Breaking New Ground
It’s kind of fitting in a way that the Harvest Moon series eventually turned into Story of Seasons (am I allowed to mention that?) because I feel like the little licensing dispute, while admittedly unfortunate, marked the beginning of an entirely new phase for the series—one that invoked changes far beyond a mere name. Sure, the series has always seen some growth, but it wasn’t until it was forced to adopt its more recent Story of Seasons moniker that Marvelous seemed to really start trying to breathe new life into things—but they might have been breathing just a little too hard with Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town.
If you ask me, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town doesn’t really feel like an SoS game. I mean, it’s got “Story of Seasons” in its title, so I guess there’s really not much arguing there, but, after spending more time playing it than I’m willing to publicly admit in this review, I was never able to shake the feeling that this game felt like some kind of spin-off title—which is ironic, considering that there are actual SoS spinoff titles (and I’d recommend both of them). I think that Marvelous got a little overly excited when it came to implementing new mechanics (which is not a bad thing) and that that excitement came at the cost of them forgetting, in part, what this series is about. But, enough of me rambling for now. Let’s get on with the Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town review!
Just Like Grandpappy
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town begins with you, as a fresh-faced 20-year-old, riding into Olive Town on your trusty motorized scooter in order to take over your grandfather’s farm. While the farm itself doesn’t give you the friendliest welcome (it’s a mess, as they always are), Olive Town’s Mayor Victor is there to greet you with a warm how-do-you-do and a request of his own: to help Olive Town grow in tandem with your farm. Naturally, being the good samaritan that you are, you heartily agree, and get to work—with nowhere to go but up!
As much as I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer after ending the last paragraph in such an uplifting manner, I’ve got to be honest, here; I’m not overly jazzed about the way this game handles its plot. Yes, yes, I know, the Story of Seasons franchise is not a game you play for the plot. I’m not upset that it doesn’t have hour-long cutscenes. What bothers me is the fact that the game makes a big fuss about your character being the one to help fix up Olive Town (I won’t go into the specifics), but then never really goes anywhere with it. Sure, there are some story-related “quests” that you need to complete, but, for a game that’s all about improving a town, I never saw too many things actually improve.
You Reap What you Sow
One of the very first things that I noticed about Pioneers of Olive Town (aside from the whole crafting thing, which we’ll get to later), is how the game tweaked farming. As a whole, farming isn’t too different, and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. You still use your tools to till fertile soil, sow and water seeds, and pick crops. Mature crops can also be sold, eaten, cooked, given away, or even turned back into seeds if you have the proper machine. Players are also able to level up their farming skills which provide benefits to their crop quality, and can even let players craft automatic sprinklers which will water their crops every day (which I’m 100% for). Livestock is back too, of course, and the same thing basically applies for them. Keep them fed, bathed, and happy, and they’ll provide you with quality products.
So far, so good, right? Well, unfortunately, this is where all of that ends, because, well, it literally ends there. There’s not much else you can do aside from everything else that I’ve described. Pioneers of Olive Town really plays down the farming aspect of this farming life simulator, and it doesn’t try to hide it. Most of the advanced crop and livestock stats have either been watered down or entirely stripped away, and every single farming competition has been nixed. Farming is simply an afterthought in this game. It’s still the best way to make money, but, given this game’s wonky economy, even that doesn’t matter so much. Heck, you don’t even need to farm to beat the game—and, before you ask, no, that’s not me being hyperbolic.
Bucking the normal Tend to Farm > Forage > Go to Town (or whatever order you prefer it to be in) gameplay loop that this series has been consistently throwing at players for a long, long time, Pioneers of Olive Town instead chooses to place most of its emphasis on something else; crafting. Don’t get me wrong, said gameplay loop is still there, but it’s not really at the heart of this game. While it’s still very possible to carry out your days in the same way that you have in previous titles, Mother Nature seems very keen on reclaiming your farm from you. Meaning that, unless you want to literally be walking around in a forest, there are a few things that you’ll need to do with relative consistency.
I know that I already mentioned crafting, but there is something that comes before that—resource collecting. Now, Pioneers of Olive Town is by no means the first SoS game to implement resource gathering. In fact, it’s been a thing for a long, long time. But believe me when I say that this game bumps it up about 10 notches. You’ve got at least 5 of each basic resource—wood, mineral, and grass—alone, and the possibilities only expand from there when you consider how many crafting recipes this game throws at you. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), you aren’t forced to go out of your way to forage for anything. For some reason, perhaps because crafting is so prevalent in this game, weeds, trees, rocks, and the all-new puddles and ponds will spawn at alarmingly high rates every day, making it nigh-impossible to move around if you don’t take care of things at least every other day. While this can be annoying, it at least nets you plenty of resources, making crafting a relatively painless process.
After collecting resources, you then need to process and craft everything. Ironically, while crafting is extremely easy—taking literally zero time, energy, and resources (outside of those required by the recipe)—actually processing raw resources requires a special machine. The kicker? Each type of resource needs a different machine. The other kicker? Each machine (save the post-game ones) can only process one resource at a time, meaning that you’re going to need to set out at least 5 – 10 of each of them if you actually want to get anywhere in a timely manner. I’m not sure why the devs thought that people would be fine with needing to set up a miniature factory district on their farm, but here we are, I guess.
It doesn’t bother me that Pioneers of Olive Town wanted to shake things up by putting a bigger emphasis on crafting. What does bother me, however, is why they did it at the expense of deemphasizing farming to such an extreme degree. As much as this game dips into the world of the magical, I don’t think that making the player need to grow resources would have been a stretch (which I guess you sort of do if you count flowers), even if certain things ended up being a little silly. There was so much potential to do something neat with this, and, while I did legitimately enjoy much of what I played, the crafting system—the game’s main focus—leaves so much to be desired.
Hello From Me to Olive You!
So I know that I’ve been calling this a farming game throughout this entire review—and I still absolutely believe that it is—but I’m not going to pretend that interacting with the townsfolk isn’t, like, half of the fun of these games. It’s always a blast getting to know each new Story of Seasons cast of locals. To be fair, Pioneers of Olive Town does have some gems. I also think that a lot of the dialogue for the affection events—particularly the events that feature different townies interacting with one another—are both well-written and charming. But, I’ve got to say, compared to Trio of Towns, this game’s cast feels pretty lifeless.
I know that, in some ways, that might be a little unfair. Trio of Towns had three wildly different locales, which naturally gave it a huge advantage. And, knowing that, I asked myself if that was the only reason I felt the way that I did—but it wasn’t. I remember the previous game having much more interesting interactions, for one. Characters—especially people you were dating—seemed much more interested in you, and you could even do things like receive visitors (although I suppose that that was family) and write letters. There were so many little things that made the game feel alive that were entirely stripped out of this game. I mean, they didn’t even try to make them act like normal people—half of the time you can just find them standing around in the middle of their own rooms if they aren’t specifically doing something. I know that socialization doesn’t always need to be the focal point of every SoS game, but giving Pioneers of Olive Town‘s locals such little overall personality feels uncalled for.
I was going to end this title by saying that I wasn’t sure if I actually, truly liked this game, but that isn’t fair. Regardless of whether or not if it was for a review, I didn’t need to put as much time into playing the game as I ultimately did. I obviously liked it, just not as much as I’ve liked previous installments within the series. This game made some really strange choices, and I can’t say that I agree with all of them. And, to that end, I feel like some of you out there will end up feeling that way as well. You’ll still be able to find all of the traditional SoS garnishings within Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town if you’re willing to dig deep enough—just be prepared to do a whole lot of crafting along the way.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed) ; Publisher: XSEED Games ; Developer: Marvelous Inc. ; Players: 1 ; Released: March 23, 2021 ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.