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Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Marvelous
Release Date: March 23, 2021 (US), March 26, 2021 (EU)

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

by Andreas Salmen on March 23, 2021 @ 12:01 a.m. PDT

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.

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It has been three weeks since we took an early look at Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. While the core gameplay loop was strong, the title played things safe and borrowed from its peers rather than reinventing or evolving its formula. Since then, we've spent much more time with our animals, farm, and the titular town to provide a final verdict. Be sure to check out our preview, since most of those points are still valid and won't be repeated in too much detail here. I've played a lot of the game, but I likely haven't unlocked or exhausted everything, so if there are some late-game unlocks, I could've missed them.

PoOT is a farming sim, so if you've played any of its predecessors or similar titles like Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, you'll feel right at home. We've inherited our grandfather's farm, and the game gives you a few tutorial days, but after that, you're off to cultivate crops, raise animals, forage for goods, or mine ore. It's still the same play-at-your-own-pace experience that doesn't hold your hand every step of the way, but it also doesn't have any harsh deadlines or firm goals.

There is a story that you can complete in your farming journey, but it's not particularly engaging. Not only did we inherit our grandfather's farm, but it's also located next to a little township that he had helped found. The game uses that occasionally to touch on your inheritance and the past stories of your grandfather as you get to know the villagers better, but it's quite bare-bones.

The main goal is to upgrade the local town to draw in more tourists. Upgrades may occasionally provide some benefits, such as new shops, but they also increase the tourist count until we attract a big cruise ship to indicate that we've made it. It's one of the bigger gripes with the game; the town concept and interactions with the other villagers never felt fleshed out enough, and the tourism premise isn't an exciting idea.

If you give villagers gifts, they grow fonder of you and gain up to 10 hearts, with each heart triggering a friendship event that provides more insight into their personalities. However, reaching those hearts can require a lot of presents and hard work, and the payoff is often minimal. Beyond special cut scenes, villagers repeat a limited number of lines. If there are seasonal festivities, the villagers will talk almost exclusively about the event a few days before and after. It's formulaic and shallow, which is often the case in these titles, but that aspect of PoOT seemed bland much of the time.

This also carried through to marrying one of the bachelor/ettes. While I find the selection of characters to romance to be decent — my choice was Blaire — marrying and having kids isn't as big of a deal as it should be. This would've been a great opportunity to expand on the social interaction and marriage mechanics since they feel similar and sometimes feel like a step back when compared to other titles.

I got much more mileage out of the game from the core farming aspect. PoOT still relies on you making money and acquiring basic resources, but it also incorporates "Maker" machines to refine resources, craft items, and level up certain skills. You still need to upgrade tools, like the ax or hammer, with increasingly rare ores to improve their efficiency, but using the tools levels up their ability independent of that. It also provides unlockables with each level (up to 10), like new machines or even new areas that you can fast-travel to — like a field full of ores to mine. As you become more proficient with your hammer mining, for example, the game makes it easier for you to mine by providing you with a field full of stones to grind for resources. Mines are still a thing and will be the main source of ore for most of the game.

You'll need lots of ore, too. When playing the game on its regular difficulty, you're always chasing new buildings or upgrades that seem out of reach until you set up ways to create and refine enough materials at once. Maker machines are needed to create lumber from logs or ingots from ores. Everything is usually refined elsewhere, sometimes to fetch a better price. It can feel like a very simple version of games like Satisfactory: Set up a number of Maker machines (limited to 10 per type) to produce huge amounts of lumber and ingots to keep pace with the increasing resource demands of the village and upcoming upgrades. It's the grind-heavy formula that has been a staple of farming games since their inception, and it is alive and well in PoOT.

In theory, I also like the idea of setting up the Maker machines similar to Stardew Valley, but I feel it also works against it in a number of ways. PoOT incorporates several gameplay mechanics from both Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, and it leans heavily into crafting accessories to customize your home and farm. Even though your farm property is quite sizeable, the need to place Maker machines everywhere makes it looks industrial, and it robs you of space for your animals, crops and decorations. The way that you place objects on the farm is also clunky and finicky, and you won't be able to place items on some fields for no apparent reason. Placing a ton of Maker machines causes a noticeable performance hit to the game, which we will touch on later.

Overall, I like the farming gameplay in PoOT mostly because it has ample room to grow and improve, minus the aforementioned gripes. At the same time, if you have another farming sim to play, I don't see the big need to jump to this one, since its changes and inspirations are rarely better executed than elsewhere. I also got burned out at times from playing, since the grind for new upgrades eventually outweighed what the game offered in terms of engagement and new things to see or discover. I do like its progression system, and if you are concerned or short on time, I'd recommend PoOT on its easier difficulty because it increases the amount of money you make and lowers the cost of upgrades. It significantly shortens the required grind and provides a much faster flow of new animals, items, and upgrades so keep the experience more enjoyable.

It doesn't always play the best. There's a lot of clunkiness even after a few updates, and some gameplay decisions don't make sense. For example, your own house can be decorated, but instead of granting you control of the interior, houses only have designated areas where objects can be placed, and you cannot relocate the position of your pets' resting spots. A museum, which functions similar to Animal Crossing's museum, is similarly mind-boggling since I have to appraise objects one by one although I regularly left the mine with at least 10 items in my backpack. There are the occasional minor annoyances that seem like they'd be easy to do differently, since they interrupt the solid gameplay. You'll sometimes find yourself fighting the controls when placing objects or selecting the correct tiles, since controls can be overly sensitive to minute inputs when you're aiming for a specific spot. It's especially aggravating since there are a few sprite minigames that can get frustrating when you've tilled the wrong tile, which inevitably happens.

There are a few additional gameplay systems: sprites and the Harvest Goddess. Collect mini-sprites for tending to your farm, and use the mini-sprites to grant periodic resources for free. Special minigames can be unlocked for sprite coins, which can be exchanged in a special sprite village for items; some may even grant special rewards like additional hearts to boost your stamina. The Harvest Goddess offers upgrades, such as more stamina and additional sprites to befriend. They're interesting additions that I interacted with somewhat regularly, since they provide helpful assistance in your farming life, and they still feel in tune with previous entries.

Another more substantial addition is a camera and online features. You can use the port in Olive Town to visit other farms as a tourist, which is interesting if you need some inspiration, but your mileage may vary. The other online feature you're likely to encounter is the new camera and photos feature. You can take photos of anything — photos of animals can also be donated to the museum — and you see other players' photos during the plentiful loading screens. During our review time, the photos did not rotate often though, which may be due to a limited player count.

I lamented the game's load times in my preview, and I am happy to report that the most recent 1.0.3 update noticeably improved overall loading times. That doesn't mean they are gone, though. Getting in and out of buildings still requires a short loading screen, and going back and forth between your farm and the town is still a tad too long for my taste, but maybe we'll see further improvements in the future. I still didn't see much of an improvement is the stuttering frame rate, which regularly tanks when a ton of objects are placed on-screen. It's almost inevitable that you'd have a lot of Maker machines standing around, in which case you'll run into the stutters quite often. Since PoOT is not a game that requires perfect reaction times, that may not have a huge impact on gameplay, but it is frequent enough to be annoying.

Overall, this review of Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town may sound a touch negative, and it is in some parts. I like how it deals with progression while keeping most of its addicting farming foundations intact. Most of what it adds feels nicked from other games and has often been implemented less convincingly. Combined with performance issues and a few other missed opportunities, Pioneers of Olive Town is a solid entry in the series, but it isn't the must-have experience that many had hoped for the series' 25th anniversary.

Score: 7.2/10

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