The Latest

Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale

Return to PoPoLoCrois A Story of Seasons Fairytale1

Browse Metacritic and you’ll probably uncover of couple of Return to PoPoLoCrois reviews where the critic sheepishly admits not having played any of the Harvest Moon games. This is not going to be one of those reviews.

On the contrary, I’ve devoted an embarrassing amount of time to Yasuhiro Wada’s creation, becoming hopelessly ensnarled in the gameplay loop of tilling, planting, watering, gathering, and selling. Year after year, I met with Natsume’s resident Bokujō Monogatari (Harvest Moon’s Japanese moniker) expert at E3, discussing esoteric changes to your tool set, variations in romantic pursuits, and the senseless sanitizations made for the Western release. Playing each new Harvest Moon/Rune Factory game wasn’t enough for me, I even ventured toward knock-offs like Sheppard’s Crossing– a title so outrageously bland, that the internet barely remembers its existence.

Return to PoPoLoCrois A Story of Seasons Fairytale4

But here’s the terrible little secret about the franchise: Harvest Moon demonstrates less improvement in each successive entry than even the most stagnant sports franchise. Change is measured in the slightest minutia, with many of the series’ core tenets remaining the same across Moon’s massive twenty-year legacy. In a nutshell, that’s what makes Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale so promising. It’s the first farming title to radically change things up, by introducing role-playing elements from the long-running PoPoLoCrois property,

While the Rune Factory games have brought direct antagonism into the farming framework, the action-oriented combat never felt nuanced. Likewise, plots drew from Harvest Moon tradition, offering solid characterization but without any semblance of a stirring storyline.

Return to PoPoLoCrois A Story of Seasons Fairytale2

Cultivation and combat were largely means to their own end, absorbing gamers in little more than an engrossing albeit endless cycle. Return to PoPoLoCrois’ ambitions are grander, with Tokyo-based developer Epics, Inc. merging conventional role-playing storytelling and combat with Harvest Moon’s time-tested mechanics. The union might not be flawless, but the deviation from form is wholly gratifying.

If you didn’t play the 2005 PSP release of PoPoLoCRoIS, fear not. The localized version was a Frankenstein-ed trilogy that detailed Prince Pietro’s tenth, twelfth, and fifteenth year of life. Return to PoPoLoCrois tells an entirely new tale of his extraordinary thirteenth year, which begins innocently enough at his regal birthday celebration. Although the tone of the festivities are generally joyous, an enigmatic visitor from a far-flung empire warns of the emergence of Black Beasts plaguing her realm. Unsurprisingly, Pietro’s soon finds himself in the trapped in the plagued province, with destiny picking the young prince as the realm’s redeemer.

Return to PoPoLoCrois A Story of Seasons Fairytale5

In execution, the story isn’t complex, nor does it need to be. Pietro is a reminder of the genre’s past, before angsty, indisposed heroes become the norm. He’s persistently energetic and thoughtful, and like any respectable RPG character, up for the occasional valiant risk. His relationship with Narcia, a young witch, is rendered with innocent romantic charm, while secondaries like the White Knight and former heel, Gami Gami Devil add a bit of storybook-like eccentricity to the title.

Another memento of the genre’s golden era is Return to PoPoLoCrois’ refusal to be rushed. Save for a bit of slogging on a derelict plot of dirt, the game doesn’t allow players to jump right into farming, pressing players into become attached to the plot and the game’s role-playing mechanics. Four hours in, when you finally do get a chance to tend to the land, Return to PoPoLoCrois rarely compels you to focus on farming. Instead, it’s an optional pursuit, presented as a break from the game’s dungeon crawls and as a method to earn a bit of additional coin.

Return to PoPoLoCrois A Story of Seasons Fairytale3

Horticulture is streamlined, with many of Harvest Moon’s intricacies and delicate crops tempered. That means mainstay mechanics like variable weather and even the withering of neglected crops are discarded, while your upgraded toolset makes upkeep easier. While Bokujō Monogatari maniacs might be distressed by the simplification, it’s a prudent design decision, allowing gamers to teleport back and forth between main quest and cultivation. Similarly, the game’s handling of time is adept, with the period between replanting and reaping ideal for either a bit of exposition or a short expedition. Even if you do get a bit too involved, Return to PoPoLoCrois will provide warnings when your produce is in peril.

Much like gardening, combat is kept simple- extending turn-based battles that are accessible and breezy. Random encounters pit parties against a horde of monsters on a grid, with players able to swiftly move and attack thanks to a color-coded system that reveals effective ranges. Spells rouse a bit of strategy, with players forced to think about AOE zones, attack vectors, as well as the occasional cone-shaped assault. But save the intermittent boss encounter, conflict errs on the easy side, with players able to auto-battle and even adjust the encounter rate.

Return to PoPoLoCrois (6)

Visually, Return to PoPoLoCrois makes the most of the 3DS stereoscopic capabilities, offering interiors and landscapes that flaunt multiple levels of depth. While some characters vaguely look like Nintendo Miis, they display a pleasing range of emotion and animate fluidly. Periodically, players are even treated to a fully animated cutscene, but unfortunately, these interludes seem all too brief. Sonically, the game provides both English and Japanese voiceovers, although gamers wont get to hear every line vocalized with some dialog summarized by one word spoken responses. Unlike the typical sterile synthesized MIDI scores that accompany many portable RPGs, PoPoLoCrois’ soundtrack feel organic, with instrumentation that can sound like a like performance.

If Epics is hoping to convert Return to PoPoLoCrois into a franchise, there’s certainly room for improvement. The game’s biggest transgression stems from a lack of graphical diversity. Dungeons use a limited amount of assets which doesn’t foster the sense of discovery. Even worse are the layouts, with the narrow labyrinthine hallways having far too many dead-ends.

PopoloSoS_01

Likewise, the game’s boss battles can be a bit underwhelming thanks to asset recycling. Those who appreciated fining their ideal mate in Harvest Moon might be displayed to find that Narcia is your requisite interest. Sure, you can incite friendships with other ladies, but there’s little incentive for doing so.

But these minor quibbles barely soften Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale’s charms. With a pleasing plotline and the lure of light agribusiness sim, Epics Inc. has planted the seeds for a promising series. In many ways, it feels like after years of minimal upkeep, Bokujō Monogatari has finally blossomed, with the faint promise of perennial fruits for us to savor.

Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale was played
on the Nintendo 3DS with review code provided by the publisher.

Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale
Platform: 
3DS
Developer:
Epics, Inc. 
Publisher:
 XSEED Games, Marvelous USA
Release date: 
March 1st, 2016
Price: 
$39.99 via retail or eShop
Browse Metacritic and you’ll probably uncover of couple of Return to PoPoLoCrois reviews where the critic sheepishly admits not having played any of the Harvest Moon games. This is not going to be one of those reviews. On the contrary, I’ve devoted an embarrassing amount of time to Yasuhiro Wada’s creation, becoming hopelessly ensnarled in the gameplay loop of tilling, planting, watering, gathering, and selling. Year after year, I met with Natsume’s resident Bokujō Monogatari (Harvest Moon’s Japanese moniker) expert at E3, discussing esoteric changes to your tool set, variations in romantic pursuits, and the senseless sanitizations made for the…

Review Overview

Gameplay - 80%
Story - 80%
Aesthetics - 85%
Content - 80%
Accessibility - 85%

82%

VERY GOOD

Summary : Blending of genres can occasionally feel forced, but Return to PoPoLoCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale merger of role-playing and farming doesn’t veer far from the merits of Mana Khemia and the Atelier series.

User Rating: 3.98 ( 5 votes)

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert ‘DesertEagle’ Allen is Tech-Gaming’s resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

29 comments

  1. “Browse Metacritic and you’ll probably uncover of couple of Return to PoPoLoCrois reviews where the critic sheepishly admits not having played any of the Harvest Moon games. ”

    Damn, shots fired by Robert-san.

    • Half the sites on Metacritic are a joke. Reviews written by mouth breathers with a 6th grade education. The other half are SJW neckbeards who can write, but force their politics on people.

    • Not really shots fired, just checking lazy game reviewers. No harm in that.

  2. a target hit, I read this POS review yesterday:

    “As for the farming, these types of simulations aren’t normally my cup of tea, but at the same time I had never played a Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons game before, so this was a new experience for me.”

    Why do outlets assign games to people with ZERO experience in the franchise? It makes it sound like its some kid you just wants to play games for free.

    • Is that from a Metacritic site? If so which one?

      • Yeah, metacritic, which seems to have no control on quality. Sites name is Gaming Nexus.

        The author has played games for 25 years but turns out nuggets of wisdom like this:

        When I first saw that the title of this game was Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale, I decided to look up some info on the first game. After all, it is called “Return to PopoloCrois.”

        I have an 8 year old cousin that can write better than that. I should have him create a gaming site.

        • It’s like Donald Trump is now writing game reviews.

          • If you’re going by Metacritic numbers than that’s a problem. A really high or low score is pure clickbait. Check out a site named Quarter to Three. If it wasn’t for the 40/100 scores for big games they wouldn’t get any traffic at all.

  3. Broccoli grows on trees?

    The things video games (mis) taught me!

  4. Robert, I’m glad you reviewed this one. I was debating on picking it up. I like the HM games but I seem to get bored after a few seasons. I’ve never finished one. (They end, right?)

  5. “That wolf is pulling off the boys clothes. OMG, those Japanese are so perverted.” will read the soon to be created social police thread.

  6. Good review. I really think this is one of the best one’s Ive read. I like how you went in depth, but don’t give too much away,

  7. Sweet review. Im going to have to try to find a physical copy of the game.

  8. I look at it this way, if you’re a review and you’re tasked with evaluating Return to Popolocrois why would you take the time to tell people you haven’t even played a Harvest Moon game? I mean that honesty is good and all but it makes to sound like a amateur.

    If you’re a website editor, how the hell are you allowing that type of writing?

  9. I used to play the Harvest Moon games on my Gameboy. Loved those games but you’re right they could have used a better story.

  10. I don’t have anything to add about the discussion of reviews/metacritic but I’ll say I’m having a great time with Return to PoPoLoCrois: ASoSF. I recommend it to anyone.

  11. Wow, I’m a pretty big HM fan but never heard of Sheppard’s Crossing until now. And you right, except for a few videos and mentions its like the game never existed.

    Was it really that bad?

    • Metacriic score in the mid 60’s makes me weep. I think I’m over game reviews. Don’t like most written ones, can’t stand most streamers. I’m just going to buy what my gut tells me.

  12. I’m surprised so many people actually check Metacritic. If you based an average on faulty scores what does that get you? A meaningless number.

  13. Just let me know if the localization is good or if it was Treehoused.

  14. Never a big HM fan. Blame FarmVille for burning me out on the genre.

    • Farmville is a terrible comparison. Its a bad knock off that’s really nothing like playing HM.

  15. Good review, nice amount of detail.

  16. I have a friend who got a Harvest Moon tattoo.

    You should have a image insert feature so I could post it

  17. You kind of make it sound like farming is the main gig, but it a side activity.

  18. For those that don’t have a 3DS, or don’t find 400 x 240 resolution but want some farming in their life, a game with a farming with more of an emphasis, and with some adventuring on the side do check out Stardew Valley. +40 hours in my save and loving it so far. Never knew pixel farming at 1440P would be so immersive!

    • Actually the 3DS’ top screen has 800 lines of resolution when in 2d. Switching on 3D halves it of course.