Publisher: Rising Star Games
Hometown Story ought to be a lovely little thing. The creator of Harvest Moon sets the stage for another heartwarming tale of self-discovery and graft as a young lad (or lass) returns to their childhood village to take over their late grandmother's shop. We'll stack shelves, go fishing, meet a cast of characters and generally learn the value of a hard day's work, all brought to life in appropriately colourful fashion. After all, Yasuhiro Wada usually manages to turn chores into an addictive adventure.
It certainly hits the right emotional notes right from the off. The pastel cel-shaded visuals, adorable chibi stylings and uplifting soundtrack do a great job of making us feel like we're in a home away from home, a relaxed yet playful town to live in, explore and peddle your wares to at as high a price as possible.
Shame it doesn't last.
Upon creating an avatar and receiving an astonishingly brisk training session from a bizarre floating mouse-thing (because... Japan, don't question it), we quickly learn the ropes of managing a shop. It's lightweight, streamlined, clicktime fare that'll be familiar to any Diner Dash players, as punters stroll in, pick up items that catch their interest and queue up at the till awaiting your attention. As such, you'll need to arrange shelves in a convenient manner, keep them stocked with wares, aggressively set prices and replenish your supplies from wandering salesmen, then cater to each character's specific whims.
Occasionally you'll need to provide a unique item to further a story arc or trigger a special event, but otherwise, it's incredibly basic and simple even in comparison to Harvest Moon and other similar games.
Your shop grows as the money pours in, though, which in turn attracts new people to the village. You're free to explore the town at any time (shutting the store while you're out and about, naturally), both to secure a stock of profitable fish via an enjoyable fishing minigame, accept some quests from townsfolk, introduce yourself to the inhabitants and pry into some intriguing nooks and crannies. A nice breath of fresh air from all the shelf-stacking, and one that you'll return to regularly, as much as anything to stay sane.
You'll soon settle into a rhythm of shopping, strolling and expansion (thankfully there's no ASDA superstore in sight), but when you do, a host of infuriating annoyances start to pile up. Why can't we stack multiple versions of the same item? Why is shelf placement so awkward and cumbersome? Why is the town so ridiculously huge yet sparsely populated, requiring us to navigate a confusingly laid-out labyrinth every time we go out? Why is the quest system so unhelpful and brusque, often leaving us directionless? Why, why, why, you'll ask, and the answer basically seems to be that Wada was just phoning it in this time.
Then, just as you're reeling from the body blows, a profound feeling of pure monotony delivers the knockout punch and sends you straight to sleep.
Chore simulators like this can provide dozens of hours of fun, as any Animal Crossing or Rune Factory fan knows (I count myself among them), but only if they provide enough real personality, charm and quirky distractions to hold our attention. Hometown Story fails spectacularly in this regard. The 100 characters and customers may all be unique, but no-one has anything interesting to say, the matter-of-fact translation robbing them of any personality and leaving them as bland cardboard cutouts who aren't worth getting to know. Descriptions and narration are also depressingly prosaic, leaving you with little incentive to explore or stray from the beaten track.
Even though story progression has been accelerated in the EU version, there's still precious little in terms of interesting things to do (the story itself is forgettable and bland) making your virtual day job feel like... well, your real day job.
Hometown Story isn't a bad game, to be clear. Expanding your shop and the town it serves is undeniably satisfying, but sadly, it's nowhere near fun enough to hold your interest for the long term. Considering that numerous Harvest Moon games and spinoffs are available on the system and virtual console, not to mention Animal Crossing: New Leaf, turning up with Wada's name on the credits just isn't enough.
- Satisfying and simple shop management
- Enjoyable fishing minigame and a few diversions in town
- Adorable art style and heartwarming soundtrack
- Shockingly bereft of engaging personality, interesting characters and... fun
- Tedium sets in hard and fast
- Town is overly large, labyrinthine and poorly laid out
- Numerous irritations, not limited to lack of item stacking to unhelpful quest interface
The Short Version: This lightweight shop simulator suffers from a criminal lack of personality and character, making its admittedly addictive management gameplay feel far too much like a boring day job.