Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
If there’s one series that has come a long way over the years it would be this one. Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is the latest in the long running series once originally known as Harvest Moon which shows that the developers are paying attention to what has worked both with their own previous work and the wonderful experiences that have spawned from it such as Stardew Valley and My Time at Portia.
Like any good farming simulator, this adventure starts off when our protagonist arrives in town to take over their grandparent’s farm. Having once thrived, this farm is now in serious disrepair and is now your responsibility to get it back up and running. Starting off with nothing more than a tent and a bedroll you are soon given the tools of the trade and it’ll be up to you to both upgrade your tools and your house if you’re planning to both be successful and stay here a while.
If there’s one thing that the series does, and does well, it is the balancing of casual relaxation while simultaneously stressing you the hell out. There are no timelines. There are no due dates. There are events that happen on certain dates, but that’s about it. The adventure can be taken at your own pace. The part that can stress you the hell out is that you can only do so much in a day and sometimes you just don’t have enough time, or like in real life, energy to pull it all off. If you simply want to till your fields one day and then plant and water your crops the next (and subsequent days after so they actually grow), that’s up to you. Don’t actually want to handle loads of crops but instead want to raise livestock? Up to you. Want to bum around everyday and just chat up the locals? I mean it’s possible but then what would be the point of playing a farming simulator?
Like a lot of titles of late and this is a really good thing, there’s an accessibility to the experience that just eases you in instead of throwing you right into it all without even a map or a cookie for emotional support. Over the course of the first week you’ll be given crash courses and the tools that you require in order to get going instead of having to figure it all out from scratch. That said, FINALLY HERE’S AN EXPERIENCE THAT DOESN’T berate you in the form of a tutorial, just lets you know what you can do and let’s you go on your way to do whatever it was that you were hoping to do that day.
Speaking of making your life easier, not everything has to be bought in a store or built from a craftsman. Instead, there are several things that you can build on your own as long as you have the materials on hand in order to do so. This lets you stay on your farm a little longer as well as get a bit more done instead of having to worry about what time shops open and close as well as how much money it’s going to cost in case your crops aren’t exactly going according to plan. What also helps in this regard is that certain elements are almost self sustaining if you are patient enough such as base ores and trees that you’ll be relying on a lot in order to get everything just the way that you want it.
When it comes to upgrading your tools it’s simple enough as all you really need are the materials that you can handle on your own as well as a bit of money to hand to the craftsman who will upgrade them for you. Jumping back up one paragraph in regards to sustainability and how you get all those materials will come in the form of chopping down trees and breaking down iron, silver and gold ore before processing them with machines that you can make yourself. Trees of various types will grow back as long as you leave them enough space to take root and grow once again. Rocks and ores will come back just to haunt you but unlike trees, several mines exist in order to dive into and acquire what you really need at that particular moment in time. Dealing with these materials leads into one of the features that I absolutely loved.
Oftentimes when dealing with simulations / management and city builders, once you’ve put something down it cannot be moved unless you destroy it first and oftentimes if you do you won’t get your full investment back. Thankfully, Pioneers of Olive Town allows you to put whatever you want wherever you want as long as you are able to and then move it again if you’re not happy. This works for your small grade equipment just as much as it does for pre-existing facilities that have to be repaired in order to be used again. I was pleasantly surprised by this as at first you’re not quite sure what you’re actually working with and then once you start and think things through knowing the full scope and size of the objects, what you started with will probably be wasting space and look aesthetically awful which leads into the other feature that I really loved.
Global pandemic or not, we are in 2021 and not everything can fit into neat little boxes anymore. It is a small step forward but I will give credit where credit is due. While Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town still asks you to pick a binary gender of ‘girl’ or ‘boy’, it allows you to dress as you want and have same sex relationships with other townspeople who are open to it. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s something that is finally starting to move in the right direction especially when this style of game is supposed to simulate a part of life and people should be allowed to approach it as they see fit without having to worry about conforming to very strict and old fashioned boxes that just don’t work anymore.
So it’s on that note that I was maybe a little disappointed in how you actually interact with the townspeople. To increase their affection towards you, platonic or romantic, once a day you have to go find them, talk to them, give them a present if you have one, and then rinse and repeat it the next day with the same preset “NPC” dialog lines. Eventually, either by having performed certain tasks or having simply had time pass by, events will occur that let you actually see their personalities and how they interact with both you and others, but in the meantime, it just feels like a chore instead of a strengthening of a meaningful relationship.
Leveraging the above out a bit, and taking some notes from others along the way, is that you are now more than simply the new person in town. Coming from the big city, and putting your grandparent’s farm back to its former glory, or to a new found glory really, you’ll be asked to contribute to the town’s development. Occasionally, you’ll be asked for some input on what the town needs in order to make it more appealing for tourists. Other times, instead of being asked for input, you’ll also be asked to bring in some materials in order to create new buildings or refurbish older ones to make them more appealing. It makes you feel more included than simply the person living outside the town’s borders raising crops and trying to make ends meet.
From there, it’s really planning out your days and being careful to not stay up too late as unlike previous entries that simply gave you less stamina because you didn’t sleep as much, now you’ll wake up LONG past that 6am mark AND have a stamina drain giving you even less time and energy to work with on the following day. Tilling fields, planting seeds, watering crops, grooming your livestock from chickens and cows to llamas and sheep, and then chatting with the townspeople before decide whether you’re going to delve into a cave for ores or chop down a few trees, just make sure that you also make time for your puppy or lord of fluff (cat). There’s no stress on what you do or when you do it (unless you’re me looking at the day’s clock) and things can be taken at your own pace.