Even this second reopening isn’t a festive one.
Hometown Story starts off with players arriving in their hometown to reopen their late grandmother’s shop. After being given a small introduction to their new life as a shop owner, players can immediately begin to setup the store and stock the shelves. Then the game settles you into the daily grind of running the shop and talking to NPCs.
This all sounds all right on paper, but unfortunately the gameplay becomes very stale very quickly. Running the shop means randomly putting down items and hoping for them to be sold. There is no way of knowing what will sell or clever ways to dive into the unserved markets of the town. This leads to the game’s biggest flaw: it is incredibly unclear with what it expects of the player. This leads to continually stocking shelves until a event finally triggers. Players need to fulfill missions (i.e. get certain item and sell it) in order to advance the story, but not knowing what to buy at what moment is frustrating.
Players simply place mission items in their store and wait until the right customer walks in and buys it. The game just seems to lazily assume that players will eventually figure out what it wants. This makes the telling of the uninteresting story through forgettable clients, way too slow to even latch on. The European version of Hometown Story was said to have fixed the troubling story pacing of the North American version, but the results are still far from interesting.
Even outside the shop, the game doesn’t break away from dull gameplay. Players meet potential clients, who usually aren’t interesting, and collect various items by picking them up from the ground. Performing varied kinds of action, like chopping wood or cutting grass in order to get these free salable items would have added to the gameplay value of the game.
Walking around the empty-looking town is a complete mess as well. The images on the top screen of the 3DS are in set angles, which cannot be adjusted. Because of the weird nature of these angles, I found myself running into walls and missing the exit I was looking for. The only solution is to alternate between the map on the bottom screen and top screen.
New in the European version of the game is the addition of fishing, which allows players to easily stock up on more free goods. Unfortunately there is no skill required to acquire the fish. The actual act of fishing is shallow and the supply of fish is seemingly unlimited, making the entire process feel worthless. I found myself returning to fishing daily though, as it was the quickest way to make big money and expand my shop.
It’s a shame that the aesthetics of the game can’t save Hometown Story from its mundane, repetitive and unclear gameplay. The village and its population look very cute and the character customization is adequate.
The entire game has a regretfully sloppy presentation, which is especially sad considering that Nobuo Uematsu worked on the soundtrack. The biggest problem is that I kept on playing, without ever getting rewarded for my effort. The game goes nowhere and doesn’t offer any sort of challenge or fun. It kept me coming back, hoping that something would happen. In the end it just kept me busy with endless amounts of repeating the same actions and waiting for results. Grandma’s store might as well have stayed closed.