Featuring more random collectibles than any given Rare game!
It would be easy to take a quick glance at My Time at Portia and assume it is a Harvest Moon clone. It certainly has that quiet life charm so indicative of that series. Indeed, much of My Time at Portia is undoubtedly inspired by the likes of Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. Beneath that surface level, however, lies a game built around surprisingly unique concepts, all set in a deeply-realized world.
My Time at Portia is, in its simplest form, a carpentry simulator. Yes, there is farming and adventure as well, but you’re primary focus is on building stuff for you and your neighbors. You arrive at the port town of Portia (get it, Port-ia) to take over your estranged father’s workshop. When you arrive, the workshop is in disrepair and devoid of any useful tools. With the help of the townsfolk, you can begin taking on repairs and other odd jobs to earn money. You can pick up jobs through the commerce guild located in town or by talking to Portia’s many inhabitants directly. You’ll earn relationship points with each character individually through talking to them giving them gifts and engaging in their favorite activities. Each character is well written and visually unique and for the most part the commissions they hand you are relevant to their personality and interests. With this in mind, most of your playtime will be focused around gathering in order to complete quests for these characters. Luckily, this takes several different forms in order to keep gameplay interesting.
At the start, you’ll be limited to picking up rocks and sticks off the ground. You’ll use these to construct some basic tools that can be used to cut down small trees and chip away at small stones. At this point, I felt I had a pretty good handle on what to expect from Portia. Gather materials, make tools, use tools to gather better materials, use better materials to make better tools, and so on. Where Portia threw me for a loop was in its mining mechanics. At multiple points throughout the world, you can take an elevator down into ancient underground caverns. Within these caverns you can dig through a voxel based environment, gathering materials and occasionally unearthing treasure. Now and then you’ll even uncover hidden rooms full of enemies that could drop rare items. Exploring these underground areas turned out to be a highlight of the game for me, and one I didn’t see coming.
Beyond harvesting natural resources, you can also gain items through combat. This is perhaps Portia’s greatest weakness. Combat is extremely simplistic, ultimately amounting to nothing more than standing in front of an enemy and mashing the attack button until one of you dies. Add to this that the Switch’s performance often struggles during combat and the whole mechanic winds up feeling tacked on and unfinished. I generally dreaded any quest that required me to engage in combat and avoided it whenever possible. One additional note on Portia’s performance comes in the form of its loading screens. A day one update is available which improves movement in and out of buildings immensely, and in most cases it only takes a few seconds to load into a given building. However, starting the game is a whole other affair. To go from the home menu to actually loading your game is a process that will on average take over five minutes. Just getting to the title screen can take a little over three minutes with loading a game tacking on an additional one or two. As I said once you get into the game it is no longer a problem, but if you boot up My Time at Portia to pass the time on a ride to work, odds are you’ll be there by the time it starts.
Once you’ve rounded up all the necessary materials, you can get to making things. The crafting system isn’t what I would call intuitive, but once you get a handle on it, the setup does allow you to do a lot of different things at once. There are a substantial number of crafting stations you’ll be working with, the most important of which is the assembly station. The assembly station is where you’ll put all the pieces you crafted at other stations together into a final product. To do this, you’ll have to approach the assembly station with the needed material or item selected and add it to the appropriate part of the object you’re building. Early on I struggled to tell what parts of a given build would require me to craft an item at another station and what parts simply needed me to dump in raw materials. As I progressed and gained a better understanding of the different resources and their relationship to the various crafting stations, I struggled less with this, though I still regularly had to check which stations could create what items. While the crafting system ultimately makes sense, your first few encounters with it may feel overwhelming. In fact, much of My Time at Portia could be qualified as overwhelming. The overworld you’re presented with initially is almost unnecessarily large, and it only expands as you progress. The sheer number of collectibles, systems, villagers, and interactions may lead some players to wander aimlessly not sure how to progress. Though the gameplay is entirely different, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Donkey Kong Country 64 and its ridiculous number of collectibles. All that being said, what I found was that these systems aren’t all required to play. I realized that I could, for the most part, stick to the systems I found interesting and only venture into new systems when I felt ready. Much like the relaxing games from which it draws inspiration, My Time at Portia doesn’t punish you for taking things at your own pace.
This a game best enjoyed slowly. My first extended play session with My Time at Portia was on a flight back home after visiting family. In that environment of just being able to relax and play a slow game for a while, My Time at Portia was a lot of fun. I’ve had more trouble enjoying it in bite-sized pieces. My Time at Portia is often times an overwhelming game as a result of its own ambition. This can cause it to be intimidating and more than a little confusing at times. The quality of its many systems range from addictive to annoying. However, taken as a whole My Time at Portia is a rich world full of activity that, when played at an appropriately chill pace, will yield many hours of charming fun.