Farming sims have always been a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. Trying to explain to someone that tilling your land, sowing seeds, watering crops and tending to livestock is actually an incredibly compelling gameplay loop is a challenge.
And yet, as Stardew Valley has shown us in recent years when done properly, farming sims can see you sink hundreds of hours into them in the space of just a few weeks. In Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town, developer Marvelous Interactive has a charming farming sim, but one that lacks any real depth to keep you hooked for the long-term.
Before you even dive into the game, Pioneers of Olive Town has you customize your character. There are a bunch of options here to make your cartoony future farmer your perfect avatar.
All hairstyles and voice types (though I don’t recall my character ever making any noise over the 50+ hours I’ve played) are available to you regardless of the other options you make elsewhere. You even choose your gender after creating your character, making Pioneers of Olive Town a safe space for trans fans.
After that, things start off in the typical farming sim manner. You inherit your grandfather’s old farm and get to work making it a stellar example of an agricultural empire.
During these opening hours, progress can feel incredibly slow. There are so many things to do in a day — planting crops, tending to livestock, foraging for random items and herbs, going fishing, talking to the residents, clearing your farm, fulfilling requests on the town board, going mining, visiting shops — and simply not enough hours in the day to do it all.
Likewise, your meager stamina gauge and rudimentary tools mean you have a high chance of draining your stamina and passing out before the day’s end.
As you sink more time into your farm and begin harvesting your first crops, the gameplay loop sets in proper.
You grow crops, sell them, use that money to upgrade your tools and buy more crops, tend to livestock, use their produce to make processed products that sell for more, and then rinse repeat. You’ll dive into one of three mines on your farm for different ores to upgrade your tools, farm’s structures and craft various other items.
Once I’d reached halfway through Spring, the gameplay loop had grabbed me. I was placing Makers (machines that process various different raw materials to make better goods) all over the place, planting fruit-bearing trees as a long-term investment, and tilling every square of land I could see.
I was spending days in the mines grinding out Iron, Silver, and Gold, escaping with just a sliver of stamina to make it to my bed.
The more money you make and materials you acquire, the more you can craft to ease the daily stamina strain like sprinklers to water the crops, or different processing machines so you can make more from your produce.
The grind to reaching the point where your farm is bringing in huge amounts of money with relatively little effort on your part is the most satisfying part of Pioneers of Olive Town, and this lasted the first two or three seasons. Once the money starts pouring in, though, things go downhill.
Despite this loop initially being very compelling. It lacks the depth to keep you farming after Year 1 in the game alone.
Such a lack of content comes after Year 1 that I managed to roll credits in my first Winter (the fourth and final season in each year). The ‘story’ or ‘main objective’ in Pioneers of Olive Town is to help rejuvenate the town center itself.
To do so, Mayor Victor will post up ‘Town Requests’ that you’ll need to complete. These are always so basic, though, and so never really feel like something you have to work towards. I often just had the materials in my inventory or in storage I could complete it immediately and move on.
To make matters worse, each ‘Town Request’ will give you three different requests on the town board for different materials. However, you only need to complete one in order to fulfill the request and progress the ‘story.’
This feels like a missed opportunity. ‘Town Requests’ should be more difficult to complete, or require you complete each of its different material requests, as opposed to just one. It’d have given the game some much needed longevity beyond Year 1.
It’s not all work in Pioneers of Olive Town, though. Outside of the confines of your farm, you can chat with the villagers, romance one of them, explore the shops and do a spot of cooking or fishing. There’s even a museum where you can donate treasures, fish and any photos of wildlife you take with your camera.
This initially seemed overwhelming, but before long it became clear that Pioneers of Olive Town has one fundamental flaw. Almost every mechanic or system in the game is undercooked and lacks depth, to the point there’s no real challenge here for farming sim veterans.
By the end of Year 1, I’d unlocked all structures on my farm, amassed over 500,000G, and was well on my way to grinding out the remaining Orichalcum tools I had yet to get. It’s too easy to amass money via crops and produce to the point this quickly no longer becomes a concern.
The lack of depth is made abundantly clear when it comes to conversing with the residents of the town. Having settled on the local barmaid Blaire as my romance option, I focused on raising our ‘Friendship’ level indicated by hearts in a menu. Speaking to her everyday and giving her gifts she likes increases this, and you’ll have a few cutscenes when you reach certain relationship milestones.
The writing, however, is just so poor that even the tailored romance cutscenes feel basic and fail to give these characters any semblance of personality. After confessing my love to Blaire, this was the line she came out with when talking to her for the first time one day.
It doesn’t really get any better than this, either. Every character appears to have a handful of lines they’ll just regurgitate, and this doesn’t really change as your relationship develops. When character are so dull, the ‘social’ side of Pioneers of Olive Town feels pointless, and so other than showering my love interest with gifts, I gave up conversing with the other characters after a while.
Likewise, the ‘events’ going on in Olive Town throughout the year are hit-and-miss. Some like the Egg Hunt are actually just glorified cutscenes where you don’t actually do anything, whereas others involve basic mini-games where you’ll compete against the other residents.
After you’ve done each of these once, you’ve seen ’em all and other than the minor monetary reward, they serve as little other than a distraction… and a reason to shut every shop and service in the town for the day.
In addition, Pioneers of Olive Town suffers from horrendous performance issues. The game crashed three times after my Switch went into standby when grabbing lunch, though the auto-save feature did manage to prevent unsaved progress.
Beyond these rather specific crashed, the game’s framerate both in handheld and docked mode is… awful. The framerate gets so bad when simply moving around your farm or Olive Town itself that you’ll question whether this was a port of an intense PC title.
But the visuals, nor the size of the game do anything to explain why the game runs so poorly. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has a similar-sized world with more polished visuals and that runs flawlessly.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town does have that compelling farming gameplay loop that we’ve seen time and time again in different series, but it lacks depth — much like the rest of the game — to keep farming sim veterans coming back. At a time where the likes of Stardew Valley continue to push the genre forward and provide greater longevity, it’s difficult to recommend this rough-around-the-edges excursion to Olive Town.
- Compelling farming gameplay loop
- Same-sex romances possible
- Easily accessible for beginners
- Characters are dull to talk to
- ‘Story’ objectives are short-lived
- Little reason to continue playing after the first year
- Lack of depth in most mechanics
- Poor performance
March 23, 2021
Marvelous Interactive Inc.
XSEED Games, Marvelous Interactive Inc.