Our world has taken a curious new form – one that resembles a rather deformed waffle. A usually tasty snack that now makes you feel a tad uneasy as you navigate its uneven, slightly disturbing peaks and troughs. Getting through each day when the world is so bleak can be difficult. I find myself seeking ever greater solace in the warm embrace of artificial game worlds that allow me to entertain my desire to own a gaggle of cows. Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town let me live that dream – sort of.
It’s time to kill off Grandpa again
That dream comes at the cost of my dear ol’ grandpappy. A rather common sacrifice one must make to undertake when venturing into the farm-sim genre. He pops his clogs, I get a dilapidated farm in a picturesque country locale. A fair trade. I got my letter, nabbed some petrol, and scooted on down to Olive Town to till some earth, rear some cattle and woo some ladies – standard reasons one would uproot their entire existence.
After a fairly brisk introduction and tutorial, you are set free upon the land. It’s not much land to begin with, but it is yours. There are trees to chop, grass to cut, rocks to slap, and even a coop to repair. What you do, and when, and in what quantity, is up to you. Pioneers’ offers a tangible sense of freedom – even when it is holding back vast swathes of land.
One of the main things you will be doing is farming, especially early on. You grab your hoe, slap the earth into submission, sow some seeds and sprinkle some water until life is formed. Continued watering over a few days will yield a harvest, which leads to mad monetary gains. Grab some more seeds, expand your farming plot by slapping the ground some more, repeat.
Spending money to make money is the name of the game here, but there are other ways you can make moolah. The game sets you up with a dilapidated coop and wild hen, both of which can be obtained on day one. This gives you ample time to grasp the fundamentals of animal rearing. Simply put, feed them and they will plop out a resource each day that can be sold for a steady stream of income whilst you’re waiting for the next harvest. The gains from animal products are fairly comparable to crop yield and with a bit of investment, you can have a fully functional ranch. I had many cows. Naturally.
Money will only get you so far, however, and that extra distance will need to be covered with hard labor, time, and resources. Thankfully your slice-of-heaven is jam-packed with respawning rocks, trees, grass, and even puddles (trust me, they’re important). Take your handy-dandy ax and krump a few trees. Upgrade your ax, and you can knock a tree down faster. Hit enough trees and you might even level up, or uncover a sprite.
Resources ultimately tie into crafting, and crafting is where the game, unfortunately, starts to fall apart. Base resources won’t do you much good, and refining them into something usable will be required to unlock more of your farm, complete quests, and craft even more complex thingy-majigs. In order to synthesize a base resource into something useful, you need the relevant ‘machine’.
Machines are the bane of this game. A bane so potent, that it threatens to derail the whole experience and turn this from a relaxing farming-sim into an industrialized-rural-factory-sim. There are more machines than I can count on my fingers and each machine turns materials into something else. The amount of time it takes to convert said material varies based on the material. It could take 4 in-game hours, it could take more. Each machine can only hold the materials to make ONE refined resource, meaning you can’t queue up a bunch of wooden planks and toddle off somewhere else. You are forced to either hang around and wait for things to finish and manually refill, or make a bunch of machines and litter your farm with them, at least early on.
The latter option is, if I’m being totally honest, the only real option. The sheer amount of refined resources you need is astronomical to the point if you only had a few machines, it would take days for you to complete even the most basic of expansion tasks. By the end of my first Spring, I had countless machines operating and they took up a substantial amount of land. Heck, they took up a substantial amount of time when it came to refilling the buggers.
Whatever pacing Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town had, which is still important in a game about doing things at your own pace, is lost. Exploring new lands and uncovering new animals and crops is locked to this system…almost. Thankfully you can purchase farm expansions by paying an exorbitant amount of money if you wanted to. This is clearly not the intended path.
Unfortunately controlling the game is also a bit of a hassle. Everything is just a little bit unpleasant – and I mean everything. The simple act of moving your character into position to cut some grass is just a tad clunky. Talking to NPCs often leads to the wrong NPC being interacted with because a horde of them decided to clip into each other. Watering plants, breaking rocks, lumberjacking – you name it, it’s all just a little bit off. The game tries to mitigate this with a little square showing you what you are looking at, but even then, the game never felt quite right.
Your farm isn’t the only place you can wander around in. There are a number of mines for you to delve into, each one getting progressively longer. Mines grant you access to special ores and materials for crafting purposes and even offer up some very (and I mean very) light combat. Basically, you smack a mole on the dome and move on. It’s enjoyable enough and a nice change of pace, even if it is a tad on the basic side.
Wandering the streets
Olive Town is probably going to be your most visited destination, however. The town is well stocked with shops to peruse and will grow as you complete various tasks set out by the Mayor. Olive Town also houses a rather interesting Museum that allows you to donate various items, discoveries, and even photographs. It is a nice visual representation of your progress and even comes with some rewards if you invest enough time into it.
The real draw of Olive Town is, or at least, should be, its residents. These happy-chappies run around each day doing whatever it is they do and you can walk up to them for a little chat. Talk to them enough, throw them a couple of presents and you might even become friends. These interactions unlock more conversations and each person has a little story to uncover should you want to invest the time. Honestly, I didn’t find a single one of them interesting enough to engage with long term, and my brain much prefers extracting milk from cows – not tedious information from people.
One of the stronger aspects of Pioneers is its graphics. Opting for a full 3D world instead of a more traditional sprite-based style, Pioneers certainly stands out. Its world is vibrant and teeming with little touches of life that make the place feel lived in. What’s especially impressive is its first-person view thanks to the camera system, which allows you to wander the wilds and soak it all up from the perspective of your little doodah. This is backed up by a totally passable soundtrack that ranges from average to almost memorable. The only bad track is the one that plays in the mines which is repetitive and quite awful.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is a mixed bag, to say the least. Its strengths don’t necessarily lie in its qualities as a game, but its inclusion in a genre that is inherently addictive. The formula the genre uses has been refined and mastered to the point it has become quite the potent drug, and Olive Town can administer that narcotic effectively when it wants to. The issue is, I found it didn’t have any staying power. I was hooked whilst I was playing, but once I put it down, it was a real struggle to pick it back up. There were just too many niggling little issues that hindered my enjoyment long term. As far as farming-sims go, this one is passable and worth checking out if you have exhausted other, better games in the genre.
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Looking for similar games? How about checking out Rune Factory 4 Special?
Many thanks go to XSeed Games for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.