A new Story of Seasons is now on Switch and I've been playing it for over 40 hours so here are all my thoughts on this delightful game.
One thing you'll notice quite early on is that Pioneers of Olive Town's map is a little different than what you might be used to as it's split into sections; one being farm space that you can cultivate and change as you please and the other being the town. Some folks might be disappointed by this while others may prefer the efficiency of having all of the stores in one location. The handy pocket map that tells you the opening dates and times for the shops is a nice touch and helps you to not constantly research shop hours. For some reason, the pocket map only covers the town which you could say adds a bit of mystery to the farming area because you start out with a small space and have to complete tasks in order to unlock new areas. Meanwhile, you have no idea what you'll find in that space until you do so. Keep in mind; there are 3 large farm areas in total including a different mine on each section.
Olive Town is laid out plainly with shops in rows, a beach, a large mansion, a little park, a larger one, and then a town hall and museum next to a gathering area that's often used for festivals. In order to unlock a couple more shops, you must complete some tasks. I enjoyed unlocking these shops and would have liked to see more of this; perhaps starting out with just a few locations to purchase items then having to complete tasks to unlock more unusual ones. You also have opportunities to change the aesthetics of the town by completing tasks although it rarely seems to make a huge difference and is more of a vehicle to move the story along because as you upgrade the town, it apparently attracts more tourists. The plot may be lacking but I don't expect much more from a Story of Seasons game.
The museum feels like something taken out of Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley where you donate items to display and show off how cool your collection is. Unfortunately, it's quite typical and dull to walk around, especially when you compare it to the latest Animal Crossing iteration. It is fun to donate items, though, and the fact that you are given a camera to take pictures of wild animals then donate the photos is a nifty feature. You can also donate sea creatures and treasures that are found from mining, foraging, and draining. There isn't a huge incentive to donate but I'm happy to see the series evolve even a bit by adding something new.
Speaking of collectibles, there's a good selection of items to find and build in Pioneers of Olive Town including an assortment of seeds and trees, sea creatures, and foraged items. The variety in mined materials is a bit underwhelming as I would have liked to see more diversity with gem types. There's also a lack of variety in the items that you get from animals. There's a decent mix of animals but some of them spawn the same items or they end up being identical when put into makers. Now that I mention it, there are quite a few makers to create including some unconventional ones like converting mud into bricks, rosemary into mixed herbs, and grasses into fabrics. I had a lot of fun unlocking all of them. However, they only process one item at a time which feels like an oversight because it forces you to build so many of the makers that it takes up a lot of valuable land. Also, more makers creates potential lagging issues.
Moving along; other than farming and putting stuff in makers, you can spend your time completing many other activities and level them up in order to increase efficiency, unlock new recipes, and collect rewards at the town hall. For the record, the full list of activities includes mining, fishing, orchading, beekeeping, cooking, reaping, draining, cultivating, animal care, and communication. Draining stands out as a new mechanic and it basically involves using your bucket or pumps to clear water from ditches that appear. When you clear larger spaces, you'll find treasures, too. Again, it's nice to see the developers try out new gameplay elements and giving tangible rewards when levelling up these skills actually makes you want to keep playing to see what you can be capable of accomplishing next.
You start out with a tent and can upgrade your home multiple times but for some reason, you can only customize a small space in it. Even when you've upgraded to a second storey, you're still very limited in where you can place items. This is a strange decision and makes it less compelling to spend your hard-earned cash on furniture. Thankfully, the farm land is quite large overall and you can customize it rather extensively with different types of walkways, fences, and decorations including giant cow and chicken topiaries that I enjoyed creating. It's fun to have a lot of freedom although it would have been even better to be able to customize the town area to your liking as well instead of relying on the odd story task to come along that makes only minor changes that you can't choose.
I touched on the story being lackluster but luckily, harvest sprites make an appearance as is customary with the series. When you find your first sprite, you unlock an area that you can travel to where you can eventually visit many different types of sprites and periodically collect items from them for free. The more you do in the game, the more variety of sprites you'll find. Little baby sprites can be found at random when mining, foraging, and harvesting which are used for 2 purposes: one is to increase the total amount of goodies you get when visiting the sprite village and the other is to trade in for special rewards such as unlocking new dog variations or places to visit. You'll also unlock mini-games that are played when visiting some of the sprites which can be fun distractions for a while.
One thing that stood out is that mining is different to other Story of Seasons games in that it's common to find a ladder going down to the next floor immediately. You'll also come across a variety of moles that range from slight annoyances to big pains in the butt that zap you as you try to collect ore. I spent a lot of time mining and found that it respected my time more than other games in the series by providing ladders frequently but one thing that got to me is the fact that you usually know what ore you're getting when you come across a rock due to its colour. It would have been more fun to disguise it a little to add to the randomness of what you'll find.
A few odd bits that I must mention include comments around pets, sprinklers, and marriage candidates. Pets are quite prominent in Pioneers of Olive Town as you're allowed to purchase a few when you upgrade your home. There are some solid choices of cats and dogs to pick from although it would have been even better to buy some guinea pigs to keep me company like in real life. Anyway, sprinklers can be made when you eventually unlock the recipe and an even more useful version is available later on. These are necessary when you have a large plot of land and they're a very welcome addition that I hope doesn't disappear in future games. Finally, you can woo a candidate of either gender which is table stakes at this point so it's great to see that they didn't miss this fan requirement.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Pioneers of Olive Town. It may have the odd technical issue yet it makes up for that with a solid variety of items to collect and create, many rewarding skills to level up, and new gameplay elements to enjoy.
- + Tons of items to find and create
- + It's a lot of fun levelling up skills and getting rewarded in the process
- + Multiple new gameplay elements
- - Simplistic map might put off some players
- - Making one item at a time is very limiting and exacerbates performance issues
- - Some elements feel a bit rushed