The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Yasuhiro Wada has spent the past 17 years knee-deep in his
most famous creation, Harvest Moon. In Hometown Story, he drops the hoe and
watering can to break into the shopkeeping business. The parallels to Harvest
Moon are clear, with a heavy focus on interacting with townspeople and building
a livelihood from nothing. Unfortunately, much like the farming sim's first
entries, Hometown Story has potential, but plays it too simple and safe.
As a business newbie, you won't have shopkeeping 101 to teach
you the rules; instead, you're thrown into the action and must learn the
majority from experience, from tracking down rare items to learning the customers'
tastes to maximize profit. The biggest
challenge isn't the financial struggle, but balancing your time between running
the shop and getting to know the townspeople. Everything revolves around the
community and needing them to get by, so you're dependent on the villagers for
crops and fish to sell. While you're earning money to expand your shop, you're
also investing it back into the people by saving up for special items that
bolster their relationships. Lending a hand for someone else's benefit is
clearly the point. The main
goal isn't merely to succeed, but decide if you want to put your efforts
towards the happiness of others by choosing a character and fulfilling their
biggest wish. Despite the intent, this tone is more campy and preachy than uplifting.
With these main concepts, Homestown Story starts off strong, but
each day feels too much like the last. The customers mutter the same, tired
dialogue, often making contradictions. They'd say they're looking for a tool, and
I'd put it on the shelf immediately, only to have them buy cake instead. The
faulty AI is confusing, as it makes you wonder if it matters if you listen to
these random NPCs, which goes against the premise of the game: Getting to know
The pacing is also painfully slow. I didn't expect to be an
overnight success, but more meaningful interactions would have made it less
humdrum. For example, I was helping the restaurant owner learn new meals to
bring more people to her establishment. She'd request I get special ingredients
for her to practice. I'd stock the shelf with them, which would lead to a
cutscene. With multiple requests, I watched that cutscene of her prepping a meal
and failing numerous times. Although this advanced my relationship with her, it
still was boring to watch the same exact cutscene without any progression. Even
if one meal didn't taste as bad as the last or she cooked me something
different, it'd be a great small step to show she's at least developing
The other problem with the townspeople is that they should
lend Hometown Story its spirit, but the characters are mostly archetypes, like
the grouchy old man or the mysterious girl - with unimaginative predicaments.
Not many stand out, which is disappointing when I'm supposed to want to help
this community. To Hometown Story's credit, new characters enter the town as the
days wear on, which is a nice touch. This changes the dynamic; for example, a
newcomer may now provide an item, like jam that you can now stock. The progression
extends to your shop, which becomes more populated. How the town grows with your success is by
far the best part of the journey.
While unpopulated houses steadily become inhabited, the town
itself isn't all that interesting. Without varied dialogue and plenty of wide
open, barren space, I didn't feel compelled to leave my shop, but forced myself
to in hopes I'd unlock a new cutscene with one of the villagers or find free
goodies to sell. The game itself is repetitive, so to have a town to explore
that doesn't have much appeal only makes it feel that much more.
I can't deny Hometown Story has charm with its
premise and I love the ideas, but the execution needs work. Owning a shop
should be more frantic and rewarding. If the developer, Toybox, can smooth out the rough edges,
it may one day match the lure of simulation games like Harvest Moon and Animal
Crossing. Sadly, it's not in the same league.
Email the author Kimberley Wallace, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.