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Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Marvelous
Release Date: March 23, 2021 (US), March 26, 2021 (EU)

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Switch Preview - 'Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town'

by Andreas Salmen on March 1, 2021 @ 12:01 a.m. PST

Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is a new adventure that drops eager explorers in Olive Town, a charming seaside community on the edge of the untamed frontier, where they will work to breathe life back into their grandfather’s dilapidated farm.

Pre-order Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town

March is a busy month for farming sim enthusiasts. I recently had an early glimpse of Harvest Moon: One World, which mixes up the farming sim formula by modifying the traditional gameplay. It's the 25th anniversary of the franchise and a good occasion to spice things up. If you're into farming sims, Story of Seasons has its own anniversary release lined up with Pioneers of Olive Town later this month. We've spent about a week with an early copy of the game and played through a large part of its first year, and we're sharing our initial impressions.

PoOT stays closer to its roots. A young farmer inherits grandpa's farm, which is located in an old settlement that he had helped found. While PoOT relies on the franchise's tried-and-true formula, it also introduces a few small additions to keep things fresh, such as upgrading the local town so tourists are more likely to visit. Disclaimer: I have not played previous entries in the series except the recent Friends of Mineral Town remake, so many of my comparison points will be with Stardew Valley, and there are more similarities between the two than I had expected.

PoOT starts like every game of its kind: a messy farm that needs to be cleaned up and returned to working order. How that's done is entirely up to the player. The game gives pointers, and there are roadblocks that prevent advancement unless we produce a certain resource. We start with a small plot of land including a tent, a damaged coop, a mine, a broken bridge to the south, and Olive Town to the north. PoOT guides players through the world by gating certain resources and items until we find them. For example, a wild chicken is roaming our fields, and we can't purchase chickens unless we repair the coop and tame the wild chicken to start our animal business.

We only have access to the simplest resources on our farm, like grass, wood, and iron ore in a nearby mine. We start by clearing away some grass, trees, and puddles to make room for our new farm. Puddles are a new addition that form after rainy days, and we need to scoop them away with a new bucket tool, which we can use to clear ponds and reveal treasure. The first goal is to repair the broken bridge, which in turn provides access to an additional farming area that is many times larger (and messier) than our starting area, but it also introduces new resources and items to farm and produce.

There are areas that we have not yet seen or visited in our many hours with the game, so we cannot say for certain how much more there is to see and unlock. So far, we have discovered the usual buildings to raise chickens, cows, horses, and sheep, and we have encountered a grain silo and a hydroculture plant that needs repair. There are a total of three mines that gradually ramp up as we progress. Given the increase in farm size, it'll eventually be useful to own a mount (horse or scooter) to move around quickly.

What I have enjoyed thus far is the way the character progresses. Every action in the game levels up the player. Talking to villagers develops interpersonal skills, using tools develops their respective skills. We can instantaneously upgrade tools to hit more objects within a bigger radius. The game scales accordingly, so expect late-game unlocks and objects to require a ridiculous amount of resources and money.

PoOT has a heavy emphasis on crafting, which feels like a cross between Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, but more limited in scope. Raw resources are usually worthless or not used for much, so paying attention to crafting recipes is vital for progression. It also provides a decent number of cosmetic items to decorate your farm and house, and although crafting works very well as a whole, nothing really stands out as especially novel. It doesn't have to, since the core loop of constantly grinding toward new structures and goals is inherently addicting and satisfying.

Players can set goals and take things at a comfortable pace as they grow crops, tend to farm animals, mine, find a partner to marry, or start a family — or all of those tasks at the same time. The tools and mechanics will be immediately familiar to those who have played similar games, and in its early stages, PoOT does a good job of providing equal amounts of freedom and hand-holding to get players started. The game is usually not a challenge to get through, but it can be a grind. There is an easier mode if anyone wants an even more relaxed pace.

Where PoOT gets more interesting is with its seaside town, which looks quite lovely. The town seems to have been forgotten by the world — and that's inherently bad for business. Throughout the game, the mayor asks players to upgrade the town to create new shops and improve facilities. That means that as the town progresses, there will be an influx of tourists. There's a variety of shops, and we're eager to see how far the upgrades will go as we progress.

Another noteworthy feature is the harvest goddess and earth sprites, which are a staple of the genre, but I like how they are implemented for progression in PoOT. With each action, minisprites can be assigned to harvest sprites, which reward players with coins and additional resources over time. The more we do, the friendlier they become, and the better resources they grant us. The harvest goddess can upgrade our stamina or increase the quality level of our fields and unlock additional sprites to befriend.

The game is releasing exclusively on the Nintendo Switch, which could experience performance issues since. I am quite fond of the graphical style, which reminds me strongly of the recent Pokémon game, but the game currently doesn't run very well and load times are excessive. I currently have only the first of two planned patches installed on my Switch, so there is a chance that performance could improve by the time the game releases later this month.

I am enjoying my time with Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. It's difficult to say how much of the game I have experienced, since it feels like I keep running into new hurdles every in-game week to motivate me to push on and produce even more resources and money. It feels like a celebration of a quarter-century-old franchise under a new name, and I hope it can keep up this momentum and surprise me with a new hook or gameplay mechanic that pays off in unexpected ways in the late game. Stay tuned for our full review later this March.

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