From my fondness of rainy days, to the countless hours I spent with Friends of Mineral Town; not many series have stayed with me the same way Story of Seasons has.
It’s been a strange, bumpy ride with the Story of Seasons franchise—including a bitter divorce with the name that solidified the series in my heart. But a rose by any other name, still smells as sweet, and the spirit of Story of Seasons has always remained within the games that bore its name, even in the west.
That spirit is alive and well in the newest installment in the franchise—Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town; a game that feels like both a celebration of the series’ 25th anniversary, but also like a celebration of the many games that have been inspired by it.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town begins by recalling the story of the player’s grandfather; who long ago blazed a trail and founded a community called Olive Town. Now as an adult, the player leaves their life in the city for an idyllic life in the country, only to learn their grandfather’s farm—and subsequently Olive Town itself—has fallen a bit behind the times. It’s up to the player to return both their farm, and Olive Town to their former glories, and maybe find love and prosperity along the way.
It’s a story (of seasons) as traditional as the franchise itself, and—not unlike Friends of Mineral Town—it feels very appropriate for a game celebrating its 25th anniversary; even working in the same meta-narrative as FoMT about a character loving nothing more than spending their youth playing on their grandfather’s farm. It feels very wholesome, and almost like it’s giving a nod to Stardew Valley, which had a similar story about striking out from the chaos of city life and pursuing a more rustic life in the country.
But as is the case with most Story of Seasons games, the story only really exists to facilitate the gameplay, which strikes the perfect balance between feeling both familiar and new. Fans of the franchise will enjoy the methodical grind of sowing seeds, growing crops, and reaping the fruits of their labour; but unlike Trio of Towns, which I felt streamlined too many of the farming elements into something overly simplistic, Pioneers of Olive Town implements small Quality of Life improvements that make things a bit more convenient, while maintaining the spirit of the franchise.
Small things like players being able to move through crop space, something Friends of Mineral Town implemented as well; to the way livestock no longer need specific items for brushing, milking, or sheering—those actions now delegated to specific interaction prompts—to the way tools no longer need to be leveled up through use to be upgraded, are just some of the ways Pioneers of Olive Town create a more convenient farming experience without jeopardizing why players love these games so much.
I feel special mention needs to be given to the game’s clock. Something I’ve always felt can make or break a farming-sim is the duration of in-game days—if you’re given too little time, it ruins the fun; but too much time can make the game boring. Pioneers of Olive Town strikes the perfect balance by making one real-time second an in-game minute, so players are given roughly 20 minutes per-day to complete their chores, while never feeling like they have to rush.
Also, and I think this can be somewhat of a double-edged sword, it seems townsfolk interactions have been simplified so there’s really no bad way to interact with anyone. It was something I noticed upon trying to hand out gifts, and slowly figuring out what people did and didn’t like; no one reacted poorly to any gift, to the point where I could give out rocks and people were happy to receive them. While some gifts yield more friendship points than others, as far as I can tell there’s nothing that will really take them away.
I think this was done with a degree of intention, as every character has “special encounters” to experience, and if you’re anything like me; you’d most likely only focus on one romancable character after all your farm-work is done. With the generous amount of time you’re given in the day, you can really get around town—as talking to characters will give you a few friendship points as well. Furthermore, I think Pioneers of Olive Town is more focused on being a laid-back, more inclusive experience; fostering a sense of community that works on a sort-of meta level.
One of the newer features—though arguably borrowed from Stardew Valley—is the game implementation of “Makers.” These Maker Machines are essential as they convert basically every raw material—wood, ore, grass, animal by-products, etc—into useful farming materials. I’ve heard several people bemoan the games reliance on these to get any building done, however I honestly don’t think they’re that bad.
Almost every building is found dilapidated on your farm, and none require a hefty amount of materials to fix. Once fixed, any other buildings can be purchased from the local Carpenter, so it’s never really an issue. I found that with four Lumber and Ingot Makers I could get by pretty easily, so I don’t really get what everyone’s issue with them is—although the devs are working on improving the Maker system with a future patch.
Something I find incredibly interesting about Pioneers of Olive Town’s gameplay is how many little things seem to be borrowed from games like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley—games that arguably came in the wake of Story of Seasons. You notice this as soon as the game starts and gives you a character customization screen unlike any previous Story of Seasons game. This level of customization carries over into the main game—whereas previous games which gave you specific areas to plant crops, or tend animals; Pioneers of Olive Town now gives you a completely open farm area to customize however you want, starting small and expanding over the course of the game.
Furthermore, Pioneers of Olive Town also introduces a crafting mechanic that can range from useful farm tools, or simple cosmetic items like furniture or roads. Pioneers of Olive Town also borrows Stardew Valley’s Skill Levels, which, as players perform their daily tasks, can be upgraded to award different abilities or crafting recipes.
It’s a degree of freedom that feels like a direct result of Stardew Valley being so popular—often heralded as the “true return of Harvest Moon”—but it’s popularity, and it’s quality, is derived from a clear love of Story of Seasons; and it almost feels like Pioneers of Olive Town implementing those ideas is their way of paying homage to the game that was so deeply inspired by it—even the way to toolbar looks can be likened to Stardew Valley.
But players won’t be spending all their time at the farm, and this is where the titular Olive Town comes in. Olive Town is a bustling little community with many interesting characters to meet and possibly romance. Players may also notice some ideas borrowed from Stardew Valley in here, such as a community board where NPCs will post requests, and a museum where players can donate rare minerals and artifacts.
Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, Olive Town has faded somewhat into obscurity, and by completing certain requests, new shops can open up, and players can beautify the town; however this is mainly dictated by the plot. However, and this is one of the game’s other double-edged swords; players may be disappointed to learn that your farm and Olive Town are the only areas in the game.
While I understand why some players may lament the removal of some of the forest areas that were in previous Story of Seasons games, honestly, I think it kind of works in a technical and thematic way. Your farm is so massive and in constant need of upkeep—as trees, rocks, grass, and puddles are constantly springing up—that there’s little reason to have a separate area for gathering resources. Furthermore, since it IS Story of Seasons 25th anniversary, having just the farming area and the town feels like a call back to the original Story of Seasons/Harvest Moon on the SNES, where those were the only two areas present.
In the visual department, Pioneers of Olive Town is excellent, utilizing a minimalist look that suits the series, with a variety of bright colours to really bring the game to life and a copious amount of little details that add a lot to the titular town. One of my complaints with Friends of Mineral Town was the lack of polish in the animations; however this is not a problem here. Pioneers of Olive Town combines excellent light and particle effects with fluid animations—both in character movement and world interaction—to make a game that looks as good as it feels.
Pioneers of Olive Town moves away from the chibi character models of its predecessor to ones that are more detailed and well-designed. While some players may lament the removal to the classic Character portraits—which are still visible in the Resident Information tab of the menu—each character is well animated and expressive enough that this doesn’t matter.
Also, LGBTQ players will be happy to know that, much like Friends of Mineral Town, same-sex marriage options are still availabe in Pioneers of Olive Town. Even character customization options give you a lot more room for a non-binary character than previous entries in the franchise—allowing you to choose between masculine and feminine haircuts, facial features, even stance. And while it annoys me to no end that the game couldn’t just commit to this idea all the way, still forcing you to choose a gender AFTER the character creation screen; it is nice to see incremental progress.
While I very much enjoy Pioneers of Olive Town, it’s not a totally perfect game. There is a noticeable amount of stutter when moving through the game, particularly in more densely populated areas. Festivals are also a culprit of this, when every character is gathered in one area, it can cause the framerate to dip. While the game is implementing a day-one patch, with a promise of further improvements, for a game this small and focused, it seems like a pretty glaring oversight.
Furthermore, while every month does have two festivals to participate in, I would be lying if I didn’t join some of the other critics who felt this was a paltry amount to offer. While the festivals can range from interactive minigames, to simple cinematic experiences, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity for variety—especially when considering Story of Season staple festivals like the Cow and Chicken Competitions, or the Horse Races are missing. Again, future patches could potentially add more in, so hopefully this is an easily solvable problem.
But despite some minor flaws, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is an incredible new entry into the Story of Seasons franchise that is sure to please both long-time fans and newcomers alike. While I’m not sure if it’ll replace Stardew Valley for some players, but it’ll definitely be a welcome addition to the farm.