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.
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.
For players new to the series, this isn't so bad. It helps provide a gentle slope for you to get acquainted with the game's tools and mechanics, complementing the already simple gameplay. For veterans, however, it can be frustrating to know that a basic ability is coming but then be locked out of it until you hit the proper tutorial. On the other hand, the game is structured in such a way that this isn't usually that big of a deal. For instance, one new feature of The Tale of Two Towns is the ability to fish by hand, alleviating the immediate need for a fishing pole (you can catch bugs the same way).
Festivals return, and most of them now revolve around cooking. Every week there is a cooking competition between the two towns with a different theme, like salad or main dish, which encourages you to experiment with recipes and produce higher-quality ingredients for your food. You will either enjoy these festivals because they break up the normal routine and give you something a little different to do, or hate them because shops close and most social interactions grind to a halt while a festival is going on.
There are minor annoyances here and there, such as the tiny, random inventory most shops have each day or the fact that you can save only when going to bed each night (which is problematic because days can run pretty long), but in the end, The Tale of Two Towns is a tale that is worth experiencing for fans of the series who like their farming without complications. It won't change your mind on the franchise or surprise you with new mechanics, but it's a laid-back and addictive experience you can easily sink hours upon hours of time into, uncovering more to do the longer you spend with the game.