I give Harvest Moon's 20th anniversary game...an 88/100!
After the company Marvelous made their own English translation company and took back the Bokujo Monogatari franchise from Natsume, the company that translated the games from day one, many thought that the Harvest Moon franchise, now renamed Story of Seasons, was dead in the water. Even more so since Natsume began making their own farming sim games using the name Harvest Moon, relying on the brand recognition to make easy money. But after people discovered Natsume's HM games were...poorly made at best, and recognizing that Story of Seasons is the franchise they know and love, the franchise is still thriving even to this day. In 2016/2017, Marvelous would release the last Story of Seasons game for the 3DS called Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns. I played it like hell because it introduced a lot of fun and new ideas and built on a lot of things the previous 3DS games for the series introduced. I originally rated this slightly lower, but after replaying it, I've come to appreciate it a lot more.
One thing the game really sold me on is the fact that your player character actually has a family. The story is about you, the player character, wanting to become a farmer, but due to your father's job making you move around all the time, you've never been able to do so. One day, your character decides to move out of the house to become a farmer. But the father, Daryl, is heavily opposed to the idea, knowing that farm life is not a walk in the park. But the MC is steadfast and refuses to budge, intent on moving to another town and becoming the best farmer they can be, enough to prove to Daryl that they can handle it. Your farm is just outside of three different towns; the Western-themed Westown, the beachside Hawaiian style town of Lulukoko, and the Japanese-themed town of Tsuyukusa. The MC has to both make their farm a success and get to know the various townspeople, gradually becoming an important member of all three communities. This has about the same premise as Tale of Two Towns, in the form of having several locations to go to instead of just two or three, but the characters thankfully don't act like complete idiots this time around, and Trio introduces a lot of neat mechanics to make things more fun.
For those of you who didn't like Story of Seasons' getting rid of the shipping box, don't worry, it comes back here. Like the previous game, planting seeds yields much more crops than simply one crop at a time with every seed you plant (Each seed plants nine crops), and fertilizers are given more complex mechanics as well. Instead of just using one fertilizer, you're given a total of five, eventually six, different types of fertilizer, with each one increasing a crop's color, sweetness, size, and juiciness, along with one that yields more crops than the usual number, not counting upgrades. A lot of people I know feel this mechanic makes using fertilizer more difficult, but I personally like it, as the crop contests require that crops be evaluated on all those things, giving you much more reason to use them, so it doesn't feel like the game is just forcing you to use them for the sake of it. Also, for anyone who hated that you couldn't receive certain things, like animals, crops, or special gadgets, until a certain amount of time passed, don't worry: Trio does away with time-locked advancements as well. Instead of simply waiting for enough time to pass to unlock them, you have to fulfill various tasks to progress through the game, which mostly come from increasing the towns' rankings and fulfilling the tasks your family gives you early in the game.
As far as the graphics go, they're about the same as the previous game that came before this, but with the overworld sprites having much nicer, less derpy-looking faces. The character portraits are a bit rounder and more chibi-esque than the previous game, but they do have their own charm to them. The soundtrack is definitely a lot more varied, with a larger repertoire of background music for events than the previous game did. Not as much as, say, Stardew Valley, but I still found Trio's BGM variety to be an improvement over Story of Season's, and that's my favorite HM game ever! I do have to admit, I don't like that Trio did away with swimming in the river and walking while watering crops simultaneously. I really liked those mechanics. But it does make up for that by giving food special effects. You're able to cook your own food based on recipes, which is always good, but by eating them, most foods give you special abilities such as being able to use your tools longer, restoring energy after expending it, slowing down or speeding up time, and running faster.
But you can't have a good farming sim without good characters to go with it, so how does Trio fare in that aspect? Actually, surprisingly well. I didn't like the cast for A New Beginning, as many of them were either uninteresting or plain intolerable. Story of Seasons was slightly better, but didn't have much variety, though I genuinely loved several characters in that. Trio's cast is the best out of all of them, with every character, from the bachelor/ettes to the NPCs you talk to every now and again, all having their own sets of personalities, flaws, quirks, and charms that make them fun to follow. Plus, the bachelor/ettes are not only given many more heart events, but said events are made much longer, giving them much more depth and nuance to them than previous games did, something I genuinely appreciate, even though I can see how others would find their length and the fact that there's so many of them rather tedious. The fact that the game even cares enough to not only show the player character's family on screen, but show them interacting with the MC on multiple occasions, is definitely a feature I appreciate, as other games never even bothered to do this, making it feel much more authentic and intriguing. But not all of its characters are good though, as there are two I genuinely dislike: Iluka, for being a massive spoiled brat in her heart events, and Moriya, for the way he constantly treats Sumomo, a ten-year-old child, like a troublemaker and causing all of her issues. I wanted to smack him upside the head so many times, it's not even funny.
I can't really find much in the way of flaws, other than the little things I just described, and even here, I don't think they affect the game's overall quality in any way. It's like the creators realized the mistakes they made in Tale of Two Towns and decided to see if they can do it better, and I think they succeeded here. Trio of Towns is definitely one of the best Harvest Moon games to come out in the 2010s, and a great way to end the 3DS era of HM games. Granted, I do like Friends of Mineral Town (both original and remake) and Story of Seasons better, but Trio is still in my top three favorite HM games, so it's still high up there in regards to being one of my favorites. I can wholeheartedly say that this is an entry that every Harvest Moon fan should play at least once. I'm even writing a fan fic based on this game! That has to say something about its quality, right?!