By Evan Norris 24th Mar 2021 | 1,401 views
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is the kind of game you can get lost in for hours. That's due in part to the game's genre, farming simulation, which by its very nature is a habit-forming experience, and in part due to developer Marvelous' knack for zeroing in on a successful, rewarding gameplay loop. Despite its faults — and there are a few — the game finds ways to keep you coming back for more, whether that's to rehabilitate a dilapidated building, expand your home, revitalize the town's economy, or fall in love.
The game starts in the big city. You, a city boy or girl, decide it's time for a change. You pack up your motorcycle and set off for Olive Town, an idyllic burg where many moons ago your grandfather had trailblazed the wilderness and established a farm. Now, years later, it's in pretty rough shape. Trees, rocks, and weeds litter the place. The farm buildings are crumbling. And all you have is a tent and a dream.
Well, that's not entirely true. You have Victor, the town's mayor and old friend of your grandfather. The generous mayor visits you during your first week in town and shares plenty of tools and farming tips. This first week acts as a tutorial of sorts — and it's a good one. The game slow drips tools, techniques, and resources on a daily basis, so you can wrap your head around everything and not get overwhelmed. You'll learn how to till the soil, clear the land, and keep your plants watered. You'll also discover Olive Town proper, a charming hamlet with dozens of citizens, many different shops, and a bunch of seasonal events.
It's exceedingly easy to interact with your farm and Olive Town thanks to simple, accessible controls. You can talk to folks just by walking next to them and pressing A, and give them a gift by selecting the item from your on-screen inventory and pressing Y. When holding a tool, the game will provide a transparent blue block so you know where on the invisible farm grid you'll be working. As you level up your axes, hammers, hoes, watering cans, and sickles, you'll gain the ability to deploy them across more than one square. Pro tip: save up your silver ingots for a silver axe.
While the moment-to-moment gameplay in Pioneers of Olive Town is quick and easy, the overall rhythm of the game can, at times, be tedious. There are two, interrelated reasons for this. The first is the downright aggressive behavior of the local flora. Saplings, weeds, and rocks will pop up on the farm on a daily basis, crowding your crops and pathways. You'll find yourself spending a good chunk of your day chopping trees, cutting grass, and breaking rocks, just to keep the landscape manageable. It can be overwhelming.
It's a catch-22, however, because the resources that come from those chopped trees, cut grass, and broken rocks are instrumental for your progress. They all feed into the second, and arguably biggest, issue in the game: makers. On its own, the idea of a maker is fine. It's essentially a kiosk where you deposit rough materials and, after some time, withdraw a finished product, e.g. wood to planks. The problem lies in how Marvelous designed the makers. They can only process one product at a time and they produce a very limited range of products.
Here's how it works. Say you want a piece of lumber. You can insert three logs into the lumber maker and in two hours — voilà! — you have one unit of lumber. The problem: you might need 50 units for your renovation project. So you'll need to continuously insert logs into the machine and also create multiple lumber makers to make the project move faster. Suddenly, your farm is filled with makers, which take up four blocks apiece. Worse, the diversity of makers is overpowering. In addition to lumber makers, there are makers for ingots, threads, powders, textiles, bricks, seasonings, essences, dyes, yogurt, butter, yarn, condiments, seeds, cheese, etc. There's even a maker specifically for mayonnaise. It's just too much. What Pioneers of Olive Town really needs is a set of multi-use installations, in the style of Spirtfarer. One thing to note: publisher XSEED has advertised an upcoming patch to improve the maker system.
It certainly says something about the allure of the game that, despite the tedium that comes with landscaping and maker management, it's hard to stop playing. There is something very rewarding about waking up each morning, putting your animals out to pasture, harvesting your plants, and then spending the remainder of the day improving your farm and/or making Olive Town more attractive to potential tourists. It's fun to dive into the mines to collect ore, or go fishing in the pond, take your dog for a walk in town, or flirt with your favorite resident. There are so many fun little activities and meaningful long-term projects to tackle.
There's also a comforting, reliable logic to the game world. New wild animals and seeds arrive with the seasons, and the townspeople operate according to a set schedule, taking lunch breaks and commuting to/from work.
With so much to do and discover, it's no surprise Pioneers of Olive Town will take over your life for dozens of hours — if you let it. Each season takes approximately 15 hours, so a full year falls around the 60 hour mark. And of course you can spend multiple years on your farm.
60 hours is a lot of time to farm and craft, but the game does provide diversions. There are seasonal events like the pet derby, trips to the Earth Sprite village, asynchronous online features, and, ostensibly inspired by Animal Crossing, the town museum. Let's talk a little about the museum. Located right next to town hall, it accepts donations of treasure, fish, and photographed wildlife. Now, while it's fun to collect every last fish and photograph all the elusive animals in Olive Town, the museum itself is a little bare-bones. All your trophies sit on nondescript stone slabs, and the donated fish are simply fish-shaped outlines. It's a far cry from the splendor of Blathers' world-class institution.
Making comparisons to an "AAA" game maybe isn't fair, though. Pioneers of Olive Town is a more modest enterprise with a smaller budget after all. That certainly shows in its graphics and overall performance. No matter its enjoyable gameplay loop, the game isn't the prettiest around. There are some simple textures and stiff animations to be found. There are also a few frame-rate hiccups, particularly when entering an especially busy part of your farm. As for loading screens, they are frequent but not overlong. Note: a day one patch promises to clean up some of these performance issues.
No matter its flaws, Pioneers of Olive Town is a game that's hard to put down. Its combination of farming, social simulation, exploration, and crafting is both engaging and rewarding, even if crafting is soured somewhat by the pesky maker system. If you like peaceful, low-stakes simulation gameplay and have a few months to spare, consider relocating to Olive Town.