Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Season Fairytale – Review
Nintendo 3DS – eShop digital exclusive
Localised by Xseed, distributed by Marvelous Europe and developed in Japan by epics Inc., Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale is a traditional turn based JRPG featuring light farming sim elements for the Nintendo 3DS.
Apart from being a mouthful of a title, Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale is an interesting release given that neither property from which it springs is particularly well known in the West. Take for example the original PoPoLoCrois, a 2006 PSP title some fans regard as an inferior mash-up of the two Japanese PSX games it is based upon. While Story of Seasons, the spiritual successor to the Harvest Moon series has slightly more international cachet, release scheduling meant that Story of Seasons itself was only released in Australia in January. Fear not, however – no deep knowledge of it’s predecessors is required to enjoy the game.
Return to PopoloCrois features what is now regarded as a ‘classic RPG story’, where morally grey areas that seem requisite in modern titles are non-existent – a tried and true tale of good vs. evil complete with fairies, dark beasts, dungeons, heroes and maidens fair. Future monarch Prince Pietro is the champion of the land of PopoloCrois, cherished by his people for selflessness and heroism. After a whirlwind tour of his homeland, he is caught up in the machinations of Lord Gryphot, an evil entity that has recently conquered neighbouring Galariland and is looking to expand his influence. In order to ensure his dastardly plan succeeds, his underlings banish Prince Pietro to the now decrepit Galariland, confident that without his interference the destruction of PopoloCrois will go smoothly.
If this sounds rather cliché, it’s because it is. Return to PopoloCrois is not looking to break the mould and thanks to some clever design choices doesn’t have to outstay its welcome. In fact, I regard it as something I would have probably loved in my earlier years of gaming. In much the same way I have moved beyond the early writings of authors like David Eddings whilst still cherishing his contribution to my adolescent growth as a voracious reader of fantasy writing, Return to PopoloCrois is something I would recommend to younger players or those with little to no experience in the JRPG genre. There are a number of reasons for this viewpoint, not the least of which is the battle system.
Using a grid based movement system in conjunction with turn based attacks, Return to PopoloCrois brings absolutely nothing exciting to the table in its random encounter battle system. So inured have I become of such mechanics that I was absolutely delighted to find not only could I reduce the enemy encounter rate but also the difficulty of combat. I feel no shame in saying that I set both as low as they could go – most JRPG systems do not exist to test skills but instead to pad out a gaming experience in order to feel suitably lengthy. Oh yes, there are skills to be chosen from, HP and MP meters to manage and equipment to optimise, but none of these elements added to my enjoyment of Return to PopoloCrois, so I used the options the game gave me to lesson my time spent on them. On the other side of this argument, the option also exists to increase both the encounter rate and difficulty of the combat – for anyone out there interested in such a mechanic, allow me to direct you to my Legend of Legacy review, which is sure to be right up your alley.
Instead, I concentrated on the elements of Return to PopoloCrois that I enjoyed; character interaction, farming and crafting. Although relatively shallow, a result of the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ approach rather than simulation levels of dedication, each element provides enough of a distraction from the tedium of combat as to normalise the enjoyment levels of the overall experience.
Despite the Story of Seasons tag in the title, farming aspects in Return to PopoloCrois are very light – in fact, they can be ignored with no detriment as plants and animals will not degrade over time, meaning that the system need only be utilised whenever players feel the urge with no negative consequences for neglect. By the end of the game there are five unique farming areas, each themed to a particular geographic location and season, such as a mountainous winter area of Sylvan Farm or the volcanic soil of Volant Farm. Seeds obtained through quests and battling are tied to a specific farm, encouraging frequent visits to each. Livestock, locked until a fair portion of the game is complete, provide little interaction opportunities and instead exist solely to output their particular resource, similar to the ore and insect nodes which dot the landscape of Galariland and feed into the simple crafting system.
Put bluntly, the crafting in Return to PopoloCrois is broken. It is absurdly easy to gain fantastic equipment early in the game, as the system allows two lower tier resources to be combined into the next tier. Resources which can’t normally be accessed until much later in the game can simply be synthesised after repeated visits to lower level nodes. This also has the added benefit of making the crafting system and game by extension viable into late game, as lower tier resources don’t go to waste once you’ve outgrown the gear or items they will produce. The downside of this approach is that visits to weapon vendors become pointless until the very late stages of the game.
Specific mention should be made of the pacing in Return to PopoloCrois, which was a welcome change to many other JRPG’s I’ve played. Divided into seven chapters and a short epilogue, progress is made through a combination of overworld and dungeon exploration, with the latter wearing out its welcome around halfway through my time with the game. With a small selection of tile sets and repetitious layouts, it was fantastic that during the fourth chapter, the developers acknowledged this fatigue, giving players a bit of a breather before a final push through further dungeons rather than taking the easy road and trying to pad the game for another half dozen hours.
Much like other titles that blend different genre elements, Return to PopoloCrois is a game that does a few things poorly but executes most of it’s mechanics well enough that overall the whole experience is still enjoyable. For anybody looking for a deep or revolutionary experience, seach elsewhere; if some JRPG comfort food will suffice, Return to PopoloCrois won’t disappoint.
It was whilst toiling away in the bowels of the now mythical Australian Gamer forums that Stephen’s attempts at writing were recognised by then up-and-coming Matt ‘Hewso’ Hewson as “not terrible”. Since then he has contributed to such sites as The Age’s now defunct Screen Play, the now-long retired Black Panel and currently serves under Editor-in-Chief Hewso for Player2.net.au, at least until the pattern of decline obvious in his previous engagements is picked up on by Hewso and he is exiled from games journalism forever.
Writes on Yugambeh land.