[Review] Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town
Posted on March 23, 2021 by Dennis Gagliardotto(@LyonHart_) in Reviews, Switch
Release date: March 23, 2021
Publisher: XSEED Games
Farming simulators are games that you either get or you don’t, and the evolution of technology has led to an expansion of the genre that has gone beyond the typical routine that involves simply planting a seed and selling crops. We’re now visiting these worlds where farming is complementary to everything else you can do rather than being the core focus. After having revisited the likes of Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town and Return to Popolocrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale, it’s clear that Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is moving forward and embracing growth and change now more than ever, which mostly works to its benefit. However, there are clear inspirations from other titles that feel like a dull copy rather than a platform to launch off of. Either way, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town does well to incorporate new ideas and polish up the old, while having a serene time playing in an environment I keep thinking about and coming back to, even if it’s far from perfect.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town starts off simple, albeit cliché, with your player-created character adopting the farm of your grandfather as a new resident. From here you’ll meet a plethora of townsfolk that will accompany you as you get acquainted with your new lifestyle, as well as do their best to make you feel comfortable aiding you with tips on what to do to build a better farm life, crops, and the sort, as well as supply a multitude of items from a variety of goods such as groceries, seeds, apparel, pets, livestock, tools, furniture, and a myriad of other things to make your time as unique and tailored to you as possible.
While the initial start of the story is simple, things begin to unwind as the days pass by to unveil Olive Town as both the in-game city and the game itself providing a much deeper experience than most of its predecessors – certainly Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town – through both its story and progression. You’ll naturally run into cutscenes and events as the days pass to reveal a much more fantastical and mythical nature within. While things mostly stay grounded, it’s still nice to see Story of Seasons continue to do something a little different with how it handles the farming simulator genre, setting it apart from most other titles that focus on simply growing crops with little else beyond it.
Before arriving, players will be able to choose their style and look in much more detail compared to the franchise’s last entry, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town. You’ll be given enough of a distinct look through some basic hairstyles, eye shapes, and colors for both to not feel like you’re yet another copy of someone else’s character. The starter outfit choices are down to just palette swaps, and unfortunately later down the line the additional options don’t vary much, but it’s still enough to make you want to work towards something. However, it’s highly likely you’ll find yourself sticking with an outfit you really like instead of unlocking multiple. What remains hugely appreciated is the fact that as you’re creating your character, you can choose any voice, look, clothing, or attributes for either male or female, allowing a more comfortable and less restricted level of customization that isn’t hindered by pronoun. This in itself is already a vast improvement from not only its predecessor, but a lot of other games that have character customization.
How you spend your time in Olive Town is up to you, but the first few days will involve being visited by the mayor and having subtle objectives to help get acquainted with how the game works. It’s a nice way to weave the tutorial in while simultaneously getting to work on your farm, which at the start is completely overrun by trees and flora and the sort, with some dilapidated structures sporadically placed that you’ll have to rebuild through resource management as you play.
A feature I particularly like that’s borrowed from the likes of Stardew and Animal Crossing is the ability to gain crafting abilities and recipes as you progress and find new resources mining, fishing, cultivating, and exploring. A variety of items can be crafted that can be used in a number of ways, whether they’re machines to help meld other items like minerals into ingots or logs into wood, basic furniture and décor, storage, and a plethora of other useful and evolving items that can be used to your liking, whether you’re aiming to become the richest farmer in the world, the most resourceful, the most helpful, or the most aesthetically pleasing. In doing so, crafting any number of things as well as naturally chopping, fishing, sewing, or cleaning away will raise the levels of each respective tool, allowing you to further upgrade into tools that can do much more with the same amount of stamina. This makes it so you’re able to get more done in the same amount of time, including slight boosts with each level, sometimes yielding more and using less stamina over time and repeated use.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town gives you something to work towards in every corner, but at the same time, it doesn’t care how fast or how slow you do it, making sure the tools at your disposal will still work as intended and you’re not feeling left behind or that you’re playing the game improperly just because of pacing and playstyle. The game works with you rather than against you, which I feel tends to be a big thing in farming simulators and has always been a personal problem of mine, especially in regards to stamina usage. What Pioneers of Olive Town also does here, in terms of accessibility, is to offer a Seedling Mode in addition to its Normal Mode (you can switch this at any time) that reduces any sort of stress associated with games like these with lower fees, a reduced cost of items, less stamina usage, faster friendship boosts, and quicker experience points. Having switched back and forth between the two, you definitely don’t feel as rushed in Seedling Mode, despite the time of day still going at the same speed, where one second of real life time translated to a minute of in-game time.
At the surface, Story of Seasons may not seem like much as you’re starting out, but it’s amazing to me how much the game continues to reveal its intricacy and depth the more you play, with many events from festivals to birthdays and sudden cutscenes and surprises depending on what you’ve uncovered. As someone who’s always curious about the depth of game worlds, it kept me playing more and more to see just how much content I could uncover, and it’s a lot. Going down deeper into the mines, expanding the town as well as its villagers, finding new plots of land to go to, meeting cute unique creatures, and so much more gives the feeling that the game is growing alongside your crops and your new life – a huge improvement from Friends of Mineral Town before it.
One minor setback, however, compared to its predecessor and most games of this nature is that, for some reason, there is no dedicated run button. I thought I was going crazy for a while because I couldn’t figure out how to run, and while the main character doesn’t necessarily move slow per se, it could definitely be faster, and when you’re rushing to get to a particular store before it closes at either 4PM or 6PM, it can be problematic in a lot of ways as you’d then have to wait until the following day. I typically don’t go to bed right away, though, instead trying to make the most use of my time before it gets late enough where a good night’s sleep gets thrown out the window, leaving me with just a fraction of stamina the very next day.
While the game is accessible in a lot of ways, there are a lot of things that make you go “why?”, and a lot of these remain similar to how they are in Animal Crossing, like the inability to to craft multiple things at once. In the case of Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, you’ll have to set down machines that take up a 4×4 space (extremely big), so things like Cloth Makers, Brick Makers, Mayonnaise Makers, Dye Makers, and the like will need to be placed multiple – and I can’t stress the word multiple enough – times taking up a large portion of your farm if you want to take raw materials and convert them into usable resources en masse. Over time, much like most of what you’ll use and come across in Story of Seasons can be upgraded in some fashion, and this includes these machines, but at the start of the game it can make the upstart feel sluggish, and it’s a little absurd to be spending many in-game days over something that simply shouldn’t.
While the team has started to address this with patches that have already started to go live, adding to inconsistent pacing primarily due to odd decisions in how you craft and go about playing are an exorbitant amount of loading screens that are almost kill an otherwise serene and enjoyable experience. Whether you’re going into any sort of building, moving into new territories such as the town or mines or other plots of land, and sometimes while initiating some cutscenes and conversations, loading screens that take much longer than they have any right to. The only redeemable thing about these loading screens is that you’re able to see photos other players have taken that have been posted via their postcards through a subtle online function. Regardless, the loading can be an immense buzzkill when you end up having to wait 8-12 seconds at a time when you’ve either forgotten something back home or need to stop by multiple establishments at once to get all the stuff you need to work on your farm or upgrade your equipment and assets, or simply to hang out and speak to folks which increases their admiration towards you.
The online portion of Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town almost feels StreetPass-esque, as random passerby who happen to have their farmer profile uploaded will visit sporadically to your town. While it’s not a true multiplayer feature, it’s something, though you never really know exactly who it is that’s visiting your town as everyone is simply labelled “Tourist”. Furthermore, registering for trips will show minor profiles on each visitor, such as date of birth (labelled by seasons rather than months) and farm name. When you register for a trip, your avatar will visit other players’ towns all over the world with communication features turned on. Likewise, farmers from all over the world can visit your town as tourists. It’s subtle and makes it exciting to see a new face, but ultimately feels useless as the dialogue is bland (a common theme within Olive Town unfortunately) and there are no rewards for doing so. Personally, I feel it would’ve made the experience a little more worthwhile if the tourists would provide some sort of “souvenir” where they could, say, provide you with ten seeds, logs, or anything, really. Instead you’re left with dialogue like “This is a nice place you have here” with nothing to say after that.
It’s subtle things like this that, while Olive Town is colorful and full of life in terms of quantity and design, all feels superficial as the people themselves tend to have little depth to them, despite the merriment on the farming and gameplay side of things. Townsfolk, or villagers, walk around mindlessly with no real aim or objective, and whenever you talk to someone, one of the most irksome things is being unable to look them straight in the face unless you’ve initiated the action that way. For some odd reason, even if you’re looking at someone sideways, the conversation will proceed in the same position instead of the characters locking into place to look each other in the eye – it can look rather ridiculous when people frequently seem like they’re whispering something in your ear instead. Some of the animation is either poor or just non-existent, and it’s the little things like these that make the game lose a polish where the chipped paint becomes more and more apparent. Going indoors reveals characters that stand around like mannequins, which is a big gripe I have in games. I understand needing to be at the counter while you’re opened to accommodate for the player’s needs when requested, but people rarely, if ever, blink, and they just look straight ahead as if they’re the Queen’s Guards.
It can’t be stressed enough that Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town does a lot of things right that are undoubtedly a huge improvement over its predecessors and is arguably the best entry in a while, despite its shortcomings. But it also should be noted that multiple patches will be needed, which the team does at least appear to be committed to. Loading times can be especially egregious and there are just overall really odd design choices littered throughout, but the art direction, style of the town, and progression are overall for the better and, compared to Friends of Mineral Town, a much welcomed bump into what a proper and fun farming-sim game like this should be in a way that’s accessible to everyone without being entirely nonsensical. While there’s certainly no shortage of games in the genre on the Switch, few have a lot of charm or are clearly inspired by more successful titles to catapult off of in hopes of marketing itself as a complementary alternative to those wanting more of a particular property.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is a massive improvement in just about every way from its predecessor, Friends of Mineral Town, and makes it accessible in so many ways both through quality of life enhancements as well as logical and intuitive interfaces. The town itself, alongside the art direction, feels a lot more full and grown-up. Because of this, the game can be addictive and just feels a lot more fluid and coherent with the town bristling with life, character, and the like to make you excited to jump back in any chance you get. As is with these types of games, however, annoyances tend to happen through poor time management as well as a sped-up in-game time that doesn’t reflect real-world time, so you’re left feeling rushed when deciding on what to do for the day, and sometimes your impatience or too much patience can cause you to miss certain opportunities. We can’t give it a full recommendation due to aforementioned annoyances, mindless villagers, and technical issues (which will hopefully continue to be addressed) involving frame drops in photo mode, random pop-in, and incessant loading, but Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is a serene and joyful time on Switch that fits the platform perfectly, and is an excellent follow-up to those looking for a new simulator that may feel fatigued from almost a year straight of New Horizons. The island life is great, sure, but Olive Town feels like a wonderful getaway to a place you can call your new home.
Review copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.