Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town Review
When I was growing up, my sister would often share games with me whenever she got stuck or bored with what she was playing. One of those games was Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town. I remember being absolutely addicted to it, and it was my stepping stone into the Bokujo Monogatari (Story of Seasons) series. However, upon release of the series spin-off franchise, Rune Factory, I stopped playing the mainline games in favour of the more story-focused Rune Factory. As a result, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town was my first time returning to the mainline games since 2007. After a decade and a half away from the pure farming series, how does this entry fare?
You play as a male or female character that has just moved into the pleasant Olive Town. Your grandfather had moved here when you were a child, and you hold fond memories of the place as you return to it in your adulthood. Upon arrival, your motorcycle breaks down, and you're soon greeted by the town mayor, Victor, who knew your grandfather. Victor tells you that your grandfather's farm has been neglected since his passing, and he allows you to stay on the farm since it does belong to your family.
The main gameplay draw of the Story of Seasons games is the addicting loop of planting, harvesting, livestock raising, and selling the products for cash. Your earnings can then be used to buy better crops, improvements to your farm, expanding your house, and buying more livestock for your farm to make even more money. This loop goes on for as long as you want to want it to; there's no real end to a Story of Seasons game. The 'endgame' usually consists of finding a spouse and having a child.
The townspeople in Olive Town are integral to making your daily trips into the city more fun. However, a few hours into the game, I noticed that I was beginning to skip through most of the dialogue without realizing it. Unfortunately, much of the NPC dialogue is just a bit too simple, sometimes with characters simply saying "hello" and ending the conversation. Anything more colorful, quirky, or substantial that might make NPCs more memorable or interesting was simply missing.
Also, for some reason, character portraits are missing during conversations. This is something I remember being present in the majority of Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons/Rune Factory games and, once I noticed they were missing here, it threw me off. It sounds like a small thing, but sometimes you don't know what you take for granted until it's gone, and that's the case here. Without the interactivity with the character portraits and the lack of interesting dialogue, I often found myself mashing the A button to speed through text boxes. That's never a good sign when, historically, some of the best parts of this series have been the casts of characters. The only reason I talked to townspeople at all was to upgrade my conversation skill so I could get a spouse faster.
Most character dialogue that felt meaningful was limited to 'events' once you reached a certain level of relationship with any character. While I remember these events being mostly limited to bachelors/bachelorettes in the past, it's been expanded for every character here. This is especially welcome in this case, due to the lack of personality the townspeople have during the rest of your daily conversations with them. These events were the only things managing to keep me invested in the characters as I made my way through the game. Even so, I still felt the townspeople lacked any real personalities that stood out.
Some people will be pleased to know that all bachelors and bachelorettes are available for marriage regardless of gender. They're all in town from day one, so there's no need to worry about switching to a new person that you like. However, some components to this bachelor/bachelorette system felt lacking in some areas, especially when I compare to parts that I loved in Rune Factory 4. In RF4, the developers included a dating element for your chosen boyfriend/girlfriend. At any time, you could ask your significant other to accompany you for a date, and there were some really cute moments that can happen on the date. This was also in addition to the regular events that involve your beloved. While the later events in Pioneers of Olive Town were nice to experience, it didn't evoke the same feelings that I've experienced before.
The farming gameplay has remained relatively unchanged from previous Story of Seasons titles, but here are some new elements that are worth mentioning. The big one for me was its use of Makers. These are machines you construct that allow you to insert ingredients into them, and they give you materials in return. I vaguely remember using them before in Friends of Mineral Town to turn eggs into mayonnaise and wool into yarn. However, in Pioneers of Olive Town, the use of Makers quickly becomes tedious. Instead of instantly creating an item, the Makers take a couple to several in-game hours to create the material you put into it. To make up for this, the game allows you to create multiple Makers.
The big downside to this method is that Makers take up space on the farm. If I wanted to keep things nice and tidy, I needed to dedicate a certain space on the farm just for Makers. When you start off needing lumber and stone bricks to create new Makers, just so you can gather materials quicker, it slows the early game down considerably. A future patch will allow you to feed multiple items into one Maker to get out more materials in the same amount of time, which should help out anyone who will pick up the game later. It's unfortunate that early birds had to deal with the terrible Makers.
While I've seen this in Rune Factory 4 already, the game is no longer locked on a grid when you farm. You are still forced to plant on a grid, but you can move your character anywhere you want. However, the hit detection when watering is annoyingly tricky. Rune Factory 4 had much looser hit detection when watering, so I rarely watered the same spot twice or missed a spot I meant to water. Switching to the next level of watering can help with this, but the early game was a pain to deal with. Another new element was taken from Rune Factory's book, which allows you to level up farming skills like woodcutting, mining, fishing, etc. I prefer this new method for stamina upgrades, instead of how previous games provided you with stamina increases from finding random 'stamina fruit'.
A farming sim might seem like the best kind of game for a handheld console, there were some strange frame drops if there were too many objects on screen. Trees seemed like the main culprit where there were frame rate issues. I suppose it's the reason why in most games in the series, you just have mysterious tree stumps that appear on your farm. Some areas of town also had some odd frame drops, and town festivals were definitely not kind to the game's frames.
For anyone who prefers pure farming and enjoys the Story of Seasons franchise, this can still be a game for you. Everything that the series is well-known for is present in this game. However, it doesn't seem like the series has really taken any real steps forward since I last played a Story of Seasons game back in 2007. For now, I think I'll stick to Rune Factory.