Editor’s note: A previous version of this piece stated that “Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town” was a spin-off series. It is actually a new version of the same game with a different title due to a change in localization teams surrounding copyright.
While the newest installment of the Harvest Moon series “Story of Seasons” may be the first farming sim to have ever held my attention, it is far from perfect. Amid charming music, easy to grasp gameplay and possibly the cutest cows ever animated, “Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town” has a few major improvements to make before becoming a must-play game for the Nintendo Switch.
In “Pioneers of Olive Town,” players are tasked with both expanding the farm they inherit and bringing more tourists to Olive Town. Farming is simple — till the soil, plant seeds and water plants every day it isn’t raining. In no time a large variety of crops will fill your farmland. Taking care of livestock is just as easy to manage, only requiring the player to pet their animals once a day.
The core gameplay loop — farming, selling, buying more for your farm, repeat — starts out slow, but soon becomes addicting. Each second is equivalent to a minute in-game, which constantly leaves the player with tasks to finish the following day. It’s a struggle to pack in every activity each day, which leaves the player with difficult decisions to make, thus leading to a “just one more day” mentality. Quickly these days add up and extend a game session by hours without the player even realizing it.
When you aren’t busy farming, it is essential to hunt for crafting materials. These materials are used to make lumber, seasonings, clothing and decor for your home. With every season there are new crops to plant, new livestock to tame and new decorations or materials to craft, so players are quickly enticed to stick around in order to see all Olive Town has to offer.
Whenever you’re looking for something else besides farming, “Pioneers of Olive Town” is absolutely chock full of tasks to complete and areas to explore. In order to progress the game and expand your farm, structures must be repaired and new areas must be unlocked, like mines and beaches. You’ll want to explore these new places too; for example, mining is a vital part of gameplay that allows you to gather different stones and ores for crafting. There is also a museum where you can donate photos, fish and treasure, and although it lacks detail, it is satisfying to watch the collection grow.
Interacting with the residents of Olive Town is another highlight. Most characters are based on a certain archetype — Damon the “bad boy” biker and Lovett the eccentric, artsy food critic are two of my favorites. Although dialogue is initially bland, the cutscenes that occur once a certain friendship level is reached make characters’ personalities truly shine. Encountering characters out and about in town will likely result in a neutral comment regarding the weather or an upcoming event, but in cutscenes the character archetypes are emphasized to the extreme. Plenty of laughs are to be found, especially in scenes with certain characters dressing up as animals.
The characters are not the only thing that makes Olive Town lively; a variety of stores and restaurants each offer a surprising amount of content that changes with the seasons to keep the game fresh. Over time, Victor, the mayor of Olive Town, will ask the player for materials for town improvement projects. These requests can take up a lot of materials that could go toward farm improvements, which is unfortunately a frustrating distraction. Nonetheless, it is nice to see the town come to life throughout the year. Olive Town is a quintessentially cute small town, with forests, docks and brick roads, so it’s somewhat heartwarming to see tourism increase with each improvement as well.
The maker system is a significant part of gameplay, but it is by far the least enjoyable. In order to craft materials for repairs, clothing or decorations, maker machines must be utilized. Unfortunately, it takes hours, both in game and in real life, to prepare a single item, and each maker machine can only be used for one type of material. Good luck getting fifty pieces of rare durable lumber to upgrade your home — it will probably take you hours or even days of real time. The makers also take up a huge amount of farmland. Space that could be used to house livestock or grow crops is instead dedicated to unattractive, time-sucking gadgets.
Festivals, the community events that occur throughout the year, are a toss up in terms of quality. Some festivals are simply short cutscenes that involve no player interaction and fall flat. These appeared as half-baked wastes of time. The higher quality festivals are centered around a variety of minigames that are reminiscent of the classic “Mario Party” series. Despite the minigames being a minor positive, festivals get old fast. A festival takes up an entire day, despite minigames only taking an hour at most in-game. Once leaving the festival and returning to your farm, it instantly becomes nighttime.
Festivals and makers are unfortunately not the only issues “Pioneers of Olive Town” has. On March 3, game producer Dai Takemura stated that future patches will work to improve not only the makers, but also terribly long load times, dialogue variation and a variety of bugs, like the choppy frame rate. Though the wacky load screens are pretty entertaining, it’s difficult not to feel slightly annoyed by the wait, and more dialogue variation would provide more motivation for initial chats with residents. At the time of this review, these issues are yet to be improved, so perhaps players will have a better experience if they wait to purchase the game.
Though there are certainly disappointing aspects of “Pioneers of Olive Town,” it isn’t a bad game in the slightest. It is still a cozy, casual game bursting with personality and playfulness. This game has potential, but that potential is sometimes hidden behind underwhelming gameplay systems and bugs. For as much as this game does right, the few issues it has are too intrusive to ignore.
Despite these problems, I’m thoroughly addicted to making Olive Town a better place, and I’m excited to return. “Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town” has certainly piqued my interest in farming sims, and I don’t plan on putting it down anytime soon.
Daily Arts Writer Harper Klotz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.