The next entry in Marvelous’ farming sim series feels much like the latest Animal Crossing.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is an all new entry in the long-running farming sim series that used to go by a different name, at least in the West. This is the third game on Switch and arrives not even a year since the Friends of Mineral Town remake, which I reviewed here. In my preview for Pioneers of Olive Town, I had made my way through the spring and summer seasons, enjoying the progress I was making and the areas I had been opening up. With more than a full in-game year under my mud-covered overalls, I’m ready to announce a final verdict, but first let’s take a stroll through the seasons as I highlight my life as a plucky pioneer.
The concept of inheriting your grandfather’s farm is well-trod to say the least, and the same trope is used in Pioneers of Olive Town. After naming and customizing your player avatar, you arrive in a wooded area with only a tent and the derelict remains of a chicken coop. The mayor welcomes you to Olive Town and periodically gives you town-improvement projects to complete using the fruits of your labor, such as lending the town 10 iron ingots or 10 pieces of lumber. The overall objective remains the same as in similar farming-themed titles: restore the farm to prominence, form relationships with the townspeople, get married, have children, and explore and shape the land to your liking. There are a handful of areas to unlock by providing the necessary materials to the town builder so that he can repair nearby bridges, for example. Multi-floor mines can be explored, and hidden areas filled with helpful sprites—and mini-games—can be discovered by searching high and low.
With each in-game hour of the day lasting a full minute and the timer stopping during conversations and screen transitions, you can get a lot done during your waking hours. After clearing the trees, grass, and rocks from the starting area, I set about tilling plots of land so that I could set to work growing fruits and veggies and earning a living. In between my agricultural pursuits, I would fish in the waters nearby, playing the simple mini-game to catch as many whoppers as my stamina meter would allow, a meter that starts off fairly generous and can grow via a few different methods. The controls are solid, and it’s easy to add tools via the pause menu to your bag, but fair warning: the different materials to obtain along with all the tools will fill your starter bag quite quickly, so it’s worth upgrading it as soon as you can. One specific reason why the bag fills so quickly is because of the time-intensive crafting mechanic, which involves constructing machines in the crafting menu so that you can process ore into ingots, clay into bricks, and wood into lumber. Even food ingredients are transformed into different products, like milk into butter, for instance. The major drag here is that each machine can only produce one object at a time—generally taking between two and eight minutes—so you’ll need multiple machines all working away to complete all your projects.
While the base set of tools that you’ll need on a daily basis are given to you almost immediately, upgrading them is vital for collecting the materials in the areas you open up later in the game. Some tools like the axe and hammer absolutely must be upgraded or else it’ll simply take too long to cut down tougher trees and smash sturdier stones; the watering can, on the other hand, can probably wait since you can craft sprinklers that automatically water your plants and crops. The variety of flowers, produce, and forageables is fairly high, but there’s also a museum where you can display the fish you catch, the treasures you unearth, and even the photos of wild animals you come across. Online functionality is minimal but interesting: photos you take with the in-game camera can be shared randomly with other players by registering your farmer at a kiosk in town. The photos are displayed during load screens, which are frequent but not overly long.
The Olive Town residents themselves range from mildly interesting to wholly forgettable, with some not-so-attractive character design being a noticeable distraction. Their everyday dialogue often just consists of a single line about an upcoming town event or reminiscing about a recently completed one. The events are just okay, with the competitive ones, like a fishing or mushroom gathering tournament, offering a little more enjoyment. Trophies and money can be won from these events, and others like the fireworks festival can be shared with a romantic partner. Gifts and interactions lead to cutscenes with the target of your affection, and repeatedly giving them attention can open up the option of a marriage proposal. While some may want to get to know everyone in town, I found the vapid dialogue grew tiresome after a few dozen of these cutscenes.
My first year as a pioneer of Olive Town started out filled with the joy of discovery and regular progression. The more you use tools and participate in town events, the more levels and titles you unlock, and these bestow their own rewards, like items and money. A lengthy list of in-game achievements, and some hefty prices for late-game improvements give stretch goals to shoot for, but you have to enjoy the simple but ever-present repetition built into games like Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. While I did enjoy most of my time in the wilderness, hitting walls in terms of waiting for materials to process was ultimately a downer. The mayor gradually gives you fewer and fewer tasks to complete, and the focus shifts more towards the player in finding their own fun and setting their own goals. The emphasis on crafting in this Story of Seasons title works to an extent, and there is a fair amount of content to discover; just be prepared for a game loop that can become almost frustratingly familiar just as the leaves start to fall.