Review: Return to PopoloCrois: A STORY OF SEASONS Fairytale

Return to PopoloCrois: A STORY OF SEASONS Fairytale is an incredible thing to say all at once. Released purely in digital format on Nintendo’s eShop, some people say that this is because you can’t fit the whole title on a single box cover… That, maybe, is the price you pay when combining the next instalments of two well established game series’ in one tidy package.

Return to PopoloCrois  brings together the well-known JRPG Popolocrois’ universe (based on the 90s anime series of the same name) with the equally popular ‘Story of Seasons’ series, known more commonly on western shores as ‘Harvest Moon’. The game seeks to combine the roaming RPG flair of the former with the farming and agriculture mechanic of the latter whilst wrapping players up in an engaging little story along the way.

The game follows the journey of established Popolocrois protagonist Pietro. Having grown tired of peace and prosperity brought on by his previous victories, he seeks new adventure and, somewhat predictably, he finds it well within the first 5 minutes of the game. Whisked away to the other side of the universe, Pietro and his ever-changing band of acquaintances are set against a dark force that is poisoning the land.  The darkness also spawns hideous creatures and cartoonish villains alike that threaten the endearing farm-folk of the otherwise charming Galarialand. It’s this plot that helps tie the monster-bashing of Popolocrois to the farming mechanics of a Story of Seasons. As monsters are defeated, areas are cleared of infection by the mysterious blight and so become available for growing crops, etc.

Outside of that unique pairing, Return to PopoloCrois as a whole is a fairly traditional example of a handheld JRPG. The graphics have a simplistic charm that is totally appropriate here and fans of the genre will feel right at home.  You travel the grassy/rocky/leafy corridors of Galarialand, traditionally interrupted by randomised battle events and in doing so gaining items, currency and experience points.  Some of those items will be armour and other buffs and modifiers relevant to adventuring and combat but often you’ll recover seeds or other farm-related bric-a-brac that can be used to maintain or improve your growing homestead.

The combat is an interesting take on a flexibly applied grid format. During each active squad member’s turn you’ll have an opportunity to use their skills, items or move and do a basic attack. The range of movement and attack are determined by a grid that fans out around the character, with some obviously benefitting more strongly in a given area than other dependent on their level and outfitting. On the whole it works really well and allows for a much greater degree of personalisation than the rigid grids of other tactical fighters or the ‘back row vs front row’ of Final Fantasy.

It’s hard to criticise lengthy plot exposition in a JRPG as it’s almost expected as a common trope of the genre. That said, at times you do find yourself yearning to get stuck in and are instead treated to even more lengthy dumps of exposition text. For a story that unravels in a fairly relaxed, linear fashion, I’d argue that the script writing could have used tightening up quite a bit to prevent players from checking out half-way through a scene.

Also common to the genre is a seemingly excessive amount of foot travel. Although I’ve heard rumour of a quick-travel system at work I wasn’t able to find it and part way through chapter three it still hadn’t been pointed out clearly meaning frequent trips across the map were often required to fulfill plot objectives. Still, all the to and fro did give me plenty of time to level up my squad and collect seeds, etc.

There are a number of other quirky little pick up quests littered around the map in Return to PopoloCrois. If you obtain a net you can catch bugs found fluttering around the countryside, likewise if you get yourself a hammer you can chisel gems from rocky outcroppings as you go from pillar to post.  This usually results in things that can be used to grow your collection of nicknacks or benefit your dual life as a farmer/adventurer.

A neat little thing that gets introduced quite far in to Return to PopoloCrois is the ability to take these collections of items and combine or ‘synthesize’ them into new and exciting variants of the original. Initially you can combine two but later this expands to let you mix up to three individual bits of clutter into more valuable resources.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, players can only download Return to PopoloCrois: A STORY OF SEASONS Fairytale from Nintendo’s eShop, with no physical product available in stores. The publisher’s choice to release the game purely in digital format is clearly an important one as it shows the publisher’s commitment to Nintendo’s digital platform and the willingness by Nintendo to bring themselves further up-to-date with modern digital consumer practices.  It’s a controversial move and one that has not been completely well-received by hardcore traditionalists who need something physical.  I’m not sure I can really sympathise though. Personally, digital distribution means less actual game discs to get damaged. On the 3DS this is even more beneficial as it means less carts (carts? are they still carts? gamepaks?) to worry about lugging around with me.

VERDICT

Ultimately, although you won’t be floored by its functional originality (it’s fine) or twisting storyline (it’s fairly predictable), Return to PopoloCrois: A STORY OF SEASONS Fairytale is a pleasant, well-executed addition to both series’ catalogues and thanks to the genius of unlimited quick-saves is something you can pick up and put down at will.

This review was originally published on GamingUncut.com

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