- Much to explore and discover;
- Progression is constant and can be rewarding;
- Fun mini-games to take a break from farming.
- Having so much to balance can be stressful;
- Progression can be very linear;
- Some parts of the game don’t seem as polished.
Formerly known as the Harvest Moon series, the popular series of simulation games, now known as Story of Seasons, is experiencing its 25th anniversary. The original game, Harvest Moon, was released for the Super Nintendo on August 9th, 1996 in Japan. The latest game in the series, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, is now available for the Nintendo Switch.
Pioneers of Olive Town centers on a new generation of characters. You’ve decided to carry on the legacy of your grandfather who helped found the town years ago. To carry on your grandfather’s legacy you must rebuild and maintain his farm, and thus revitalize Olive Town as well.
It is important to understand that this is a simulation game. In order to accumulate wealth to pay for new products and rebuild the farm you will need to plant crops, water them every day, and wait for them to grow. While they grow, you can spend your time chopping trees and cutting grass and use those materials to create other products and buildings. This game does feature some more engaging mini-games here and there, but it’s generally meant for patient and determined players willing to put in the work that eventually builds towards success.
Is Story of Seasons a Harvest Moon game?
OK, this may be difficult to understand since, in recent years, publishers have made this quite convoluted. In 2014, it was announced that the beloved Harvest Moon series would be released in the US as Story of Seasons. In 2021, however, we will receive two games developed by different companies – Harvest Moon: One World produced by Natsune, and Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town developed by Marvelous. So where is the problem? Indeed, in the beginning, it was only about two separate publishers making the same game under different titles. Today, however, the rights to the Harvest Moon name belong to Natsune, which still wants to produce farm games. Story of Seasons – or the old Harvest Moon games in the US – does not abandon the brand, releasing their own games. Because of the business division of one Japanese series – Bokujo Monogatari – we got two separate series, which are still considered... Harvest Moon! Complicated? It sure is!
Becoming a Pioneer
As such, Pioneers of Olive Town doesn’t require much skill or talent to be successful. A simple understanding of how to play the game, as well as some patience, is all you need. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to improve. The gameplay is easy to learn but difficult to master, which is an impressive balance to strike.
The controls are fairly simple and intuitive. In fact, the ability to use the D-Pad to swap through your inventory is quite the useful tool. It makes switching between tools on the fly quite easy and satisfying. Other simulation and resource management games that use a controller should certainly take note.
There are also a few fun “mini-games” that can give the player a welcome respite from the stress of managing and rebuilding a farm. Once you receive the fishing rod you can start catching sea-life. Sending the line out onto the water begins a tug of war game with a creature, which can be easy to lose if you don’t understand the game.
Also, when you enter one of the various caves on your land, you begin a short dungeon crawl where you can find various rare items and ore. The best part about these mini-games is that while they might serve as distractions on some level, they also provide you with useful and often necessary materials to progress in the game.
One issue that does continually cause frustration is the dichotomy between how the character moves around the world, and how they interact with it. Your character is free to move in any direction in the 3D world, but the environment itself is often snapped to a grid. This can sometimes make it difficult to line yourself up just right to chop a tree or harvest a crop. It’s a small issue, but during the many hours you are expected to play this game, it can really start to add up.
Getting Lost in Olive Town
In many ways, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, does feel like a living, breathing world. The townsfolk have their daily routines, in which they sit at home for their meals, head to the various stores in town, and close up shops usually around 6:00 pm. Of course, they all have their days off from work as well, so if you show up on the wrong day or wrong time, there’s nothing you can do about it. While annoying at times, this goes to show that the game won’t hold you by the hand. These people are living their lives too, they won’t just open up shops at midnight because you got busy looking for silver ore in the mines all day.
Another element of the game that shoots for immersion, but might go a little too far, is the passage of time. Minutes go by in seconds in the game world, which can make days fly by if you’re occupied with something. Later on in the game, when you have several barns full of livestock and several fields to tend to, it can make balancing work and townsfolk interactions very difficult, even stressful. It’s times like this that the game starts to feel a little bit too much like real life.
The graphics are a bit on the cartoonish side, but that fits the game well. The animals are ridiculous compared to their real world counterparts, but they are cute. The characters all look very distinct and unique, although sometimes, at just the right angle, they start to look a little like dolls, generating some uncanny valley vibes.
The Earth Sprites
Speaking of graphics, one section of Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town that doesn’t feel quite finished yet, is the Earth Sprites. You discover these little creatures after spending some time on your farm. They are somewhat cute, but the design doesn’t feel quite as polished as in other parts of the game.
They also have a small hubworld you can travel to, but compared to the farm and the town, it feels quite empty, so it’s not always worth visiting. You can’t even go fishing in the water there. This could be perfectly reasonable if the sprites don’t want you to go fishing in their water, but it is never explained to the player, so it just seems like you are simply unable to.
In a game that demands a lot of attention and time from the player, it seems like a huge oversight to make this part of the game less interactive and less rewarding for the player who dedicates time to it.
The People of Olive Town
Another large part of Pioneers of Olive Town seems to be the ability to build relationships and possibly even romance the other townsfolk. Many of the characters have unique personalities and interests that can hint at what might win them over. Since every item in the game is giftable, even down to chopped blades of grass, it might take some trial and error.
Each member of the town has ten empty hearts that slowly fill up as you interact with them. But even in hours of playing the game, it seems difficult to reach even the second heart. It makes sense with a game that rewards patience, but it can also feel like an optional feature that might not be worth the time. With so many things to balance already, it can be easy to forget about.
Another nice addition to the game is that players are free to romance any gender. Your choices are not limited by the gender you choose in the game.
A Pacing Problem
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town also has a pacing problem. It feels excellently paced at first, with each new day bringing new discoveries and then pushing you right on to the next step. But this can be draining over time.
For example, perhaps one of the biggest signs of progression in the game is to upgrade your main tools. You can go from a wooden axe, to an iron axe, to a silver axe, and so on. Each one makes chopping down trees exceptionally easier, even allowing you to charge up a move that lets you chop down multiple trees at once.
As soon as you get the next upgrade, it lets you know how to get the next one. It’s great to have this goal in mind, but it also never really gives the player time to enjoy their newly upgraded tool. It feels really awesome at first to have an iron axe that can chop down multiple trees, but as soon as you have it, you know the silver axe will be better, and you know how to get it.
The game is evenly paced, but it is a very fast pace. It would be nice to have moments of celebration and success, to relax for a time and enjoy the accomplishment a little more before moving on to the next challenge.
Also, as a side note, there is not much variety in gaining these upgrades, it’s always just collecting more of a rarer material. It would be fun to explore new ways of finding upgrades in creative or clever ways rather than just toiling away in the mines again.
Be aware of how much time you put into this game, because it’s easy to lose track. The game is designed to keep you working towards the next goal, so it can be easy to take just one more day before taking a break.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is a fun game for the right person, it’s certainly not a game that everyone will enjoy. But it does have some great elements. The main problem might be that it focused a little too much on simulating and not quite enough on making the gameplay dynamic and exciting.
There’s no doubt fans of the long-running series will enjoy this latest entry, but with a similar and immensely popular game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons still pushing out new content over a year since its original release, will Pioneers of Olive Town have enough to draw people away?
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town certainly has some issues, but overall, there is a lot to be excited about. From planting new crops, to taming new wildlife, and even building relationships with the townsfolk, there is a lot to explore and discover in this world.
Are you excited to try out Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town? Have you tried it already? What are your thoughts on the game? Feel free to leave a comment letting us know!
Matt Buckley | Gamepressure.com