The Story of Seasons franchise has always seen growth through its 25 year history, even going back to bring one of its most popular entries to the Switch last year as a bit of an early celebration of that fact. Now that that milestone year is upon us, Marvelous has brought Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town out with a number of new elements looking to bring some fresh new life to the franchise. With such a short turnaround between the original Japanese release and the Western version of the game, there are a number of growing pains here and at least a few elements that longtime fans may not be keen on.
The player, a young twenty-something, has chosen to venture out from their city life into the countryside where their grandfather once helped found Olive Town and supported the residents with his farm. Many years have passed since then and while your grandfather has passed away, the plot of land is still there… sort of. Players will immediately meet with the mayor of Olive Town and be brought to a completely overgrown land and a dilapidated coop. With the player’s scooter broken down and only a small tent to their name, the mayor provides them with the tools needed to reclaim the land.
Of course, there is also a little something the mayor needs help with as well. While the residents of Olive Town are pleased with their quaint lifestyle, they all have hopes of bringing in numerous tourists while improving the look of the town at the same time and the best way to do that is with the player’s help. With the wilderness to tackle and the future growth of Olive Town possibly at the player’s feet, it is quickly time to fall into a rhythm and learn the new ropes of what Pioneers of Olive Town has to offer.
For the most part Pioneers of Olive Town does its best to provide players with various goals to work towards, usually in the form of town improving requests. These, outside of a few instances, offer minimal improvements as a whole but result in more interactions with the townsfolk while the more rewarding tasks tend to rely on farm expansion as these open up entirely new areas for players to explore and more resources for them to take advantage of. That being said, it is a bit disappointing that the few mystical elements that are explored in the game don’t offer more of a pay-off.
As for the townsfolk, the game finds itself in something of an odd place as it features plenty of interesting characters to interact with and the scenes that players trigger with them range from charming, to outlandishly strange, to informative once the player has reached certain levels of friendship with them, they are also incredibly bland outside of these scenes. While characters in scenes can have their personalities shine thanks to some strong writing, their standard day-to-day dialogue feels incredibly lifeless as many characters will simply repeat themselves day after day and be wary of anytime before or after a holiday as that is all they will talk about while repeating themselves again and again. It is also worth noting that with there being only two holidays a season, there is a shockingly small amount of actual holiday content in the game, perhaps the smallest the series has seen so far especially when one considers how basic the events during most holidays are.
As mentioned before, getting into a good rhythm with things is classic Story of Seasons tradition and that remains mostly true in Pioneers of Olive Town as stamina and an ever running clock that automatically ends the day at 2AM is ticking. Players will be given a separate tool bag to allow them to keep valuable rucksack space open for any harvested and scavenged items, produce, seeds, etc. while farming remains as tried and true as ever. This means using a hoe to till the soil, planting seeds, and watering daily until they are ready for harvest. These crops can then be sold, eaten as is, stored away or cooked once the player upgrades to an actual house from the small tent they live in, and more.
Taking care of animals is actually easier than ever before as not only are most of them given to the player right off the bat, carrying around excess items is no longer needed. While chickens remain as easy as ever, animals such as cows, goats, sheep, alpaca, and more no longer require extra tools to sheer, bathe, or milk as it is all handled with a few simple button taps. This does help speed things up a bit but does feel odd at the start, just like how calling them out to pasture only for them to automatically return at night seems a bit too simple. It is also worth noting that while players can obtain a horse, the poor thing never is given a chance to even be fed or taken care of in any form and in fact is only a bit faster than the player’s own walking speed which is rather odd.
As players take care of animals, harvest produce from their farm, fish, chop wood, smash rocks, and more such as the new bee-keeping and mushroom raising, they will unlock various skills that will not only provide various boosts such as increased drops and lower stamina consumption but they will also unlock various crafting recipes. These crafting recipes range from simply turning things like clay into mortar or decorative pathways and fences to the things that unfortunately eat up so much of Pioneers of Olive Town; makers and the fierceness of Mother Nature.
From the get-go players will have to deal with troublesome trees, weeds, and rocks that are blocking their path to growing crops in their preferred manner but speed in which these nuisances return can be shocking. Puddles that must be dealt with using the new bucket tool can spring up during the driest of days all while larger pits of water that require either a water pump or frequent water bailing to remove will also spot the farmland and given how large the player’s land can be once it is fully unlocked, a bad day can eat up so much stamina right off the bat.
As for the makers, these are items that take raw materials and turn them into either items that can be used as parts of a recipe, something for cooking, or even upgrade material for tools and structures. The problem with makers happens to be the fact that not only are there far too many types of them, players will also need to flood their farmland with them if they want to get anywhere in the game. Far too many of these makers perform similar functions to one another such as multiple versions of cloth, cotton, and twine being turned into different versions of extra cloth that can then be dyed, which also must be produced with a maker.
That isn’t even starting upon the basic resources of which the developers have chosen to really go the extra mile as most resources, such as ore, grass, and wood, come with at least five different quality levels that all take various lengths of time to be processed in a maker. Put this together and players not only have to flood their farmland with machinery that takes up far too much space for proper customization but also takes away from the actual farming aspect at the same time to the point that players will want to simply rely on sprinklers only when they can simply to try manage everything else while trying to get some social time in with the townsfolk.
Alongside standard interactions with townsfolk players will find that there are other things that they can do as well. This can involve donating fish, treasures found from dredging ponds with the bucket, and photos of wild animals to the museum which will eventually fill up a bit with mostly generic replicas as well as take part in some unfortunately useless mini-games with the Earth Sprites.
It is worth noting that, while XSEED has released a patch already in an attempt to address things, players will need to keep an eye out for various minor bugs as well as some frequent slowdowns while playing the game as well. This is partially due to the sheer size of the farm that players have to work with in Pioneers of Olive Town as, especially when traveling through a spot with tons of crops or makers processing, can result in some harsh slow down even with the Switch docked. Along with this, there are still some lengthy load times when traveling between simple locations which is more than a little annoying, though whether or not these load times will be further reduced has yet to be seen.
Visuals & Audio
With Pioneers of Olive Town being the first “non-remake” Story of Seasons entry on the Nintendo Switch it is easy to say that the development team has still managed to retain the same charm that the series has always had. The character models are just detailed enough for some emotion while also providing a cute appearance overall while the livestock retain their signature appearances. It is also worth noting that players can customize their appearance between being a boy or girl at any time, though the gender choice itself cannot be changed after the start of the game but regardless of what players choose they will be able to still see all villager scenes and even romance the bachelor and bachelorette of their choice.
It is interesting to note that players will obtain a camera that can be used to take pictures of wild animals and various other things. These photos can be sent out online and seen as loading screens for other users but it is worth noting that, while some photos are rather great looking, many range from simply being a fox butt to some pervy shots of the residents of the town. As for the soundtrack the game features a fairly calming and basic set of background music that works well with the farm theme with the theme of the town itself being one of the best.
With a large variety of crops and plenty of products to produce and sell there are plenty of ways for players to make their way in Pioneers of Olive Town, but the sprawling size of the game as a whole and the ridiculous over-reliance on makers not only taxes the system as a whole but takes away too much of the focus from the actual farm aspects of the game. Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town still does its best to provide a new farm to try and turn into your very own as well as a fresh batch of townsfolk to interact with and eventually romance in what still remains a highly enjoyable entry in the franchise despite the questionable development choices.
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