Hometown Story review: I want to love this game but I can’t
Gameplay (Max 4)2
Graphics (Max 2.5)1.5
Sound (Max 1.5)1
Content (Max 2)1
Mary-Anne Lee | On October 28, 2013 at 11:30 am
In Hometown Story, you take on the role of shopkeeper. Your deceased grandmother – who you don’t even remember having – died a while back and left her shop in your old hometown unattended.
You’re notified of her death only recently by a letter sent by a floating, talking hamster thing called Pochica. When you finally get to the shop, Pochica tells you that it needed you to work the shop because it couldn’t stock the shelves with no hands. (You’ll wonder how it wrote the letter but that’s besides the point).
You gallantly jump to the task. Of course you’ll revive your grandmother’s old shop and rebuild the quiet sleepy town of your childhood! So you get to work placing shelves and stocking products and finally open shop. Congratulations! Here’s where the game rapidly starts to head downhill.
Considering the absolute star power that weighed in on it, it’s a letdown, a disappointment and a farce. Harvest Moon fan or no – Hometown Story is a brand new IP from Yasuhiro Wada, the father of Harvest Moon – the game is still a poor one.
Here are its main problems summed up.
No motivation to put on a pair of pants and leave home
Unless you have experience with life simulation games, you’re likely not going to ever leave your shop, because you don’t have to. Customers come and go in a steady stream, and your neighbours visit often. Sometimes they even make special orders, which they expect you to fulfil. This is the point where you would leave your shop, except that you won’t need to. You do eventually have to go forth and deliver things to neighbours, but this happens only after a while.
So why don’t you need to leave? There’s an old dude in Hometown Story who is unnamed and unhoused. All he does is come to your shop every two days, right when you’re running out of stock, to offer all kinds of items. Sometimes he brings rare jewels; other times, he brings milk and eggs. He always has all the key items your neighbours want from you. He also has one of a kind items in stock too, which brings us to another terrible point of the game.
Lacking in communication
It’s not uncommon to have quirky scriptwriting lost in translation. I get that. Sometimes one language lacks the native phrasing and poetry another has. But while poor translation resulted in the empty and uninspired one-liners that your NPC customers spout, it is no excuse for the rest of the game.
Many things go unexplained in Hometown Story, the worst of which is how you are not informed of your shop’s closing time. I kept going to sleep early because I didn’t think there actually was a closing time. When you finally discover it, which I did quite by accident, by seeing if it could remain open for 24 hours, you are treated to a ledger which sums up your income but proceeds to confuse you with its five other unlabelled tabs. Note that this ledger is not even available for viewing; you’ve got to wait till midnight each day to look at it.
You’re also not given a proper tour of town, which I feel really made the game less intuitive. While characters did introduce themselves when you bumped into them, little else was mentioned. And because you get new stock delivered to you every other day, it took a while before I headed out to explore. It absolutely doesn’t help that your hometown is horribly large and desolate, and houses many empty areas that do nothing but sit pretty.
Your hometown is a ghost town
To be honest, the desolation that blankets Hometown Story is kind of frightening. It’s ironic, considering how the game was initially codenamed Project Happiness and described, according to Wikipedia, as “a game to spread happiness”.
When I first ventured out of my shop and into my home town, I was surprised, and definitely creeped out by the amount of empty space available. Entire areas, like the town plaza, would be populated by unpassable mounds of grass, long and empty paths, and bare patches of land that you could run around in but do little else with.
There was nobody. There was nothing. There were no animals, no birdsong, no signs of human population. I’d occasionally (note, maybe like twice in two game-weeks) find a truffle on the ground, or a purple berry, but there would be no one to share my joy with. The town is supposed to fill up as you play on, but even when they finally do, the actual village grounds are so desolate I doubt their presence will make a difference.
You’re not running a shop. You’re playing at running a shop.
With little to do beyond the shop, one might imagine that a large portion of Hometown Story’s budget went into shopkeeping mechanics, right? Wrong.
All you do while waiting in your shop is to place new items on shelves and ring up customers. It is impossible to go bankrupt unless you deliberately mark items down because your stock’s default price is already marked up from what you bought it at. In true Japanese fashion, your customers wait patiently for you to return from a day of wandering around town and ring them up. They do complain if you speak to them while they’re in the queue, but their words are of no consequence.
In fact, you should ignore their tired script as much as possible, because it helps you very little in your shopkeeping duties. No one actually cares about buying what they said they wanted to. An individual may talk about buying materials for a shelf her husband needs to make, but walk out with a slice of strawberry cake instead. The only people who really buy what they need are the NPCs, like the blacksmiths or the fisherman, who are obviously of some significance in your Hometown Story life. You know, because they might be potential husbands.
I want to love this game but I can’t
I’m a big Harvest Moon fan, but I cannot love Hometown Story. It is a vapid reproduction of a life sim that’s missing a big spark in its heart. Whether Wada left that spark in Harvest Moon and is simply trying to milk the best of his reputation I will never know. I do know, though, that Toybox Inc. could have done much better with Hometown Story, that it has its core concept down pat, but has omitted to treat the rest of the game the best it could.
I mean, for god’s sake, we didn’t even get attractive individuals to ‘ship and want to marry.