PopoloCrois comes to the 3DS today and here's the straight dope from the localization team.
Return to PopoloCrois mixes the story of the Japanese comic PopoloCrois with the basis of the successful Story of Seasons game to create an all-new RPG, being brought over to America from XSEED. We will have our review of this new 3DS game up very soon, but to tide you over, here's an interview with XSEED localizer Tom Lipschultz. Enjoy!
Nintendo World Report (NWR): What does Return to PopoloCrois bring new to the table from STORY OF SEASONS?
Tom Lipschultz (TL): Well... PopoloCrois! In Japan, both the PopoloCrois and Bokujo Monogatari names are pretty well-known, so when a crossover was announced, people could immediately imagine what it might be like. Here in the West, however, the PopoloCrois name is pretty unfamiliar even to a lot of hardened gamers, since so little of the franchise has ever been made available to English speakers. As a result, the natural inclination for a lot of people is to think of this as a STORY OF SEASONS spin-off first and foremost.
In actuality, this game is a PopoloCrois title at its core, with STORY OF SEASONS elements layered on top. It is, before all else, a Japanese console-style role-playing game with dungeons, towns, turn-based semi-tactical battles, story-advancing cutscenes, magic, items, equipment—the works. It's a full-fledged RPG that feels like it was ripped right out of the latter half of the '90s, which many consider to be the genre's heyday.
And as gamers old enough to remember RPGs in the late '90s may recall, game-spanning minigames were the hot new thing, with Final Fantasy VII's chocobo racing and Final Fantasy VIII's "Triple Triad" leading the way for developers all across Japan to try their hand at similar optional-but-rewarding minigame experiences, which is basically where the STORY OF SEASONS connection comes in for this particular title.
After the narrative's had a few hours to set things up, Return to PopoloCrois' hero, Prince Pietro Pakapuka, is given a farm to call his own. From that point onward, STORY OF SEASONS-style farming becomes the Triple Triad of Return to PopoloCrois—it's almost completely optional, but omnipresent, even playing a central role in the game's plot. As that plot progresses, too, additional satellite farms are unlocked that allow for unique seasonal crops to grow, and those crops can be harvested and utilized within the game proper to fulfill quest objectives, gain the (platonic) favor of divine maidens (platonic because Pietro has a canonical girlfriend, and he's no cheat!), or make some additional spending cash to help upgrade equipment and purchase useful consumables.
This doesn't mean the STORY OF SEASONS elements are superfluous, though! They're very addictive, and wholly complementary to the game's ultimate goal of leading Prince Pietro and his friends through a really charming, fun-filled fairytale storyline. The way these elements are integrated, too, helps take a little bit of pressure off the player and give the game a more relaxing atmosphere: crops and animals will never die, and fast-travel means you're able to tend your many farms whenever it's most convenient for you, without having to backtrack across half a world.
NWR: Given PopoloCrois' relative anonymity in America, were there any unexpected challenges in localizing this game?
TL: Not especially. In fact, it was kind of the opposite: the precious few times PopoloCrois has seen some iteration of itself presented to a Western audience in the past (including by a younger me, who spent many years fan-translating the franchise's two anime series), there were interpretations of characters and translations of names that just don't quite seem to fit with series lore now as well as I used to think they did. Were this an intensely popular series in the West, there may have been considerable pressure from fans to preserve legacy names and such—but since it's not (yet!), I felt a little freer to reinterpret things in a manner that seemed to better jell with the source material. In other words, I was able to carefully translate everything from scratch throughout this entire project without feeling compelled to follow someone else's guidelines.
NWR: STORY OF SEASONS was the fastest-selling XSEED game to date. Why do you think the game sold so well even though it doesn't carry the Harvest Moon brand anymore?
TL:Because Bokujo Monogatari fans know that STORY OF SEASONS is the new name for the series they've grown up with, and they're very dedicated to that series. It could've been called anything in English (my suggestion was "Cornutopia," though that got vetoed pretty quickly!), and fans would still know right off the bat that regardless of what it says on the cover, the game they're playing is Bokujo Monogatari. With all the good will this series has built up over the years, and the consistent level of quality seen in the games that bear its name, it only stands to reason it would sell well. After all, when you buy a Bokujo Monogatari title, you know exactly what you're getting, and you know before your system even powers on whether or not you're going to like it.
NWR: How do you think the success of STORY OF SEASONS will translate to Return to PopoloCrois?
TL:That is a really, really good question! This is not a standard STORY OF SEASONS title, after all, and while I do sincerely believe most fans of the series will greatly enjoy themselves with it nonetheless, it may ultimately be a bit of a tough sell. Just as the fans know STORY OF SEASONS is the new name for Bokujo Monogatari, I think the fans also know that this game is more of an RPG than what they're used to—and we're certainly not trying to hide that fact, as we want the people who buy this game to really feel like they got their money's worth, and the best way to do that is to make sure they know exactly what they're buying.
I hope the STORY OF SEASONS fanbase is willing to take the plunge, though, as I really do think the charm and atmosphere of PopoloCrois will prove to be a big hit with them. And given the success of the Rune Factory franchise, which similarly blends STORY OF SEASONS elements with fantasy adventure, I think Return to PopoloCrois' prospects are very promising. But ultimately, whether or not this game matches the success of STORY OF SEASONS is entirely in the hands of the gaming public.
I do think Return to PopoloCrois at least deserves the same level of recognition, though, as it really is every bit as wonderful a game in my opinion. But of course, I am a little biased!
NWR: If you're unfamiliar with PopoloCrois, why should you be interested in this game?
TL:Because it's genuinely rare to find a game this charming and wholesome nowadays—a game that'll make you smile, and laugh, and cry, and go "awww!" While other RPGs seem like they're all vying to be the next Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, Return to PopoloCrois has far humbler aspirations: it wants to be the next bedtime story you read to your kids. And sure, we may all obsess over Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, but the real timeless classics—the stories we remember throughout our lives—are the stories we grew up hearing, and eventually reading, every night. Aesop's fables may not be as epic as those big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, but those blockbusters probably wouldn't exist if the people who made them hadn't grown up with heavily earmarked copies of Aesop's fables adorning their childhood bookshelves.
PopoloCrois represents those fundamentals. It doesn't break new ground or wow everyone with its never-before-seen features. It just tells you a good, old-fashioned fairytale, and it tells it so well that just hearing it will make you feel like a kid again, all tucked up in your bed and ready for a night of fantastical dreams. It may not immediately seem to stand out from the crowd, but it'll stick with you forever, and make you smile every time you think of it in the years to come.
NWR: What other anime do you think would fit well with the STORY OF SEASONS style?
TL:In a recent interview, the creator of PopoloCrois, Yohsuke Tamori, said that he felt a lot of games today were too intense, bordering on savage, to the point that most of them have lost their sense of humanity. And as I try to answer this question, I'm forced to conclude that the same is true of anime, as I'm having a dickens of a time thinking of even one franchise that's hopeful and positive enough to be a good match for STORY OF SEASONS.
My first thought—which is admittedly a bit of a stretch—is my favorite sci-fi anime of all time, Planetes. Planetes is all about the near-ish future of 2075, as average joe schmoes finally begin living and working in the shallow space around earth, colonizing the moon and building corporate-owned space stations. One of my favorite episodes introduces the concept of Lunarians—human beings who were born and raised on the moon, never actually being subjected to earth's gravity directly and thus developing a whole host of unique physiological characteristics not found on those who consider good ol' terra firma their home.
This same episode also introduces the concept of fruit being grown on the moon, and how differently it develops than fruit grown on earth. And I think it might be kind of cool to explore this concept further in a STORY OF SEASONS spin-off, allowing the player to live and work on the moon, tending an environmentally controlled greenhouse facility and dealing with all the unique challenges inherent in bringing life somewhere that life was never really intended to be.
...Like I said, it's kind of a stretch, but I think there could be fertile ground there for a really interesting and unique sci-fi take on the STORY OF SEASONS formula. Though honestly, if we're going sci-fi, we might as well skip the anime middleman and dive straight into Star Trek. Star Trek x STORY OF SEASONS (operating under the ultra-hopeful Gene Roddenberry vision of Star Trek, not the vengeful Maquis-era stuff created after his death), would be a match made in heaven, and I would absolutely be there day one to experience it!