Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is an important release in the franchise we used to know as Harvest Moon here in the west. It’s the first new mainline game on home consoles since Animal Parade on Wii, with the last two games being a spin-off and remake respectively. And here in the West, it’s also releasing only a few weeks after Harvest Moon: One World, Natsume’s own take on the franchise.
With expectations high — and other farming games like Stardew Valley taking most of the spotlight in the farming sim genre these days — Pioneers of Olive Town needed to be a game that both old and new fans would enjoy. Instead, the final product is mostly just OK, with some glaring flaws that might be fixable.
Everything starts off familiar: you’re in a new town, taking over your grandfather’s abandoned farm. After creating a character and meeting the mayor, the first few days in Olive Town are spent getting used to your surroundings. While there’s nothing stopping you from exploring the farmland or getting to know the town’s residents right away, Pioneers of Olive Town still makes you wait a little bit before all its mechanics truly open up. This is mainly due to tools, as you’re given new ones over time. It doesn’t take long before you have most of your basic equipment for both gathering and farming at least, and the mayor’s short daily tutorials aren’t overly intrusive either.
A good chunk of your time in Pioneers of Olive Town will be spent on the farm. This time, it’s not just where you’ll be growing crops or rearing livestock, but also the main area for gathering new materials. Each section of the farm features lots of trees, plants, and other goodies that you’ll constantly be collecting. Even the mines are part of the farmland, almost encouraging you leave the area as infrequently as possible.
Gathering is not a new part of the franchise, but you’ll be doing a lot more of it here than in earlier games. Cutting up trees and mining rocks works as you’d expect, with higher level tools being needed to gather better materials. With crafting also making a return, materials are needed constantly for new buildings and other projects. Early on, if I wasn’t tending to crops, I would be hoarding logs, ore, and anything else I could get my hands on. Hoarding is definitely the right word, as the amount of materials required to progress is often quite high.
Now, just having to gather a bunch of stuff wouldn’t be so bad on its own. It’s enjoyable clearing out the farmland on your quest for more materials — even if everything grows back after a few days. The problem is instead how you process these materials into useful items. Makers are little machines that turn one material into another such as logs into lumber, or ore into ingots. These are also a returning feature from previous Story of Seasons games, though their implementation here leaves a lot to be desired.
There are makers for everything, from the aforementioned lumber and ore, to making cloth or bricks. Each maker can only create one item at a time, and higher tier materials will take more in-game hours to process. Progress in Pioneers of Olive Town revolves around handing in items for town projects or to unlock new areas of the farm, so using the makers is unavoidable. This means that you constantly need to manage what materials are being made daily.
What makes this such a chore is the fact that there’s no way to queue up tasks. So, to process multiple materials at once, more makers are required. This causes a few problems. First is how much space they take up. Each maker uses up a 2 x 2 space on the farm, reducing the amount of land available for crops or buildings. They’re also pretty ugly compared to the natural look of every other farm building, with some makers even being boring recolours of existing ones.
The final annoyance — one that often appears during the game — is in regards to performance. Whether playing docked or in handheld mode, Pioneers of Olive Town will often lag or even freeze at times. It mainly happens when a lot of objects are on screen at once, which means that the more makers you create, the worse Pioneers of Olive Town’s framerate becomes. Having lots of crops adds to this issue, turning things into a stuttering mess after leaving your house or returning to the farm.
Honestly, makers in their current state are completely at odds with how everything else is designed. Managing livestock is simpler, no longer requiring multiple tools to keep them happy or collect produce. Sprinklers are also unlocked early, making growing and maintaining crops almost trivial after a couple of weeks in-game. So why is it that makers have instead been made LESS user-friendly, requiring too much management for little reward?
With farming having its own issues, it’s a shame that the town is also lacking in some key areas. For one, the way regular character dialogue is handled ends up being… rather odd. Generally, when you talk to someone, they’ll say a line or two and everything is fine. However, whenever there’s an upcoming event (or a few days after one), everyone you talk to will only mention this. Meaning that, for around six days, all you’ll hear from people is something along the lines of ‘hey, X event is coming up’ or ‘wow, X event sure was fun’.
There are a few other instances of this occurring, and it makes interacting with characters completely unenjoyable. Character specific events are at least decent, but having to slog through bland dialogue just to get there is no fun at all. The town in general is rather boring too, and I never had a reason to look forward to seasonal events. Pair this with the constant need to be on your farm, and it’s easy to go weeks without visiting Olive Town.
This isn’t helped by Pioneers of Olive Town’s visuals which, while higher resolution and technically more detailed than Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns, just look bland in places. The town has very few defining features, even after you’ve helped upgrade it later on. Character models also lack the charm of earlier entries, with the lack of 2D portraits making this even more apparent — the townspeople don’t even blink!
In its current state, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is hard to recommend. Crafting is tedious because of the clunky way the makers are implemented, and the town is lifeless due to a lack of varied dialogue or meaningful events each season. Patches are supposedly planned to improve these problem areas (along with performance), so the game could be a decent entry in the series after some updates.
But for now, you’d probably be better off just playing Stardew Valley — or one of the earlier titles — again.
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