Story of Seasons is the new name for the old Harvest Moon series. The two companies that used to make the game split, and since then there have been two separate franchises. Story of Seasons by XSeed may have changed its name, but is the old Harvest Moon formula. Meanwhile, the new Harvest Moon games from Natsume keeps the name but have a different gaming style.
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Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is releasing on March 23rd 2021, but we’ve been lucky enough to get an early preview copy so that we can share the game with you, and help you make a decision about whether or not to buy it! There are so many factors to consider, including gameplay, visuals, and the characters in the game, so let’s get into it!
Straight from the off, the game gives you a choice of difficulty level. There’s Normal Mode, which is pretty self-explanatory. However, there’s also Seedling Mode, which offers the below advantages.
I chose to play on Normal Mode, to experience the game as it was intended. Once you select a difficulty level, the game opens up into a cutscene. It has an adorable hand-drawn art style, and briefly explains the events that led up to the game. It shows snapshots of the character’s grandfather who used to live in Olive Town, and then it ends by explaining that it’s been our character’s dream to live there like he did. The music is upbeat and cheerful, whilst being relaxing at the same time.
The customisation options on the character selection screen are relatively detailed for a Switch game. You have a good range of options to choose from, including eye colour, skin colour, hair style, and facial features. You can even have your left and right eyes be a different colour to each other! A really great feature is that gender isn’t locked in by outward appearance. You can choose a ‘girl’ character base, but then identify as a boy. Your gender is asked when you start the game, as Vincent (the Mayor) is talking about your grandfather, and he asks whether you’re his grandson or granddaughter. You do have to choose one or the other, though, so there’s not a non-binary option.
Just like previous Harvest Moon games, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is essentially a farming simulator. You have to manage your own ranch, but it’s up to you what that will entail. You can plant seeds to grow food or flowers, or you can raise animals. There are also dilapidated structures that you can repair, the first one being the coop. Once you’ve fixed the coop, you’re able to tame any wild chickens that you find, as well as buy new ones from the animal shop in town.
The town has many shops and homes, and is where you’ll meet the other characters. You earn money by selling items on your farm, and then you can spend it on various items and upgrades. There are plenty of options for how to spend your time during the day, and you have to strike a balance when deciding what to do so that you don’t end up going to bed too late. You also have an energy meter measured in hearts, so you can only do so much. However, it’s possible to replenish your hearts with food if you need more energy.
You have an inventory to store any items you pick up during the day, as well as a tool bag. You can upgrade your inventory space by paying the owner of the tool shop in town. The tool bag is a very clever idea, as you have somewhere separate to store your necessary tools. That way, you can put them away to save inventory space if you’re not using them, while still keeping them handy. The various tools are used for the different skills that are available in the game.
One of the coolest features in Pioneers of Olive Town is that there are so many different skills for you to learn and improve. You gain levels the more you participate in them, and you get benefits as you rank up. The higher your level in a skill, the more efficient you are at using that skill.
Many of the skills in the game are related to your farm. You have Logging, which is about chopping the trees that grow on your land. There’s also Mining, which you improve by breaking rocks or going down into the mines. There are skills directly related to farming aspects like planting and harvesting crops, or tending to your animals, as well as a separate skill called Orcharding which is specifically related to harvesting fruit from trees.
Some skills involve your interactions with others. You can improve Friendship by talking with the characters you meet in the town. As you level this up, it becomes easier to build relationships with them, and your friendliness will rise faster. You can even get pets in this game, and there’s a skill for interacting with your furry friends too.
Pretty much anything you can do in the game, there’s a skill for. The more you play, the higher your skill levels rise, and the easier the game becomes.
There are many different characters available for you to meet and interact with in town. All the shops will have owners with their own distinct personalities, and you can start to grow friendships with everyone you meet. There are characters of all ages, some are children, some are adults, some are elderly, and some are older teens like your character. The teenage characters are known as bachelors and bachelorettes, as they’re the marriage candidates. One of the goals of the game is to get your character married, so you have to develop relationships with the bachelors/ bachelorettes, and decide which one you want to be with.
There are 10 marriage candidates in Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. 5 of them are boys, and 5 are girls, but you’re not limited to being in a straight relationship. If you want to marry a character of the same gender as your character, you’re able to do so. The boys have quite similar personalities to each other, all being quite friendly and seemingly unopinionated, with the exception of Damon, who can be a little cold, and is rather cynical. The girls are mostly quite cheery, but they do have distinct personalities. There’s a convenient map on the menu bar that shows you where all the characters are.
The dialogue options are a bit limited, and often characters will repeat similar phrases when you speak to them on different days. They also don’t express that much spoken gratitude when you give them gifts. However, you do slowly get to know them better the more you talk to them, and you get special cutscenes when you reach certain friendship milestones.
You’ll also see tourists milling about the town, who you can speak to, but you can’t build friendships with them.
The year is split into 4 seasons of 28 days each. During the seasons, there may be special events that happen in the town. The first one you encounter is during the second week of Spring, and it’s the Egg Hunt. You’re given advance notice of the event, and the characters in town seem very excited. However, from a gameplay perspective, it’s somewhat disappointing.
You’re told that the Egg Hunt will have eggs hidden around town that you have to find. I was very excited to go exploring and to try and find as many eggs as possible. However, instead of being able to play the event, it’s shown as a cutscene, where our character is shown finding some eggs. At the end, Victor wraps up by congratulating everyone, but he doesn’t say who won. You don’t even find out how many eggs your character got. By the time you get back to the farm, the day is almost over, so the event feels very much like a waste of time.
The rules mention that you can ask another character to hunt with you, but my friendship level wasn’t high enough. Considering that I spoke to the characters pretty much every day, and gave a couple of them presents most days, I expect you’d need to have spoken and gifted a character every day from the start in order to have friendship levels high enough for them to hunt with you.
Each day in the game takes about 25 minutes of playing in real life. As such, there’s plenty of content available, and the game has many hours of gameplay. There will be more events to attend in the other seasons, but I haven’t reached that far yet.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is a cute farming simulator with lots going on. I love the vibrant chibi style of the graphics, and the music helps relax me. Playing through the game feels like an escape from real life, and is very enjoyable. For anyone who enjoys these kinds of games, this is definitely one to keep an eye out for!