A new season. A new town
When the new Story of Seasons game was announced last year I was immediately excited as the series has always appealed to me since it’s inception as Harvest Moon. The 2020 remake of Friends of Mineral Town had definitely gotten me interested in the series again after finding some of the older games harder to get into as they became overly complicated and less fun.
Olive Town is cute and looks the part
First impressions are positive, the top-down view adopted in Friends of Mineral Town returns but there’s much more detail in the scenery. It’s simplistic but I don’t mean this as a negative as it’s still very pretty and, to be honest, I really like the visual style. It also keeps the various animals looking like I’ve come to expect from the series, it’ll be a sad day if the developers ever change the way the cows look as it’s pretty iconic at this point.
The sound is much the same as the previous game, effects are functional and do the job. The characters have an element of speech that is a nice touch though it does get a little annoying after a while as they only say odd words rather than being fully voiced, it’s not a huge deal in the end though. The music is just there in the background and blends into the gameplay, it’s still a pretty decent soundtrack and inoffensive so you never get sick of hearing it.
Farming largely works as per previous games, you till the land, plant the seeds and then water until they’re ready to be harvested and then you can sell the produce or use the items for cooking. What’s a nice idea is the fact you can find certain things growing in the wild and when you sell those items then the seeds become available in the shop so you can start growing them properly on your farm. It’s cool touch as it encourages you to get out exploring.
Animals again are pretty much as per previous games, though to start with you have to rebuild the required structure before taming your first animal lurking outside. Once complete this will also available to select in the shop. You find other animals as you unlock new areas of the farm, I’ve found an alpaca and a different kind of chicken so far, plus another animal I’m not experienced enough to tame yet. I’m interested to see what other animals are waiting to be found.
You’ve still got jobs to do like mining, collecting grass and cutting down trees as a means to get raw materials for fixing things up or upgrade tools. This mechanic has been slightly tweaked from the previous game so that you’re never having to wait too long for things to re-appear, mining in particular feels a lot less laborious. A bucket has also been added to the tools for removing pools of water and for bailing out small pools to find treasure, which can be quite fun though it is another job that potentially needs planning into your farming day.
Interacting with characters more enjoyable
I think it’s due to the fact start there’s now a map of the town that shows you where people are making them easy to find and chat to, this is such a small change but it’s one I’ve really appreciated. The scenes you trigger as you raise your relationship score are good fun too, there’s an honest sense of being part of the town as you play and it’s incredibly sweet and very welcomed.
There’s a difficulty setting option again which is nice to have and there’s a bit more hand-holding to start with than I remember from Friends of Mineral Town. I mean this as a positive as it gives you a very quick overview of the basics and then pretty much each time you do something new outside of that you get a little pop up to guide. It’s done in a really non-invasive way and generally sticks the first time which is incredibly handy.
The right tools for the job
There are some issues that are more frustrating than anything else. The controls when farming can be imprecise, this is something I called out with Friends of Mineral Town too so I’m guessing it’s potentially a side effect of having an analogue stick. There’s also a tendency for the framerate to drop often, it’s not game-breaking but it is somewhat irritating although I’ve played the game enough that I’ve gotten used to it.
Load times when moving between screens can be quite slow which isn’t ideal but not really sure how you get around it when the play areas you move into are generally quite large. There’s been a couple of updates since I started playing aiming to address these issues but I haven’t noticed any significant change in performance. That’s not to say that these won’t be sorted in time and honestly they genuinely haven’t impacted my enjoyment with Pioneers of Olive Town.
There’s a bulletin board in town where you’ll find requests from villagers, these are just requests to bring certain items and you’ll get money, not complex but an extra way to bring in funds. Some of these relate to the town improvement questline where the mayor will want to improve the town to bring in tourists. They aren’t any different to the standard ones but they’ll usually generate a cut scene within a couple of days of completion which helps to make the town feel like a community.
New Horizon influence
There’s a museum in Pioneers of Olive Town, which I think is fair to say is heavily inspired by Animal Crossing, where you can donate fish you catch and treasures you find. You pick where each thing ends up in the museum so, in theory, while they will ultimately contain the same items they should always look different. You also have a camera for taking pictures of the local wildlife and once donated a model of the animal is put on display. Honestly, if helping setting up a museum is going to be a thing going forward in games I’m not going to be complaining.
There’s an online component that is pretty much unobtrusive so far, it allows you to upload photos you’ve taken which will then appear on the loading screens for other people, and your farmer will show up randomly as a tourist in other peoples games which is kind of cool. I have had pictures on my loading screens where people have photographed NPCs crotches and chests though so as ever humans are going to be humans, though given the character designs this isn’t really the same issue it would be if they were more realistic. It is faintly jarring though and I’d assume it’d be monitored in the future.
There are areas to unlock with mini-games to play, collect resources or where it remains a single-season all the time you can grow those crops all year round which are nice additions. The sprite system has been changed completely, rather than being able to assign a small number of sprites to a farm job now there’s a sprite village where you can assign sprites you find to different categories. I wasn’t sure about this change initially but it’s definitely grown on me and easily allows items to be collected when you visit the village.
Pioneers of Olive Town is a fantastic game and I loved it in spite of the minor issues. The dev team have improved on the Friends of Mineral Town remake and added features that fit brilliantly. I’ve sunk over 75 hours in at this point and there still seems to be a lot to achieve and see plus and that’s without the potential DLC. I’m eager to see what the developers do with the series going forward and I honestly can’t recommend it enough, it’s pretty much the perfect game to chill out with and have an easy-going time.