Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town – The Charm of the Farm
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is a continuation of the Story of Seasons franchise, which in itself is a successor of the original Harvest Moon series, where you as the brand new arrival to your grandfather’s dishevelled farm, spend your days and evenings toiling away at the farm (among other things) to restore it to greatness and help build Olive Town into somewhere that’s held in equally high esteem. Like many other games that revolve around resource gathering, building, farming and social interaction, Pioneers of Olive Town is at its core, intended as a relaxing game that is light on stress and should leave you feeling a sense of calm.
It’s extremely charming, and completely captures the Iyashikei ‘slice-of-life genre, particularly in the personality of the town’s characters and how they interact with one another, yet also beckon you into that same world.
One difference in how Pioneers of Olive Town will be received versus the release of Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, is that the level of escapism that is provided doesn’t land quite the same. Life in the real world is far more normal than it was in the middle of 2020, and while we’re not completely past it, there is less of an urgency involved. Whether that is a bonus to the experience or not, it does affect the context in which we play. My own home gardens are much healthier after the year that was, so perhaps it is in the restoration to splendour that our lives are mirrored on the screen.
There are overlaps of activities with similar titles, which of course is born out of the realities of working the land. There will be overgrowth in the areas you want to till or build in, you will need wood, stone and other resources, and will need to plan your approach to ensure you have clear movement and access to amenities. Once you have prepared the earth for seeding and then planted, you’ll have to wet the ground each day until the crop is ready for harvest. Farming crops is just one avenue in which you can earn money and contribute to the town, as you’ll also have the opportunity to raise livestock, pick flowers, go fishing, mine ores, cultivate mushrooms, and take photos of the wildlife.
It’s what you do next, though, that provides the most complexity. You can cook, strictly pescatarian (or lacto-ovo-pescatarian if you want to be specific) meals, though the great chain of processing means more commonly, you’ll be putting a lot of what you collect into machines called makers. Makers are everything. Makers are your way of turning the raw materials you collect into something that can be sold, put into other makers, or provided to shopkeepers as resources to fulfil their orders. It can get a little confusing as you gain more types of makers, and there will invariably be bottlenecks as you try to produce more of the specific resources required.
This also factors into unlocking the additional areas and structures of the farm, as they’ll require either resources or gold, depending on whether it’s a passage or a structure, to expand the experience.
Aside from the typical farm-fare, where Pioneers of Olive Town really does well in establishing the town as a place, is in the events and other engagement with the townspeople. Aside from just contributing to the upgrades of Olive Town or the collection at the Museum, there are regular events in the form of minigames that you’re able to take part in, and occasionally there are scenes of interactions between townspeople that will tangentially involve your character as either a participant or at least, an observer. Additionally, as your relationships grow (and perhaps blossom), characters around the town will make comments that recognise your interactions with those characters.
It can feel artificial to dump daily gifts on your prospective entanglements to gradually grow the heart meter over time, but there are few mainstream games that do well at establishing a relationship from nothing in a way that feels authentic. It’s also great that you are able to romance the potential marriage candidates of any gender, and in fact, can create masculine or feminine clothing for your character, but the immediate prompt to select between male and female in character creation is unfortunate for those who may want their character to be both or neither.
There are a few mysteries in the game, starting with the strange creatures that pop away from grass, stone and trees as you work, but it’s better to experience them directly, rather than have them heralded in a review.
There are some aspects that could be improved by quality of life patches – with the loading times as they are, it can be frustrating to run back and forth between town to find the requirements of crafting, build orders or recipes. With the large array of activities and items available, it does also mean that there will be a lot of inventory juggling as you get further into the game, and if you haven’t planned ahead, some of the resources you want for later orders might not be available. A slower game-day would also help, even if the stamina/action relationship was exactly the same.
One word of warning – event days also mean each business in town is closed for the day, and if you leave town during an event, it’ll push the clock forward to the end of the day.
While you’re mostly free to play Pioneers of Olive Town in the way that works best for you, the changing resources available across each season does mean you might be waiting a few weeks of game-time to be able to progress a certain skill or task. It’s extremely important to note though, that the years will just keep on ticking, so you don’t need to rush through. Because each day takes place over twenty real-time minutes, it can feel as though you’re working against the clock, but try to take the time to breathe.
Pioneers of Olive Town was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with code kindly supplied by Turn Left Distribution Australia