The Harvest Moon series has struggled with a case of "last year's game" syndrome for years. The bad news for Harvest Moon: The Tale of Two Towns is that it doesn't deviate enough from the formula to make it truly exciting. The good news is that the few changes to the formula don't interfere with the addictive pleasures the series is known for. If you're not familiar with previous Harvest Moon games, The Tale of Two Towns is also a good entry point to the series.
Irrigation trenches make it easy to water many plants at once.
As the subtitle implies, this new game takes place in two neighboring towns: the cobblestoned, animal-friendly town of Bluebell and the Asian-inspired plant haven of Konohana. The two towns used to be friendly, but the mayors got into a stupid argument many generations ago, creating great animosity and causing the Harvest Goddess to collapse the tunnel connecting the towns. Hundreds of years later, the goddess realizes that this was a pretty bad move on her part and decides you are the best hope to fix her mess and bring the towns together again. It's a plot that makes less sense the more you think about it, but it provides a good setup for the structure of the game. Right from the start you are forced to choose which town to live in, which dictates the primary focus of your farm--Bluebell for animals or Konohana for crops. Don't worry about being locked out of content, though. You can visit the other town whenever you like, and at the end of every season you have the option of moving if you don't like how things are going in your current town.
For the most part you spend your time growing crops, milking cows, foraging for berries, and wooing a potential spouse. This will all sound very familiar if you've played previous Harvest Moon games, but The Tale of Two Towns does make some tweaks and improvements here and there. For example, you can dig irrigation trenches to make the watering of plants a breeze, and you have a cart your horse can pull to carry more items when you're away from your farm. One of the more impactful new features is the message board, where you accept requests from other townsfolk. These tasks give you day-to-day (or week-to-week) goals other than your typical farming tasks, which can quickly become monotonous. There isn't a lot of variety in these requests early on, because most of them only require you to find a certain item and deliver it to a certain person, but at least it's something to focus on other than cutting grass. If you decide you don't like constantly dealing with the fetch quests, you can ignore most of them without any penalty.
One of the downsides to this quest system is that the game uses it as a method of offering you items and upgrades that should be available in more convenient ways. Certain tools that experienced players will expect to have access to from the get-go aren't available in shops. Instead, the game doles them out to you when it thinks you're ready for them. Therefore, you go a full season or more without seemingly basic equipment like the axe. This method also throttles when you can purchase upgrades for your farm, eliminating some of the excitement of saving for them while making it frustrating when you miss one. Can't afford a particular upgrade the season it's offered? You may have to wait until next year for it to show up again.