Everybody in Japan knows Doraemon, the white and blue robot cat from the future (he hates it when you think he's a raccoon). The beloved character was first introduced in 1970 and has been a common sight on television for generations of kids since 1973. An accessible and recognisable character, Doraemon has appeared in everything from commercials to educational material, which in turn has made him a national icon on par with Godzilla, Totoro, and of course Mario himself.
In our parts of the world, however, the robot from the 22nd century might need further introduction. Doraemon has travelled back in time to our age's Tokyo, where he lives and assists the young fifth-grader Noby Nobi (Nobita Nobi in the Japanese original), the ancestor of his creator. Noby's mostly below average in everything, but his heart is in the right place.
Almost every episode of the anime show revolves around Noby getting in some sort of problem, before coming to Doraemon for support and assistance. Besides being a time-travelling robot from the future, Doraemon has one more special feature: a four-dimensional pouch on his belly full of gadgets and inventions from the future. Usually, Doraemon has a thing or two to help Noby out of his troubles, but often the gadgets end up causing new problems for Noby because of his hubris - laziness or carelessness while trying to quick-fix his way out of his worries. If Doraemon has a moral, it must be that it's okay to ask for help when you need it, but hard work pays better off than laziness.
Since Doraemon doesn't have an overarching storyline, the show can practically go on forever. It's also quite easy to change it up with different settings or even other shows and series. A clear example of this is Doraemon Story of Seasons, the new game for PC and Switch, which is also the first Doraemon game released outside of Japan. In this game, Doraemon, Noby, and their friends are thrown through time and space to a rural community where all children are required to work and contribute to society. Usually, Doraemon would just pull out a gadget to bring them all home, but these have been lost during their time-space travel. Biding their time while searching for the gadgets, Doraemon and the others take on different jobs, and Noby ends up on a small farm where he begins living off the land and caring for the animals.
The Story of Seasons series is developed by the original creators of the more familiar Harvest Moon franchise, as the Harvest Moon license is owned by the publisher Natsume. This means that a Story of Seasons game will give you a farming simulator with a romanticised view on the farmer's life, closer to Stardew Valley than Farming Simulator 19, but which hopefully captivates you with its calming game mechanics and the relaxing feeling you get when tinkering.
This formula is both relaxing and charming when done right, and to combine it with the beloved characters from Doraemon is a fitting match. These characters can easily fit into almost any setting not requiring a higher PEGI rating, and a Harvest-Moon-like farming simulator turns out to be a great place for Noby and his friends. The downside, however, is that the game takes it for granted that you're familiar with typical Doraemon conventions, even though this is the first time Doraemon appears in a game in the West. Classic Doraemon gadgets such as the Anywhere Door (which takes you anywhere you want) are just presented without any further explanation, assuming you know what it is and how it works just by seeing it. These things don't happen very often and are easy to look up on the Internet, but it reduces the game's accessibility slightly.
Farming sims tend to draw out due to the lack of clearly defined story content, but this is where the introduction of Doraemon and his friends come in handy. Their task is to travel back home to Tokyo, and to do that they need their gadgets back. It's not an intricate plot by any standards, but it gives the game the little extra to drive the progress forward, as well as a certain effectiveness that similar games like My Time at Portia or Stardew Valley lack. During the game you will encounter several small cutscenes that push the game forward, but the price you pay for this is a game with a smaller scale than its competitors, meaning slightly less content and fewer areas to explore. This doesn't have to be a negative factor, but players who prefer the amount of content found in games like Stardew Valley will notice this aspect in particular.
Most days in the game follow the same pattern. You must sow and water your plants and vegetables, care for the animals, talk to the villagers, gather resources in the forest or the mine, or simply walk around and explore the local areas. Every season comes with a couple of festivals which give a much-needed change of pace, and the game could certainly use a couple more of them. Sometimes the days turn out to be too long with not much to do, and as with most games in the genre, this could have benefitted from a couple of mini-games or extra activities for such occasions.
The game's greatest selling point is its visuals. You get a game where everything looks like it was drawn by hand, and the result is stunning. If you pick up the Switch version, you might notice some slight performance issues while playing in docked mode, but it's only a minor issue and nothing that hampers the experience. The surroundings, characters, and animals all look delightful, and taking a walk in the forest or at the beach is really relaxing when everything looks so amazing and picturesque. The music deserves some credit as well, which is unusual for games in the genre. Sure, it gets a little repetitive at times, since the tracks only change with the seasons, but if you choose to listen to the game's audio instead of Spotify or a podcast you will get some pleasant tunes.
The game also comes with a couple of quality improvements that elevate it. As usual, you have a stamina meter which is drained for most actions you do, and if you're not careful you'll collapse from exhaustion. Fortunately, the game has a couple of features that makes it easier to conserve your energy. One of these is that you can't repeat an action you've already done, such as water the same plant twice or mine a piece of land already mined. This might sound like a little thing, but not wasting energy on things you've already done is an important element in this kind of games.
Another handy feature is Noby's ability to lay down wherever he is and take a nap, something that's part of his character in the series (where he's known as The Lazy King). By resting an hour or two you'll recover stamina, preparing you for more tasks. These are all minor tweaks and features, but they really make a positive difference in the long run.
Doraemon Story of Seasons might not be the game generating the most buzz this season, but it's certainly a nice entry for Doraemon in the Western video game market. The combination of well-established characters and farming simulation is excellent, and the result is a charming and relaxing game. It might not have the same depth you find in similar games like Stardew Valley, but if the pixelated art style of the latter is not your cup of tea, Doraemon Story of Seasons might just be your thing.