Since Marvelous Inc. decided to give control of their North American distribution to XSEED Games in 2013, the newly christened Story of Seasons series has continued where traditional Harvest Moon titles left off. In Pioneers of Olive Town, we return to the familiar formula that we’ve been enjoying for fifteen years.
However, not everything can be viewed through the convenient gaze of nostalgia. Thanks to the efforts of farming simulators over the years, notably Stardew Valley, players have come to expect and appreciate some quality-of-life enhancements over an admittedly adorable aesthetic.
STORY – A TALE OF TOURISM
Olive Town starts similar to previous titles in the series: your grandfather passes, you inherit his farm, and eventually, you improve the land, the neighboring town, and yourself. Through the power of hard work, plentiful communication, and more than a little help from magical sprites, you will have a large agricultural domain to share with the eligible romantic partners that populate the town.
Olive Town, the town, is a seaside village that longs to be a tourist destination. Mayor Victor quickly utilizes your crafting mechanics to request materials to improve the town, in a manner quite similar to how island development works in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Citizens make requests, the player fulfills them, time marches on.
Even then, however, the questlines aren’t deep, but merely time-consuming, and only bequeath relatively small rewards. There aren’t any meaningful narrative moments that come out of improving the town and the only other meaningful quest sequences are a part of the downloadable content. I suppose that the case could be made that hard work is only worth the value you get out of it, but if I wanted to simulate the monotony of realistic agriculture, I’d just as soon go play Farming Simulator. With Olive Town, I’d like a bit more pizzazz.
Compared to previous titles in the Harvest Moon series, or even to other popular titles in the genre such as Stardew Valley, there isn’t much encouragement to be social. The villagers wander and follow their schedules, and there are plenty to interact with and speak to, but relationships don’t appear to be as integral to the game as in the past.
Even though relationships might not be the focal point, they can still be made a priority for those players looking to interact with all of the NPCs. The best friend mechanic has returned, and you retain the option of diving straight into the society by the seashore. The writing of each character is well done and carefully tailored. While downloadable content does provide additional marriage candidates, the ten that are available in the base game are all delightful in their way.
But is the story of Olive Town a standout tale? Not particularly. The narrative and dialogue interactions are fine, possibly even great. The problem lies in the way that the tedious and over-bloated gameplay mechanics relegate character interaction to the background. There’s nothing quite so disappointing as when a potentially well-done aspect is pushed aside due to the failings of another, and that is exactly what we encounter here.
GAMEPLAY – TIME-HONORED TACTICS
The pedigree of the series doesn’t hold the same clout it once did, due to the mechanics becoming a dusty replica of what they once were. Like a trinket to be found inside a cavernous mine. A Timeworn Object, if you will. It’s not that the execution and combination of farming, ranching, and interpersonal politics are bad per se. Rather, what Story of Seasons does has been done before, and to a greater degree, that what we find in Olive Town is more fodder to chew on than a bountiful harvest.
All of the ingredients are there: copious amounts of animals to care for, an absolutely obscene plot of land to cultivate, and a quaint hamlet filled with cute residents to woo and assist. What’s disappointing is the bloated way that we’re forced into crafting materials.
Sure, you could sell milk and eggs as-is, but why stop there when yogurt and cheese are more profitable? For that, you’ll need Makers, which are used to craft literally everything else in the game. These all come with an intake limit, so you’ll eventually be scattering storage chests throughout your property to hold all of the additional materials that you don’t have space to work with yet.
This makes the daily grind a tedious chore, even more than the chore that the game is supposed to emulate. Excessive steps to navigate (I have to turn grass into thread, then turn the thread into cloth, all at a snail’s pace) mean that much of my in-game day is spent doing repetitive utility management, rather than interacting with residents or playing mini-games with sprites.
With the way the game is currently designed, progress is slow. Again, that’s not necessarily a problem in such a title, but the overall package is too shallow. If there were more activities to engage with, à la Animal Crossing, this wouldn’t be a point of concern, and our critical eye would be instead be shifted down the line.
Right now, there’s enough to chew on but not enough to be sustainable. The title scratches the itch of a 3D farming sim; the nostalgic excitement when seeing the classic cow models isn’t something we can ignore. The issue that I have is that, how far can nostalgia carry a franchise that’s already been defeated at its own game?
GRAPHICS & AUDIO – MASTERFUL MUSIC
Graphically, Olive Town is a masterpiece. It stands apart from the beloved Mineral Town sub-series by eschewing the overtly cute aesthetic and taking a more mature approach. That’s not to insinuate any adult themes – it’s rated E for Everyone by the ESRB. But, if Mineral Town continued the look of oversized heads, Olive Town takes a more proportionate approach. Things are cartoony, but the art style is extremely well-done and things don’t feel childish.
I also have to make note of the impeccable soundtrack, which has been playing in the background as I write this review. The beautiful orchestration lands wonderfully upon your ears and makes for spectacular background noise while you water plants, go fishing, or unload your many Makers.
The sound design is also on point, and there isn’t quite anything like heading into a barn full of mooing cows. Essentially, I ran the game on its highest settings and didn’t experience any graphic or audio issues, which was the last thing I wanted to encounter on a farm.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town was reviewed for PC. A code was provided by ONE PR Studio.