Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is the latest addition in the long running agricultural series. Find out below if it lays a golden egg or is the last straw for farm a management genre.
Many fans have been awaiting this: the creators of the series that was previously known as Harvest Moon have released its latest chapter in the series, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. The game’s premise is similar to its predecessors in which you will return to a village inhabited by a passed beloved grandparent. In Olive Town, your character’s dream is to take over land once owned from your grandfather.
A New Beginning
Like any good farming simulator, you assume the main character and can customise your character in whichever way you feel. There are many options from hair style and colour to eye shape to create yourself. Or you can just go wild with the colour options they have such as teal green or fire red hair. Players can choose from two different options of difficulty, depending on what challenges you would like: normal mode or seedling made. Seedling mode is arguably a lot easier as it has certain bonuses and means you use less stamina overall. This means you can complete more tasks each day. Normal mode provides that extra challenge for seasoned farmers; not everything will be as easy to get, and your day will be made more challenging by needing to sell more stock and replenish your stamina more frequently to maximise your day.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is split up into the four Seasons, with approx 28 in game days adding up to a Season. You’ll start in Spring where various crops and trees can be planted and grown. Each season will bring the opportunity to plant different vegetables and make different recipes to eat to replenish your stamina or sell as stock to the town to expand the shops local markets. The game is made up of two main areas, Olive Town, and then your farm with its surroundings. Your character is only given so much stamina, and depending on which game difficulty you selected will depend on how quickly that stamina will deplete. Stamina is depleted with specific tasks that you may do around your farm. Chopping trees, watering crops, mining rock, and even fishing is all available for you to do. Your tools can have different strengths as you progress through the game and players will need to earn money and craft bars out of rock ore to upgrade tools. Upgrading tools is a necessary but a taxing task at times as players will have to wait a significantly long time for not a particularly big pay off of bars. Upgrading also means that less stamina is used as stronger weapons means less work labour.
Players will have multiple skills to develop and as players continue to use these skills, they will be able to unlock recipes they can craft to perhaps make that skill a little easier, or create a specific item such as coal. Makers are a huge part of the game which require you to input ingredients so it can ‘make’ more important ingredients you may need to sell or trade. I found myself needing multiple makers of the same thing, just because there are so many different types of wood, or rock, or ore needed that make different types of plank.
Hitting the Hay
At the end of each day, or when your stamina runs dry you can opt to go to sleep and save the game. The morning will refresh your stamina and most of the time a new update from villagers will trigger. This might be the mayor paying a visit, or another resident telling you about an event in the town you can attend. The town will develop more as you progress through the days.
I found myself spending a fair few days with not that much ‘to do’ or perhaps for better wording, no real reason to do something. The game direction didn’t really pull me in any particular way, it just dumped me in a farm where I pulled weeds, did some chopping, exhausted my stamina and then slept. Eventually the game does signpost you to a bulletin board for some errands to run, but if you’re looking for a story rich farming game, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is not the one for this. As you explore your surroundings you will come to discover some dilapidated buildings that will need restructuring. This may be the likes of a chicken coop, horses stable or big hay silo which can give you a focus. The game also has a heavy focus on collecting fish, treasure and photographs for the town museum.
I like to think of myself as a bit of a seasoned farm simulator player, and my one major irritant with this game was the lack of any kind of log of what you were doing. I got through the first few hours trying to remember what on earth I was trying to do. The game itself requires a lot of things to be in place for just one thing. As you explore you’ll find different types of trees requiring a lot of stamina to chop down. If you don’t have the right weapons yet, you may not be able to get the right upgrades, because it takes so long to chop the right amount of materials. So you’d have a choice between concentrating on upgrading, or just taking the stamina hit and building the barn. I had to consistently go back to things and constantly check my inventory for what I potentially needed and what I already had so I didn’t waste precious stamina. Some upgrades require a lot of different materials, and your inventory – even fully upgraded is not massive.
You are not even able to ‘input’ the materials you have collected to clear space. So then you have to make trunks to put the materials in, and magically remember what they were once for. If you are on normal mode, stamina can prevent a lot being done in one day, so it can feel like a bit of choice paralysis of doing what needs to be done, as well as you attending to your own farm. I like having a pretty farm too, one with all my ducks in a row. As you go through the days, random spurts of weeds, new trees and plants will crop up needing you to remove them if you do not want them to sully your clean farm image. Which sounds great for all your neat needs, but this requires stamina.
Now you’re probably asking – surely you can replenish your stamina? Yes – yes you can. However, I found by the time I saved ingredients, cooked them (which takes stamina) for it to only replenish one heart out of the 10-15 that I had, it felt not worth it. You can also go to the local café, but be prepared to spend precious coins that you need to save for your upgrades and other things. It all felt a bit like a Russian doll to me. On top of the surrounding things already mentioned, you can own pets, expand your house, add furniture to your house as well as complete some side quests around the town. Some projects you can commission for money instead of material, but it comes with a hefty price tag. It really depends on the player which direction you want to go.
After feeling pretty frustrated with the little pay off for what felt like a lot of time, I realised after sinking many hours into it, that there is much that becomes more accessible and easier to gather. The initial 8-10 or so hours felt like a slog through treacle. However with a couple of upgrades behind you, a fair few things to consistently sell each day, you can prioritise the day a bit easier – will your day be farm tending? Or wood chopping day? Although I stand by the log book being something that would have been helpful, it can’t be denied that there is a lot to do within the game itself regardless of story direction.
The story does develop piece by piece and you get the opportunity to explore different lands, play mini-games, and explore caves. Maybe the point is that Pioneers of Olive town is something that is baked over time. It just might be a long time. I did find myself enjoying it in a lot of places. You can eventually get your own pet to walk everyday, or a mount so it is easier to travel to different locations.
There were times where the game would leave you completely in the dark about crafting objects, not telling you what you would need, or where you could source the items, and that became frustrating. I eventually found that I could make perfume through a shop, but I was left wondering for ages if I needed to do it through a maker. Simple things like this makes the game feel a bit frustrating when you have so much time in the day.
I feel like I have highlighted a lot of things that irritated me, but for farming simulator lovers, there will be loads to enjoy too. It possibly has one of the best fishing mechanics I have known for a game. Requiring you to hold down the action button on a slider that indicates if the fish is angry, tired or good to continue reeling in. Additionally, the passing of day, night and weather as well as the seasons is a great way to not feeling bored of the crops you may be planting or your jobs in the day.
In the morning you can put your beloved farm animals you have tamed out to pasture. Something you won’t be able to do in the rain. When it rains, you don’t need to spend stamina watering plants as they will all be watered. It’s these things that make it exciting of what tomorrow may bring but also adding a bit of routine which is a lot of what we love about farming simulators. As you pluck, mine, chop and trill the ground little sprites will appear which can be collected. You can meet the sprite guardian who can take you to different lands, and grant you bonuses such as better quality food or more stamina.
If you are a lover of the series then it likely would be an easy recommendation for you if you know what to expect rom the franchise. However, playing from a position of someone who has never played previous additions to the chapter, it felt there were a lot of loose ends that could have been smoothed out or tied up to make the game feel more together and complete as a whole. Rich in things to do, but not in story, this is good for those who don’t mind ‘farming’ the hours into the game for not a lot of return. If you are on the search to see your spoils quickly, make and upkeep a perfect pretty farm without a lot of labour, then this is not the game for you.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town continues the same charming cutesy aesthetic as its predecessors, although at times feels discombobulated in organisation. A decent enough farming management addition to the genre, the game features a depth of gameplay but is light on narrative. Prepare and expect to be in it for the long haul if you want to see any real results from your hard work.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is available now on Playstation 4 (Review Platform), Nintendo Switch and Steam.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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