Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town Review — It's Called POOT for a Reason
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town received the benefit of the doubt in my preview. Sure, it was rough in places, and the maker system was a big grind during my early time with it. It held promise, though — or so I thought.
Fast forward several seasons, and the game lives up to only the worst of its promises. It’s lifeless, boring, utterly devoid of character, and what you’d expect from someone with no conception of fun, who saw fans enjoying Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons and decided they could make a game about chores too.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town Review — It's Called POOT for a Reason
The big draw in Pioneers of Olive Town is supposed to be renovating Olive Town, turning it from sleepy burg to vibrant tourist attraction. That’s what Mayor Victor says shortly after you arrive, at least, when he ropes you into being Olive Town’s unofficial tourism director and promoter.
It’s not true. Tourism duties consist of random tasks Victor shoves your way at an even more random rate, although “tasks” might be rather generous. You have three or so requests on the town’s request board, all asking for fairly basic materials.
However, you only need to finish one request, which reduces any sense of accomplishment and makes one wonder why the mayor needed your help anyway. Apparently, the residents of Olive Town are selectively capable of taking on basic tasks and get motivated when someone else does the work first.
How Victor was elected mayor is beyond me. I’m sorry to inform him, but paving the town’s streets and adding new light posts is maintenance work and not innovative planning guaranteed to transform Olive Town into a tourist utopia.
Or maybe it is. My notebook said Olive Town was pushing 60 daily tourists just by the first summer. “Invisible tourists” would be more accurate since I only ever saw three or four randomized NPCs wandering around at any given time.
Then again, internal logic isn’t one of PoOT’s strong points. I wasn’t capable enough in animal care to purchase a pregnancy kit for a while, but in an early event with Bridget, the animal shop co-owner, she praised me for recognizing her cow was pregnant.
If you’re excited about customizing the town or having a significant effect on how it develops, don’t be. It’s just one of PoOT’s many half-developed ideas mired in poor execution.
The other big appeal — and equally big flop — is your farm. PoOT drops you in the wilderness, and you’re supposed to build your farm from scratch and tame the wild in the process. That translates to doing everything you normally do in Story of Seasons, but with more grind and significantly less satisfaction.
Taming the wilderness means gathering a high number of certain materials to build a bridge or clear rubble. Why the carpenter needs 30 silver ingots to move a pile of rocks is baffling, but it unlocks new farmland and new resources to hoard. Each section of the forest conveniently houses a dilapidated farm building and an animal for that building. Generate enough resources, build your barn, and “tame” the wild animal by petting it.
Early on, you come across wild crops you can ship to unlock their seeds at the local store. It’s a nice idea that doesn’t last beyond your first few weeks.
And that’s all the pioneering Olive Town has to offer. When you aren’t caring for your crops or animals, you’re chopping down trees or spending 12 hours or more in the mines, desperately trying to farm enough ore or lumber for the next upgrade you want.
Pioneers of Olive Town features one of the most brutal crafting systems I’ve seen. Important items require funneling stacks of materials — which aren’t flowing in abundance to begin with — into maker machines. Several in-game hours later, your five silver ores turn into one silver ingot. One. You need upwards of 30 or more for some important projects, and those are just the basic ones.
The same applies to lumber, bricks, and essentially anything you need for farmwork or expanding your house. Your reward for doing all this is unlocking more projects that require more and rarer materials that take even more time to process.
The goal might have been implementing Stardew Valley mechanics into Story of Seasons. If so, Marvelous forgot to focus on why it works in that game.
Marvelous promised changes to the maker system, among other things, though these are supposed to arrive post-launch. While the maker system is a significant problem, fixing it will only expose Pioneers of Olive Town’s biggest weakness even more: There’s just nothing worth doing.
You can already get sprinklers in your first season without spending a single piece of gold, so farm work takes hardly any time anyway. "Surely, with more free time, though, you could chat with the locals?" I hear you ask. You could, but why would you want to?
Writing this about a Story of Seasons game feels slightly surreal, but Olive Town is home to the blandest cast I’ve seen in recent memory. They tick all the boxes, of course. There’s exactly one Black character, one Asian family (where the child cares for the older relative, naturally), and one Latin family with the obligatory handful of Spanish words thrown in for good measure. It’s benchmark-hitting diversity, not actual representation.
There’s no sense of community either, despite everyone saying they want the town to get better. No one speaks about their work or what they love. They don’t have a past, don’t interact with their families, and certainly don’t speak to each other. If you go up to a group that looks like they’re talking to each other, they break off and talk only to you about how much they enjoyed the pet derby or how lovely the new benches look.
This isn't a jab at XSeed's localization team either. There's a patch coming later that adds more variety to the writing, but it can only go so far in fixing the foundation. The system seems fundamentally broken. These characters exist to fill a void and have no other purpose.
Giving gifts over an extended period only proved that suspicion. Everyone loves everything, even items that should be dislikes for certain characters. A rock or a fish is equal to a diamond for some. Affection increases the same no matter what, making friendship and romance — two of the series’ strongest points — feel empty and pointless. It's a task to complete, and that's it.
Lack of attention to detail shows up in countless other small ways as well. Despite greeting you every day and receiving gifts, characters act like they’re just meeting you for the first time during their initial heart events. And you’re supposed to build fences to keep your animals inside, but they never stray more than five or so squares from the barn or coop anyway and even put themselves up at night.
Customization is supposed to be a thing, too, but aside from the annoying object border problem, you have trees, rocks, and grass constantly reappearing. I get that the idea is giving you resources, but spending half your stamina clearing them away every day is hardly a fair trade.
What makes this more problematic is knowing how it should work. Stardew Valley and other Harvest Moon/SoS games have rocks appear, grass grow, and other trees re-grow at reasonable rates. Pioneers of Olive Town triples the amount of reappearing items and doubles the rate, possibly because it knows you need so much for what it's asking of you with the maker machines. It's not a good thing when a game recognizes one of its central loops has a problem, so it adds another problem to try and balance it.
Then there are the other issues. Pioneers of Olive Town is not a graphically intense game. Character models aren’t that detailed and only have two or three poses to begin with. Yet the game struggles to render buildings and even trees, especially on your farm. It turns into a slideshow when you’re in the first farm area and freezes as if it’s going to crash when there are too many objects around. This is after three patches as well. Barring a last-minute update, it’ll still be an issue at launch, though the horrid load times have been slightly improved.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town Review — The Bottom Line
- The animals are cute
- All work, no reward
- Cardboard cutouts where characters should be
- Ticks boxes instead of creating fun experiences
- Significant framerate problems in places
Pioneers of Olive Town is a new Story of Seasons game in name only. The series’ charm, activity variety, and sense of warmth and personality, among other things, have vanished like a *poot* in the wind. We’re left with caricatures and a game that shows only the slightest hint of recognizing what makes a fun gameplay loop.
It’s not what you expect from a pedigreed developer who pioneered the genre, whether this is the director’s first SoS game or not. Future patches might improve some of PoOT’s rougher edges, but if you’re looking for a good farm-sim game on Nintendo Switch, you’re better off playing the Friends of Mineral Town remake.
[Note: XSeed provided the copy of Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town used for this review.]