Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town (Switch) Review
Story of Seasons as a series has a slightly confusing history. The series was initially conceived on the Super Nintendo as Harvest Moon. It stayed this way until Marvelous, developer of the series, decided to self-publish their titles under Xseed in North America. Natsume, the prior publisher of the series, retained the Harvest Moon name’s rights in English speaking countries, and as a result, Marvelous changed the name of the series to Story of Seasons. Natsume found another developer to continue on the Harvest Moon name, effectively splitting Harvest Moon into two different series.
It’s ok to feel a tad confused by all this. Particularly as a game from both series seeing release within weeks of each other. We’ve just reviewed Harvest Moon: One World here at Vooks and found the game to be a shell of what Harvest Moon once was. Thankfully, Story of Seasons carries on the tradition of good quality farming games.
In a tired farming game trope, players take on the role of a young farmer who has moved into grandpa’s farm because, much to nobody’s surprise, he carked it! After not bothering to visit their grandpa in years, the farmer moves in years, and all the townsfolk fawn over them like some golden boy. And again, to nobody’s surprise whatsoever, grandpa was a terrible farmer who let everything overgrow and left behind nothing but a shed and some shoddy tools.
Tropes aside, after the introduction, the game itself is a true joy to play. The player finds themselves performing the usual tasks such as chopping wood, mining, tilling the fields, making friends and relationships in town. But where farming games make or break, it is in keeping the balance of chores just right. Pioneers of Olive Town mostly gets this correct, but to restore the farm, the balance tends to swing wildly towards mining.
There are three different mines on the farm of varying difficulties, and it is up to the player to reach the bottom of each mine in order to ‘complete’ it. There’s a variety of ores to collect, and each of them is common depending on which mine the player delves into. Finding orichalcum, however, is the rarest of all, and a ridiculous amount of it is required to restore the farm and gain the best tools fully. This is compounded by the fact that orichalcum only shows up on the hardest mine’s bottom ten floors. There appears to be no option to begin a mine at a specific level like in previous series entries. I played the game on Seedling mode, which promises to give more items when performing tasks, so I can’t imagine how bad this would be in the game’s regular mode.
Mining aside, the rest of the game shines in its vibrant world. The game successfully dangles a carrot in front of you to show you things you can be doing to improve life on the farm, and finding a chicken on my farm prompted me to build a coop for him then. As I took some photos of the local wildlife, I spotted a stranded cow across the river. It was then that I knew that grandfather didn’t care about his livestock but that I also needed to build a bridge for the cow and give him a loving home.
There are some instances where the game draws some inspiration from Animal Crossing by including a museum. In this museum, you can bring treasures found on your farm and in your mines to be appraised, and if the museum does not have one in the collection, you may find a spot to put the treasure. Photos that you’ve taken of wildlife can be donated to create a sculpted likeness, and fish you catch can also be donated. It adds another layer to a game already filled to the brim with stuff to do.
Another major part of the game is building relationships with the townsfolk. Usually, this is where you find various personalities, create relationships with all the different people and learn more about them. If you choose to do so, offer your hand in marriage to a member of town you find yourself compatible with. While previous entries of the game and other farming sims have a good variety of characters with personalities beyond their place of work, everyone in Pioneers of Olive Town comes across as a “friendly person that is a “.
The townsfolk designs make it difficult to tell from the bat who is and who isn’t a potential marriage candidate. There is a relationship list in the menu that shows alternate colour hearts for those you can date, but otherwise, everyone looks the same age unless they have grey hair and wrinkles. For the first couple of seasons, I thought the mother and daughter who ran the livestock shop were sisters, and I found out that I couldn’t marry the mother. Embarrassing.
Owning a farm, one would think the focal point is farming and harvesting crops, which is included within the game as well. I never spent as much time as I would have liked doing any actual farming, as there always seemed to be something else to take care of. Each season has its own set of crops, some crops being grown in multiple seasons.
You can unlock new areas outside of your farm to travel to, these places stay a single season all-year around. This means you can keep growing spinach in Winter all year around, no matter the season on your farm. There’s also a hydroculture plant on your farm that gives you a small amount of area to grow any crop you desire all year round, but with the other areas already allowing this, unlocking the hydroculture plant using rare materials isn’t worth the time or effort.
Needing to keep relationships going while hunting for rare materials, cleaning up the farm and repairing everything, as well as looking after your animals and travelling to other places to keep an eye on your crops, it all becomes a bit overwhelming. This is compounded because collecting all your materials requires you to place them in machines for processing. The game isn’t limited to just turning your ore and wood into lumber and ingots; there are specific items that change your milk into yoghurt and cheese, eggs into mayonnaise, grass into materials, and so much more. There are literally over 30 different machines that make different things, all requiring additional materials. It’s tough to keep on top of everything, and on some days, you can’t even make it off your farm to visit the outside world.
All of this does potentially lead to one thing, there is a serious amount of repetitiveness to the chores in the game, and at some points, it felt like I was doing an actual job instead of enjoying myself or making any progress in the game. I just wanted to go fishing, but needing to ensure I had processed my wood and ore, filling my fridge full of ingredients and cooking them, all while making sure my dog was trained enough for the pet race, it was just too much at times.
There were some glitches present in the game as I was playing as well. At times, leaving the house in the morning caused the game to hang. Returning to my farm after a long day enduring cutscene after cutscene of folks in town talking to me about random things also caused the game to hang. At one point, my large ingot machine wouldn’t load into my farm for a week and randomly returned. A patch was released just as I finished my review, which promises to fix these issues. I have noticed that the load times are much better than they once were.
The game also had an issue regarding gender identity. Creating your farmer at the beginning of the game allows you to choose your own appearance, as masculine or feminine as you like. There was no mention of choosing my own gender at this point. After a lengthy cutscene, it was the mayor who brought up my gender, seemingly out of nowhere. It seemed really cool for gender not to matter, especially as it doesn’t seem important to any of the NPCs in the game after the chat with the mayor either.
It all may sound like I don’t enjoy the game at all. It is a great game, and it is much better than both Friends of Mineral Town and the Doraemon spin-off. A lot of minor balancing issues mainly hampers the game. If items didn’t take as long to process, or if certain objects didn’t require so much in the way of rare items to repair, the game would be near perfect. Even lengthening the time a single day takes may take away some of the negativity. The game constantly offers something to do and requires a long investment by the player to get maximum enjoyment. I daresay that Story of Seasons remains better than Harvest Moon, but Stardew Valley trumps both. Story of Seasons still comes recommended to fans of the farming genre, as it does have enough different to offer over other titles. I have my fingers crossed that the balancing issues are fixed in future patches.
+ Great atmosphere
+ Gameplay is tight
+ Plenty to do, always
- Ridiculous amount of boring mining to do
- Processing everything is a pain
- Grandad still sucks at farming