PopoloCrois has been around for a long time in Japan. Here we have a new take on its universe that puts the famous Prince Pietro in a Harvest Moon setting. The question is; does he have what it takes to grow bountiful crops?
Harvest Moon has gone through quite the transformation over the past few years. Recently, developer Marvelous split from publisher Natsume to release their farming simulator series under the new title "Story of Seasons". Now fans of the Harvest Moon franchise have been treated to a spin-off titled Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale. Let's see just how well the PopoloCrois universe combines with the tried and true Story of Seasons gameplay formula.
Ironically, story doesn't usually play a big role in any Story of Seasons or Harvest Moon game. Players spend ninety percent of their time growing crops, tending to their livestock and wooing the neighbours. However, Return to PopoloCrois puts this on its head. Right from the start, there is so much story that you'll wonder when you'll actually get to hoe some dirt. Prince Pietro lives with his royal family in the kingdom of PopoloCrois when a disguised dastardly woman encompasses the grounds in thorns and teleports the prince to the unknown land of Galariland. Being the independent young guy that he is, he quickly makes friends and builds a farm to keep him busy in between exploring dungeons and unlocking new areas to discover, all in the name of finding his way back home. The presentation is simply adorable and it's one of the main things that kept me playing. The characters are so cute from their pastel outfits and glowing cheeks to their charming one-liners. Meeting new characters and progressing in the story is definitely the biggest redeeming quality of the adventure, but you'll soon understand where it all falls apart.
Prince Pietro meets some unusual and sometimes hilarious characters in his travels. I was particularly entertained by Gami Gami whom walks around with a pumpkin stuck on his head for much of the journey and can't quite remember who or where he is. In contrast, the White Knight talks very eloquently and is always protecting the younger members of the group. Most of these new characters will join you in battle and each has their own attacks and special moves. Unfortunately, the battle system is the biggest disappointment. You won't do much more than move a character from one square to another and press attack for most of your moves because you simply don't need to do anything else. I literally used no strategy for the entire game up until the last boss where I had to think just a little to beat it on the second try. One of my characters died once and it was shocking to me, which is a huge contrast to the average JRPG that I've played. I actually turned down the encounter rate so I didn't have to deal with monotonous button pressing as often.
Along with the battle system, the dungeons leave a lot to be desired. The overworld itself is actually quite varied, ranging from snowy mountains and boggy swamp areas to green fields and lava lands. This isn't where you do most of your battling, though. Combat is done after Pietro shrinks to the size of an insect and jumps into a crop in order to rid it of the evil inside. Doing so means that he has to fight his way to the end of each dungeon and battle an extremely easy boss at the end. These dungeons are composed of repeated tiles with the same backdrops over and over and the odd treasure chest strewn about to try and keep it interesting. One thing that bugged me in particular was that sometimes you can't tell when you're coming up to the boss of the dungeon and if you walk a little too close to him then you'll start the fight automatically. When the fight is over, you're taken out of the dungeon straight away with no chance to go back and try to find other hidden items. This showed a lack of polish and testing with actual JRPG fans.
Next up is the actual farming gameplay. Return to PopoloCrois does have some classic Harvest Moon style farming, but it's kept to a bare minimum. You'll find seeds during your travels that can be planted in your home farm and in other farms that you unlock as you progress. Each seed has a specific farm that it can be planted in. At first, planting and watering seeds can feel monotonous but you'll unlock an upgraded watering can and the ability to hoe four patches at once pretty quickly. Just planting, watering and harvesting is as complicated as it gets because none of the in-depth mechanics present in similar games are here. It would've been neat to have a star rating system, seed creation and plants that spoil over time (none of my plants ever spoiled even after leaving them unattended for days). You can keep chickens, cows and lamas on your farm and collect eggs, milk and fur that can be used along with your farmed ingredients to create meals. You can also collect minerals and bugs from around Galariland. Lastly, there is the ability to combine items to create new ones, but it's poorly implemented. There's no master recipe list so you're left to experiment every single time, and there really isn't much of a need to do it at all because the odd quests that you get from characters don't often ask for items that need to be synthesized.
Before wrapping this up, I must touch on the friendship system because it completely boggled me. In other Story of Seasons games, there's a clear goal to woo other characters in order to eventually marry them and have a child. However, in Return to PopoloCrois, the main character already has a sweetheart and he clearly thinks the world of her. When you visit new towns, you give gifts to certain young ladies that are clearly after your heart and want to raise their "love" meter with you. One of them actually moved to my farm with me and she just stands there all day, expecting me to give her a gift. She doesn't help with any of the farming like spouses would in typical Harvest Moon games. I wonder what Pietro's actual girlfriend thinks of her hanging around. Anyway, this system seems like a desperate attempt to mimic all of Story of Seasons' core gameplay even in the face of a story where it simply doesn't fit.
Being a huge Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons fan, this game has left me wanting more from the series. I know there will be another great game in the core franchise coming so I'm not too let down, but I can't recommend this to anyone other than existing PopoloCrois fans who don't mind playing a game that doesn't deliver either farming simulator or role playing gameplay very well.
- + Story keeps you interested to the end
- + Charming presentation with a variety of different worlds to explore
- - Dull and uninspired battle system
- - Farming only touches the surface of classic Harvest Moon gameplay
- - Dungeons quickly become repetitive