Every few years or so, I find myself adding another farming-sim adventure to my gaming library. This year brings a brand new adventure to the Story of Seasons (Bokujō Monogatari) franchise. Sure, last year we saw the release of Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town – a nostalgic reunion with the ever-popular Mineral Town residents we’ve known since the N64 and PlayStation era – but it was familiar territory. For 2021, a year where the Bokujō Monogatari will be celebrating its 25th anniversary, we have a brand new adventure made for Switch that awaits us in Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town.
The game kicks off with a familiar tale – your grandfather ran a farm in some far-off countryside town. No one has taken it over since his passing and it’s seen better days, now resembling a forest of overgrown weeds, tall trees, and boulders rich in stone and iron. You, playing as the main character, have decided to take over the once-thriving family farm and move to this town, escaping the city.
That sense of exploration and growth is more prominent in this particular Story of Seasons title. Your brand new home has yet to be built, so you’ll be roughing it up in a tent until you gather the necessary funds to commission a log cabin. The first few in-game days (after designing your avatar thanks to a solid character customization section, meeting the town’s mayor, and clarifying your name, birthday, and gender) are filled with the usual tutorial sequences and cutscenes that give you the basic gist of farming. If you’re new to the genre, these “Farming 101” lessons start slow enough that young players won’t feel overwhelmed with the rundown homestead that lies before them. For the long-time SoS nerds, it’s nothing we haven’t heard before and, luckily, the process doesn’t eat up entire in-game days (only a few in-game hours).
Unlike the previous games, you’re limited to two main areas at the start – your farm and Olive Town, each a (loading) screen away from each other. The in-game map shows only Olive Town, where the town’s residents can be found at the moment, and information about the various businesses and their operating hours. Meeting these NPCs for the first time (and even picking out a possible marriage candidate to romance) has all the potential to be a fun and familiar experience.
Pioneers of Olive Town has some downright charmingly designed characters, but the typical character portraits that join the dialogue box aren’t there. The camera will zoom in and, in theory, you should see the NPC’s face and expression, but more often than not the end result is having an obstructed view thanks to the angle you initiated the conversation in or the surrounding environment. With this, the dialogue (which, admittedly, is generic at first) comes off a fairly bland encounter as you’re reading text on a screen with no facial expressions to gauge or enjoy.
That’s not the only issue with interacting with Olive Town’s residents. Pioneers of Olive Town is bogged down by long loading screens. In my playthrough, I’ve encountered loading screens that regularly last 20 seconds or more. Now, with that said, all loading screens aren’t 20 seconds. Some, like entering/exiting your home or farming facilities, are less than 5 seconds.
It’s when you’re traveling from your farm to Olive Town that the long loading screens and its animated chickens will fill your vision. In a game where there are only two main areas – your farm and Olive Town – the delay caught me off guard. It doesn’t help that there are additional loading screens when entering/exiting the multiple homes and businesses in town. Go into a building that has multiple floors? You’ll find yourself with another loading screen for each floor you travel to. Combine this with the earlier mentioned lack of including character portraits with dialogue boxes, it can feel like a chore to chat and woo Olive Town’s NPCs.
Now, this issue has been addressed by the game’s producer recently and there are promises of a patch releasing later this month to fix the issue (which is even worse if you have the game’s wi-fi capabilities activated). Hopefully, it’ll make for a snappier experience, but until then, there are plenty of animated chickens to mesmerize me while “LOADING…” flashes to the right.
Outside of the long loading screens, Pioneers of Olive Town has other pacing issues. Depending on your play style, you might trigger events earlier than expected. For example, I activated a cutscene that featured the game’s mythical creatures, Navi-Sprites, before witnessing the scary bear-Furby beings’ introduction scene. This happened to me when I reached the 10th floor of the first mine (which is rather easy to achieve) and it was fairly jarring, to say the least.
The same pacing issues can be found in other aspects of gameplay, like the need to craft building materials via specialized Makers. While Pioneers of Olive Town doesn’t have a big main story, there is an arc of completing quests to upgrade the town and bring more tourists from the city to the humble settlement.
The items that are requested range from too easy to deliver, at first, and then can ramp up to making each item one by one manually via a Maker machine instead of dumping the necessary materials via a stack like in Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns. Making 20 bricks doesn’t seem like a tall order until you realize it takes 4 in-game hours to make just one and then you have to manually reset the process again day-in and day-out.
It’s these little cracks in the game’s foundation that distracted me from the game’s new features – like the introduction of a museum to fill with fish, models of creatures, and treasures you find. The museum will be the perfect outlet for completionists, and it’s fairly easy to find something to donate and have displayed. If anything, I’m a bit saddened that it isn’t the focus of “bringing more tourists” to town instead. The museum could easily enhance the idea of being a “pioneer” and also integrate the game’s mythical aspects (Navi-Sprites and the series’ long standing idea of having a harvest deity) in a better way.
Despite all of this, I’m still playing Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. The game just needs a bit of fine-tuning, like refining an ore you’ve dug up from the mine. With enough polish, it’ll shine, and be a solid entry for the farming-sim genre.
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