The opening hours of the latest chapter in the Story of Seasons reveal a fruitful and bountiful harvest.
You arrive in a wilderness setting with nothing but a tent and some tools at your disposal. Day to day life involves harvesting the rocks, trees, and grass around you for resources, but you can also fish and forage to while away the time. There's also a museum to show off your various collections. No, this isn't Animal Crossing, even though there are animals involved. The latest entry in the Story of Seasons series is Pioneers of Olive Town, a game that feels very much like Nintendo's own popular simulation franchise. Even though Pioneers of Olive Town does share many of the gameplay features found in New Horizons, it retains the farming and relationship hooks that have helped the Story of Seasons brand continue to find life separate from its Harvest Moon roots. Don't forget the requisite reminder in every Story of Seasons article: this is made by the original Harvest Moon developers (now Marvelous), not those at Natsume who retained the naming rights.
After about a dozen hours, I can definitely say that I am enjoying my life in and around Olive Town, and a large part of that is constantly being rewarded for doing basic tasks, like mining and growing crops, but also completing requests from the nearby town and its citizens. A vital part of an enticing gameplay loop for a farming sim, at least for me, is the constant drip of progression and tease of new opportunities and relationships. For the most part, Pioneers of Olive Town is checking both boxes, and I'm definitely feeling encouraged to see how this game differs from its predecessors and other farming sims in general. It helps that the starting stamina bar is generous and the default speed of every in-game hour taking up one real life minute feels like a comfortable pace. All this said, there is the creeping in of repetition, and it remains to be seen if a full year and more in-game will continue to yield both delicious produce and satisfying gameplay. The choice of a Seedling Mode difficulty level returns in Pioneers of Olive town, which can expedite your growth from fledgling to expert farmer by raising the selling prices, decreasing stamina drain, and making friendship levels easier to acquire.
Those who have played similar games in this genre will feel right at home, but the mayor of Olive Town does an effective job of playing both ambassador and tutor, doling out new objectives and items regularly. Most of your basic tools, like an axe, hammer, and watering can, are simply given to you, meaning you can get to work right away clearing and gaining the lay of the land. A nearby chicken coop and barn are in a state of disrepair: fortunately, harvesting the raw materials around each one allows you to repair them on the spot. While crafting and repairs are instantaneous, processing raw wood and ore into lumber and ingots does take some in-game hours, and given the amount of resource processing needed to upgrade your tools and buildings, you’ll be left with ample time to yourself. What to do with all that free time? The choice is yours.
Maybe mingle with the guys and gals of Olive Town, or perhaps a dive into the nearby mines is more your style? I wouldn't say that my early interactions with the townsfolk have left me overly smitten, as only every so often do you actually get to see an extended cutscene with a dialogue choice or two. This generally happens after filling up one of the 10 hearts on each NPC’s relationship meter. Personally, though, I’ve been spending more time setting up my farm and improving my tools. You can use materials or money to open up the surrounding areas, and these contain new resources and buildings to fix up. Even though you do start with 16 inventory slots, I quickly prioritized enlarging my bag to gain eight more slots with each upgrade, what with all the different materials and items I was picking up. Accessing the objects in your bag and arranging your tools is simple and intuitive, and the early hours of Pioneers of Olive Town have melted away. So far, I'm enjoying this Story of Seasons title a fair bit more than I did the Friends of Mineral Town remake, of which you can read my review here. As I approach the end of summer, however, the nagging feeling of repetition is starting to creep in, so I’m hoping for more surprises and opportunities to burst forth, like so many tomatoes from my simple, sprinkler-lined fields.
I'll have a full review of Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town closer to its release on March 23. In the meanwhile, I plan to get married, build a thriving business, and maybe see what I can whip up in the kitchen without Gordon Ramsay giving me a tongue lashing.