The very first time I played a Story of Seasons game, the series was still called Harvest Moon. The game was A Wonderful Life, on the GameCube, and I was stuck playing, to my frustration, a boy farmer, because that was the only option available at the time. And in 2004, that meant I also meant I could only marry one of three women.
Oh, how the series has changed since then.
I was 12 when I played A Wonderful Life, and not terribly interested in dating just yet, so I also had no idea (and wouldn’t for another decade-plus) that I was bisexual. Still, had I grown up in a different environment, I might have taken a clue at the time from the fact that I really, really liked all three of the game’s marriage options and enjoyed the process of getting to know, date, marry, and build a life with Celia — the charming young woman who worked at the ranch next door.
When Another Wonderful Life released not long after, I was thrilled to be able to play as a girl, but deeply disappointed by the romance options. Put frankly: the boys stunk! I wasn’t interested in Marlin, Rock, or Gustafa, and a part of me wished (though I never would have admitted it at that age) I could just be a girl and date a girl. A truly wild concept!
The Story of Seasons franchise, now divorced from its former name and publisher, began — at last — to incorporate same-sex marriage in 2020, beginning with the its remake of Friends of Mineral Town. When the game came out in Japan, it included a “Best Friends” system that was basically same-sex marriage under a watered-down name, possibly in part due to the fact that same-sex marriage is illegal in Japan (though this ban may be on its way to being dismantled soon!).
But when it came West, localizer XSEED wanted to fully cement this critical, progressive change. While localizers already have an extremely important role in making sure games are translated to other languages, as being culturally sensible and meaningful in other regions, we don’t often hear of them being on the frontlines of major, series-shaking changes. But XSEED, with Marvelous’ blessing, stepped up to meet the challenge of filling the hole in Story of Seasons’ social responsibility up to that point.
“In our version [of Friends of Mineral Town], [the ‘Best Friends system] will just be called ‘marriage,’ and the relationship between same-sex couples will be given identical treatment to opposite-sex couples,” XSEED wrote at the time. “This has been a very long time coming in the Story of Seasons series, and the producer has been supportive of our decision from very early in development.”
Thanks to the collaboration between XSEED and Marvelous, that support has continued into Pioneers of Olive Town, the latest Story of Seasons game. Speaking to IGN, game director Hikaru Nakano says that having the freedom to marry anyone regardless of gender “suited the Story of Seasons philosophy of letting players play however they want.”
He adds that he feels the development team did an even better job with the feature this time, as well as with the game’s avatar creation — which allows players to customize their appearance independent of gender selection, which occurs later in the introduction. And bachelors and bachelorettes from several previous games are returning to Pioneers of Olive Town via DLC in the coming months, offering opportunities for same-sex relationships with characters that they haven’t been offered with in the past.
XSEED’s localization team is pointedly trying to ensure that players who want to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual in-game don’t just have that as another option thrown in, but feel like those options are given care and consideration. This started with Friends of Mineral Town, as assistant localization lead Lori Snyder explains:
“For the North American release of Friends of Mineral Town, the localization team for that title set an important precedent for localizing same-sex marriage: all of the bachelors and bachelorettes have special dialogue to acknowledge this,” she says. “Your experience is going to be different if you’re playing as a girl farmer and you marry a bachelorette—there’s a unique line when you marry Jennifer as one of the female farmers, for example, where she’ll say, ‘May our energies continue to resonate with the beauty of two women united as one.’ Everyone has amazing lines like these! The localization team on FoMT wanted it to be validating for players, wherever they had the opportunity to do so.”
The team has been similarly thoughtful about Pioneers of Olive Town. Despite the Japanese version of the game still leaning on “best friend ceremonies” (likely for the same reasons Friends of Mineral Town did, unfortunately), XSEED’s localizers have been intentional in how they choose to represent gender and relationships as they brought the game West.
I’ve been playing Pioneers of Olive Town ahead of release for about a month now, and have really enjoyed experiencing the little touches Snyder outlined in the game’s localization blog — particularly how an improved gender-tagging system allowed the team to offer a bit of nuance in how conversations would play out, depending on the selected gender of the player.
The example given in the blog is not a conversation with romantic interests, but with a group of ladies that gets together for cake and chatter regularly and welcomes you to join them. The tone of each conversation is subtly different, with men being welcomed to the conversation in a more general sense and women being welcomed with a tone more closely resembling an initiation into a local ladies’ gossip circle. It’s subtle, but tonally interesting.
Snyder says that while it was always intended to keep same-sex relationships in Olive Town present and enjoyable, the freedom the team was given with gender tags further inspired the team to keep the celebratory precedent alive.
“I’ve played too many games that try to act coy about same-sex relationships or can only go so far as to imply them, but the writers don’t want to be open about it, for whatever reason,” she said. “I obviously didn’t want that sort of thing to happen here. So whenever we had the opportunity to make the dialogue more personalized or more validating to same-sex relationships, we took it. Your partner will acknowledge that they love and care about you, that they’re happy and proud to be your husband or wife. And that’s something we’re really proud to be able to do.”
Having played Pioneers of Olive Town, flirted with several of the bachelorettes, and wooed and married one (Bridget you’re the best), it really is incredible how a change that seems so simple on the surface can make me feel so much more comfortable in a game’s world. For years, one of my favorite game series wouldn’t let me be fully myself, and I got by through compromises — dating the men even if they didn’t appeal as much, or playing a gender that didn’t fully represent how I saw myself. It was never a dealbreaker in any one game, but it was a constant sticking point. For years!
In 2016, Stardew Valley was critical to my understanding of my own sexuality when, bored by most of the boys in the valley, I made the off-hand decision to try and date Abigail, just to see what it was like. You know, on a whim of sorts! As one does!
I adored her. I started thinking harder about my identity. I came out as bisexual two years later. And now, I finally see myself in the farming sim I’ve loved since I was a kid. Even though I knew about the changes to how Story of Seasons approached relationships going into Olive Town, it was still such a pleasant surprise when the bachelorette’s conversations with me gradually turned from openly friendly to adorably flirtatious across a series of cutscenes. There was no big fanfare, but also no SapphoAndHerFriend-level “friendship ceremony.” Just me, Bridget, our adorable kid, and a barn full of perfect round farm animals. A wonderful life, indeed.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.