Fernando Da Costa
Afterpatch Review: Story of Seasons - Pioneers of Olive Town
Developer: Marvelous, Three Rings Design
Available On: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
OLIVES ARE GOOD! - Introduction
Story of Seasons, formerly Harvest Moon, is a franchise I snubbed growing up. Despite releasing a new entry on a frequent basis, it kept eluding me by my own choice. That all changed when I dove into the Friends of Mineral Town remake. It turned me into a fan that day, sucking me into this addiction vacuum. Now, I’m reasonably well-versed with farm simulators in general. So, suffice it to say, it wasn’t a shock that this series hooked me as I have been so many times before. Hell, I reckon that saying I’m obsessed would be the understatement of the decade. The truth is that when I cozy up to this genre, a feeling of calmness engulfs me. Pioneers of Olive Town, upon reveal, is a title I looked at with a side-eye, though. I remained optimistic, but my instincts and inner alarms weren’t happy. Should I listen?
REVAMPED AND PERFECT!? - Writing
Believability is of the utmost importance when it has to do with farm simulators. You want to be enticed and made to invest in everyone. Story of Seasons is a franchise known to take that philosophy and apply it. Unfortunately, Pioneers of Olive Town isn’t perfect, despite having the entire script upheaved. The main issue is how one-dimensional 95 percent of the cast feels. While I’m a fan of the wholesome and quaint nature, I hunger for nuance. Instead, I get that every character is a one-trick pony; simply put, they’re unrealistically kind. There aren’t many layers, resulting in a dystopian feel. It’s quite a shame since the children can be expressive. They’re easily the best aspect, and I’ll admit, a sprinkling of adults fall nicely into that, too. Still, I can’t ignore that; overall, it’s still ultimately lacking.
Speaking of the town's citizens, their personalities are decent. None of it is breaking any new ground since they follow a template of slice-of-life stereotypes. It does something I’m a big fan of, though, and that’s how it leans into their antics. They commit to the bit. My favourite is the son of the mayor. He’s a lovable doofus that gets himself in constant trouble. His buffoonery causes panic among the citizens, and that’s just the beginning of a smorgasbord of wrong place and time situations. He’s a prime example of the classic Story of Seasons charm we know and love. Sure, glimmers may persist elsewhere, too, but those don’t aid in solidifying any sense of relatability, and that’s down to how strangely chipper the NPCs are at all times. Look, no one is continuously pleasant. We are three-dimensional mammals and have an assorted buffet of reactions.
DO YOU LOVE ME!? - Writing
Romance is in the air, and as is tradition, you have the pick of the town. Keeping a trend, XSeed has kept going strong since Friends of Mineral Town; it’s possible to have an LGBT+ relationship, and I love it. Not only that, but you can also pick a gender before starting, although the options only go as far as either male or female. Still, it alters the pronouns to better represent you, the player. As for the method to win the heart of a potential lover, it’s pretty typical. It requires you to converse with them daily and give gifts. The cutscenes that then activate once milestones are met with an individual are mixed. Again, there are flashes of cute dialogue. It just doesn’t meet the bar set by the previous entries. Even if my partner attempted to be adorable, I wasn’t smitten.
CLEAN YOUR ROOM! - Gameplay
A facet I’ve always held in high esteem when discussing farm simulators is the ability to go at my speed. The relaxation that invokes is the proverbial crutch that grabs a person. Progression takes place only if I’m at the helm of the ship. If, for instance, I hunger to go spelunking instead of helping with the renovation of Olive Town, I’m free to do that. There’s zero, and I reiterate, zero punishment for wanting to diverge from the beaten path. Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town offers a variety of activities, too, such as the traditional festivals or even visiting mysterious worlds. I’m continually amazed by the simplicity of gameplay or the content volume. It encourages me to taste test, never yanking me down a straight road. Whether fishing, cooking or walking your dog, it tempts me with menial but engaging chores.
HARD OR EASY?! - Gameplay
Let me preface the above statement with the tiniest of caveats. As is typical with video games, there are difficulty settings. The first is Normal, or in other words, play as the developers intended. The second, and frankly, more lenient choice is cleverly entitled Seedling. Since combat isn’t a factor, picking the latter doesn’t hinder the challenge. Of course, I opted against the more accessible mode in my initial few hours. What I quickly began noticing from doing so is the mundane act of planting, harvesting, excavating, and so on became a tad repetitive. It weighed on me because I felt I wasn’t making any headway. It wasn’t until I jumped over to Seedling that fortunes shifted. Suddenly, prices in shops were fairer, while the sell value of items saw a boost - several small changes went towards correcting the pacing issues I was having.
Now, the primary beneficiaries of altering the difficulty are upgrading tools, as well as your home. You see, it costs an arm and a leg on Normal. For those that are well-aware of the shenanigans farm simulators love partaking in, money is relatively sparse in the beginning. I struggled during my session, and there’s no doubt in my mind that wouldn’t have been the case if only I’d swallowed my pride. Luckily, the tried and true, albeit a tad formulaic, compelling gameplay loop held firm and persevered. You know, something can be said for going outdoors and finding gnarly, never-before-seen trinkets or jewels for the very first time. It was always exciting, and it helped to alleviate the snail’s pace, but not by much. However, the novelty of that vanished in minutes, and as a byproduct, I repeat, select Seedling before you begin.
I AM YOUR MAKER! - Gameplay
We have to discuss the Maker System. Essentially, these devices allow you to use raw materials to create refined ones. For example, the logs you collect from chopping down trees are processed into lumber. It’s pretty straightforward in terms of functionality. As for conceptually, it’s decent, at best. Where it tends to nosedive is in execution. Regardless of the enormous patches in the past that try to remedy it, it remains a suboptimal mechanic. You see, they operate under a timer which can be a great feature or awful - there’s no in-between. Sadly, it falls into the latter category here. I had to actively exploit sleeping, for three days at times, to allow them to do their thing. It feels monotonous. It replicates that annoying free-to-play ideology of artificially prolonging game length. If I pay, remove those lulls of inaction. Yet, none of that happens in this game.
There are further reasons why it doesn’t work as was intended. The first is it places a cap on how much can be made at once. For instance, only ten bricks at once, meaning to speed up the process, I was forced to build a second Maker. Doing so quickly accumulates and results in ATM-looking monstrosities cluttering the farm. Having to rush to each one is, without exaggeration, such a drag. Why, after two long years, is the limit still a thing?
The second is, admittedly, a frivolous cosmetic issue, but it’s not aesthetically pleasing. A key selling point in the marketing campaign was designing your space as you wanted. I was giddy. These Makers contradict that, though, because they take over. If I customize, I must reserve 50% of the land for these Goddamn ugly eyesores.
THIS I PROMISE YOU! - Gameplay
One mainstay of this genre is, by and large, the ability to upgrade tools. So, it should be no surprise that it’s integral in Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. It also works precisely like in prior iterations - a heightened rank translates to lessening the cultivation of raw ingredients - swings can also be charged before unleashing a spin. I’ll be honest; that’s an irrefutable satisfaction. To watch as you slice down a plethora of trees surrounding your avatar is mint - to see logs be instantaneously absorbed into me is oddly gratifying. If you become a savant of gathering, each usage of a tool garners experience. Upon levelling, various rewards are given - lessening stamina consumption to granting extra drops when harvesting, to name a few. The way it all marries together leaves me delighted by how seamless it is.
Crafting is yet another guaranteed feature, but unlike in most other simulators, it isn’t exclusively linked to workbenches. By pressing the pause button and then shuffling through menus, an entire list appears. That’s it; it’s that easy. These are recipes that are available to do. As long as you have the necessary materials, then build. By increasing your affinity with any of your gardening hardware, more will unlock. Having it work this way is a fantastic quality of life improvement. It targets those with a goldfish memory, making it less about having to remember and more about exploring and enjoying the process. I couldn’t begin to explain the number of instances I’d forget what I was looking for in the middle of gameplay. It meant having to go back home to recheck - it got monotonous. With this method, it’s accessible.
DTP WITH THE DLC! - Gameplay
An advantage of being extraordinarily late is the chance to cover DLC. First and foremost, I’m rather impressed by how well it integrates into the core plot without being a sore thumb. The additions are also substantial, but most seem geared towards the hardcore fandom. For anyone that played a past title, characters cameo in Pioneers of Olive Town as eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. They reside on islands separate from the main one, giving a sense of size to the world. As a bonus, the fish within the waters around that area is usually of higher quality. Then there’s a mystery that stars the children of the village. Sure, it boils down to being silly, but it was fun. Something else that it manages is nailing the innocence of the kids while infusing them with child-like glee.
YOU LOOK SLUGGISH! - Performance
It’s been two years since the Nintendo Switch iteration was released. Reports of abysmal performance and lacking script flooded initial reviews. While they both are somewhat redeemed these days, they retain some stuttering. One incident occurred as I was decorating my home. It periodically began to freeze for maybe half a second. That alone didn’t disrupt my session, but when you factor in the frequency, that’s when it gets brutal. It also happened while I’d construct an enclosure around a barn or chicken coop. It got pretty bad, too, sometimes locking up for a full second this time. One example saw an error message resembling what I’d see before crashing, only it didn’t. My guess is what ended up occurring was the online component shut down. Despite the issues, Story of Seasons isn’t unplayable, but it’s a bumpy ride.
IT LOOKS…FINE!? - Presentation
The visuals and I have this tumultuous relationship. Upon first gazing upon it, impressions lay firmly in the negative. I was disappointed, primarily due to abandoning the charming chibi style that graced Friends of Mineral Town. I refrained from any snap judgements, though. After all, my mind has changed in the past, so it’s possible that could happen again with the models and environment. Well, once I wrapped my grubby hands around the title, my opinions were validated. The character designs themselves aren’t awful. Folks like Reina, my boo, and the mayor of Olive Town were cute. The misstep is how generic appearances are. Not only that, but some have this hauntingly blank stare as they speak with you. They seem soulless. Settings didn’t fare any better due to their blandness. It wasn’t as lush as other entries, and that hurt it.
AND THE HARVESTED VERDICT IS…
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is a quaint but flawed outing. The writing has improved upon its state at launch, but it doesn't remain awe-inspiring. It’s just not up to snuff. I wouldn’t declare the graphics ugly, but they certainly lack that inherent charisma other entries soak in. Hell, the NPCs make tiny grunt noises as they speak, but even then, something is just missing. I like the animations and appreciate how it tries infusing personality into things, but when eerie, dead stares and lacking expressions also plague the game, it’s a jarring contrast. I love the inclusivity of including same-sex marriages, too. I have to applaud XSeed for their continued support on that front. I had minute enjoyment in the end, but I also quickly forgot about the title once I moved on to another. There’s just no staying power.
I can still recommend it but only at a deep discount. The same applies to the DLC. If you’d rather bang for your buck, though, Friends of Mineral Town is the right choice.
Special thanks to XSeed for providing the code used for this coverage.