Who Put All These Robots On My Farm!?
HIGH The possibility of getting transfixed for hours is definitely still here.
LOW The graphics and performance are well behind the Switch curve.
WTF The “You cannot change this later” notice when choosing the player’s gender.
Let’s get this out of the way right now — This is Harvest Moon.
For those in the West who grew up playing Harvest Moon, Story of Seasons is the Japanese name of the longtime farm-sim franchise headed by Yoshifumi Hashimoto. Now, I could spend multiple pages discussing the nightmare world that is Japanese copyright law, but I’ll be brief. The main developer (Marvelous Entertainment) bought up US publishing company XSEED a few years ago, so they no longer needed longtime Harvest Moon publisher Natsume to handle it. Some corporate meetings happened, some lawyers yelled at each other, and XSEED decided to use the original Story of Seasons name in the West while Natsume has since kept use of the Harvest Moon copyright with cheap imitations that should be thoroughly ignored.
Are we all caught up?
I was excited to review Olive Town because of my delightful experience in 2019 playing through Doraemon: Story of Seasons, which was successfully able to scratch my Stardew Valley itch while also retaining much of what makes Harv…Sorry…Story of Seasons unique. It was also an exceptional use of the Doraemon license, and I’m a firm believer that a strong license can elevate an average game pretty dramatically.
The thing that really did it for me with Doraemon: Story of Seasons was how charming the world was. It had a beautiful watercolor-inspired style, the townsfolk were great to interact with, and around every corner was a robotic blue cat that can put a smile on anyone’s face. All of that charm has completely vanished in the world of Olive Town, which is filled with boring characters who repeat dialogue said by other townsfolk, and the graphics have a simple, sanitary look that never grabbed me. So, with the charm factor lacking, it was up to the tried ‘n true Story of Seasons farming gameplay to keep me going. Turns out, I was significantly less down for “another one of those” than I thought.
This will be familiar to anyone who’s played an entry in the series, but a young lad (or lady) hops on their scooter and leaves the hustle & bustle of the city in favor of reinvigorating their grandfather’s dilapidated farm. Along the way, they’ll befriend the townsfolk, explore mines for raw materials, plant a bunch of turnips, learn the tricks of animal husbandry, and maybe try their hand at human husbandry.
Pioneers of Olive Town doesn’t rock the boat when it comes to the formula, and the one place it does isn’t a particularly good move. This “enhancement” comes in the form of Makers, which take the place of actual crafting.
The idea is that there are now machines one can add to their farm that will process raw materials and make crafting tools. So, for example, if one wants to build a fence, the wood cut down from a tree must first be processed in a maker. This leads to a farming sim that is just as much a factory sim, as my farm had almost as many maker machines processing wool into thread as it did turnips. Crafting has always been a big part of the series, but adding this extra step and making it such an integral part of the core experience was a mistake. It becomes more bearable after the first year, but when the player is first starting out and has less makers, it makes progress devastatingly slow.
However, what’s worse than the addition of the makers is that the game has launched in a poor state. The framerate is a disaster, and there are constant jitters and stops that are distracting and somewhat nauseating to look at.
The load screens are both long and frequent, and the game actually crashed on me a couple of times. It was so bad that Hashimoto wrote an apology note to players when the game launched last month in Japan, and PR has been promising a big patch to fix the issues for the US launch. That patch did come on launch day, and the results are… better-ish? The framerate still sucks, but it sucks significantly less than it did. The same can be said of the load times as well, as they still provide frequent interruptions. Things have been improved compared to pre-launch, but that doesn’t mean that it’s passable.
Technical problems can be fixed, but no amount of polish is going to instill the classic “just one more day” drive that fuels the best farming sims. Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is a competent entry in the genre, and depending on how much one has played of this genre over the past few years, there’s a good chance it can still hook someone into dozens of hours cultivating the perfect farm. With that said, anyone looking for the next step forward for the genre will walk away disappointed from this one, and considering this was released to mark the 25th anniversary of the franchise, Pioneers of Olive Town doesn’t feel like the celebration it should have been.
Disclosures: This game was developed by Marvelous Interactive and published by XSeed Games. The game is available on Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. An estimated 23 hours of play were devoted to playing the game. The campaign was not completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and features Mild Cartoon Violence. I’m hesitant to say that there’s even any “Mild Cartoon Violence” in this universally acceptable product that doesn’t have a risque bone in its body.
Colorblind Modes: The game features no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game features no voiced dialogue, and the cutscenes dialogue is presented in thin black font. The size of the text is not remappable. All dialogue and instructions are provided in text, and there are no necessary audio cues. I’d say it’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The games controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. The “A” and “B” buttons can be switched as the confirmation button, but that is the only available customization. Players control their character with the left analog stick while limited camera interaction is handled with the right stick. Players can use the directional buttons to choose an item or tool, then use their selected confirmation button to initiate various actions (planting seeds, cutting a tree, talking to someone). The “X” button brings up the inventory menu.