and then, soon enough, you’ll be growing an orchid worth of apple trees and carefully plucking tomatoes from dozens of plants. And then you’ll start making friends with the animals (including the alpacas!) which all provide you with endlessly renewing resources like milk and eggs.
You can sell this stuff off or, later on as you have enough cash spare, you can start using it in cooking and to present as gifts to the townsfolk. This is one area where Doraemon does differ a little from the Story of Seasons norm. Getting married and producing a kid wouldn’t be exactly appropriate for a game where you play as a perpetual pre-teen kid. However, you can still build relationships with the various townsfolk, and indeed this is how much of the game’s story works, so the basic mechanics are still there, even if the outcomes aren’t.
Doraemon’s world is fairly large and vibrant. Perhaps a touch too large for its own good. Because the clock ticks through the day automatically, I wasn’t a big fan of travelling to the furthest reaches of town unless I had to. Yes, I’m one of those people that actually aims to maximise my productivity and efficiency in virtual farming games.
In this case, it made mining a bigger slog than it should have been. That’s not that uncommon for Story of Seasons games. The mining locations often are tucked a good hike away for reasons I’ve never fully understood, but I still don’t like that you’re effectively a full in-game day out of your way if you decide to hit up the mine for some ores and minerals. This is a minor complaint, given that there’s never really any time pressure forced on players in this game, but nonetheless, I actually could have done with a slightly smaller world to explore this time around. Especially since there are areas that really don’t get much of a look-in. Those areas all feel like they could have been trimmed back. There’s a loading time to enter each of them, and while it’s brief, it’s enough that this game would have benefitted from trimming all the fat, to minimise the times you’re passing through areas that simply don’t need to be there.
Whimsical fantasy has always been the name of Doraemon, and in this context, both the original Story of Seasons collaboration and now this one is the perfect video game partner for the beloved manga icon. I do find it slightly strange that these games get localised, given that the anime, manga and films don’t tend to be, but perhaps Bandai Namco is counting on the warm spirit and people’s never-ending love for Story of Seasons to draw them in, rather than the iconic mascot. And if so, that makes sense, because once you peel past the Doraemon exterior, you’ll realise that this is a classic Story of Seasons title, to the point of being nostalgic, and in this case, that’s a very good thing.