Genre: Role-Playing, Simulation (farming)
Released: March 2021
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Overall Score: 9/10
The past year has been a monumental one for the gaming industry, boosted by explosive demand for stay-at-home entertainment, and the arrival of two big next-gen consoles. In addition to a long list of newer big budget gaming titles being unleashed, iconic game franchises meanwhile have been celebrating milestones, such as Mario with its 35th anniversary releases as well as Legends of Zelda.
In keep with this trend, Story of Seasons, the original farming simulation series and longest running farming franchise, is celebrating its 25th anniversary with the much-anticipated release of Pioneers of Olive Town.
Inspiring and building the foundation for popular games like Stardew Valley, the Story of Seasons franchise, best known as Bokujou Monogatari in Japan (and previously known as Harvest Moon in North America) has created a well-tested and balanced formula for farming simulator games. Story of Seasons has always provided fun and reliable gameplay with each game release over the years, but fans have been craving a new, innovative release from the company like the original rebranded Story of Seasons that was published back in 2014.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town thankfully breathes life back into the franchise, keeping all the staple features fans loved in the original games, and bringing back older features previously removed that fans missed, but including new content and elements that players have been asking for, or are quite glad to see.
Like previous games, Pioneers of Olive Town begins with the player travelling to the rural countryside from the big city to start a new life as a farmer. You arrive at your grandfather’s old farmland which, due to neglect, has been taken over by wilderness. You are greeted by the mayor of the town, Victor, who explains that he, your grandfather, and other townsfolk were the original pioneers (like the games title suggests) of Olive Town.
In the tutorial Victor explains while times have changed, the town has stayed the same and now struggles to modernize in order to stay relevant. You may have left the hustle and bustle of the city behind, but you will certainly be busy with your new life—growing your newly inherited farm and renovating the city.
Compared to previous games, Pioneers of Olive Town is packed with things to do. Whether you are working towards rebuilding a structure, clearing a new segment of land, planning another excursion into one of multiple mines, trying to finish a quest to develop the town, or get the attention of that resident cutie, you will never run out of things to do.
One of the most dramatic differences between Pioneers of Olive Town and prior Story of Seasons games is the variety and complexity of materials and crafting systems, as well as the vast tract of farmland you’ve been given.
Taking a page from Stardew Valley, Story of Seasons has incorporated a new way for players to unlock and discover crafting recipes—levelling up skills such as mining, fishing, logging, through cooking and eating new foods, and crafting tools and decorations for your farm. Several recipes unlocked later in the game provide quality of gameplay improvements such as maker machines that convert materials into other processed goods like wood into lumber which will be used for further crafting and quests, or sprinklers that saves time and allows the player to focus on other aspects of the gameplay.
That being said, I did find there were far too many maker machines and more often than not, a lot of the makers were redundant. Quite a few of the machine’s functionalities overlapped, like a machine to convert grass into thread and another that turns wool into yarn. It also does not help that each machine will only convert one resource at a time. This means you’ll need multiple of one type of machine to craft a recipe you’ve had your eyes on if you want to be time efficient, or plan to wait quite a while if you don’t have enough makers. To craft all the recipes, a lot of your farmland will be taken up by machines turning your farm from rural to industrial rather quickly.
This becomes an issue when you need certain materials to unlock more land or build a farm structure that can take up to 50 pieces of lumber and a machine could take 8 in game hours to make one. It becomes a hassle having to fuss with machines instead of being able to explore the enormous farm you have inherited.
A lot of players have referenced the simplicity of the maker systems from the 2014 Story of Seasons which were more compact and resourceful, and allowed for multiple products to be made. Thankfully, the developers have acknowledged this issue and have suggested that later patches may resolve the problem.
Just like prior games, Story of Seasons starts you with a small, overgrown plot of land that will require you to slowly clear trees, rocks, grass, and even puddles away with your familiar farm tools. You’ll also come across dilapidated structures, like a chicken coop, that you can repair with materials that you get from clearing the land. In the beginning working your little plot of land will seem manageable, players will have time to spare exploring the mine or stroll around town, until you repair the bridge.
The bridge will lead to the southwest second portion of your farm, revealing a large, overgrown piece of land. Beyond that? Even more areas to unlock, it’s like your farm never ends! All the newly discovered areas will come with new farm structures to repair, mines to explore, materials to craft, and a larger variety of wild plants to harvest. Pioneers of Olive Town doesn’t skimp on the farmland, providing players with one of the largest maps to work with arguably ever in the franchise.
It does mean though that you will spend a decent amount of time maintaining the land and that players will have to manage their time wisely. Focus too much on other aspects of the game, and you will find the fast-growing weeds, trees, rocks, and puddles will overrun your farm and return it to state of wilderness.
This game includes more features than just farming though, and players will find themselves spending quite a few hours perusing the town everyday. Mayor Victor might complain the town needs a lot of work, but when you look at it for the first time, you’ll find it’s bustling with lots of things to do! The town comes packed with the usual necessities like a grocery store, blacksmith, carpenter, and an animal shop. It also has lots of new places to keep you busy.
Explore the new museum where you can donate photos of wildlife, ancient treasures, and even fish or take-home souvenir sculptures to decorate your house. If museums aren’t your thing, the town also has a salon to update your look, a café to buy some treats, a mansion with culinary quests, a flower shop, and the good ol’ town hall.
The town brings a lot to do in the game outside of your daily farm chores. Besides checking out all the shops, each season has at least 2 events in the town square to shake up your farming routine!
Unfortunately, unlike previous titles I found interactions with the towns folk to be bland. In previous Story of Season games, when talking to town residents you would see the characters image with their reactions to the dialogue, a feature that was quite personable and impressionable on fans. The residents would also interact with each other and provide different dialogue to you as the friendship developed. However, in Pioneers of Olive Town you no longer see an image of the residents when speaking with them which has upset quite a few players, and besides events there was not really much change in what they had to say.
Now that you’ve got a sneak peek into all that Pioneers of Olive Town has to offer, feel tempted to start your new farming life? Well to add more celebration to the 25th anniversary of the Bokujou Monogatari series, farmers can look forward to additional content released between April 2021 to August 2021 with the DLC expansion pass. Get all sorts of new cute outfits, gain access to marriage candidates from previous games, and explore new areas and special events.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town comes packed with content and areas to explore with all the legacy features that have made the series so successful and loved by its fans. Whether you spend your days plowing your land, exploring the mines, hitting the town, or relaxing seaside doing a little fishing, Pioneers of Olive town is a highly enjoyable experience. It’s one we can highly recommend and a world we’ll continue to go back to for more in the weeks to come.