REVIEW: ‘Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town’ Goes Big, And I’d Like to Go Home (Switch)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Story of Season Pioneers of Olive Town - But Why Tho?

What makes a house feel like a home? Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is a game that’s built upon a strong foundation. The long-awaited successor to the Story of Seasons series—known previously in the west as Harvest Moon—from Marvelous Inc.’s Xseed Games, Olive Town takes the helm of the iconic farm/life simulator that has nurtured the inner farmer in gamers of all ages since 1996 and inspired countless tributes and reinventions, from FarmVille to Stardew Valley. 

In many ways, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town builds upon the blueprint of its predecessors; it’s a sturdy house, updated and sleek, ready for move-in. But a curious lack of warmth and character make it feel a little less like home than it could be. 

The opening premise of Olive Town is familiar, but with some exciting quality of life improvements to the farming sim formula that experienced homesteaders and newcomers alike will appreciate. Following in the footsteps of your late grandfather, your character moves to the sun-soaked peninsula upon which the port town is situated. Many of the structures you need to build and grow your farm are already waiting for you on your grandfather’s land, including adorably lonely wild livestock for you to tame and set up with a warm bed and some fodder. 

Your first decision as the player is the appearance of your protagonist, and at first I really appreciated the flexibility of the character creator. It prompts you to simply choose a face and then a body type with different options marked with gender-neutral descriptors like “Pioneer” or “Bright,” and also offers a diverse range of skin tones, hairstyles, and hair textures (and paint options for an adorable, sporty motorcycle). My momentary joy was dampened, however, when the very next screen prompted me to choose she/her or he/him pronouns—with no additional options. While it’s encouraging to see this installment in the series continue to include LGBTQ+ romance options, I’ll hold out hope for the addition of more gender diversity with future DLC. 

Shortly thereafter, Olive Town’s mayor, Victor, introduces himself as your grandfather’s friend and welcomes you to the idyllic village. To be honest, Victor kind of put me off a little. Within seconds of meeting, he enlists your help to attract more tourists to the town, and speaks of increasing the town’s value to outsiders at a rate that even attracts the ire of other townsfolk from time to time. Your character came to this town to get away from city life and reconnect with their roots. But when their arrival heralds a new era of tourism for the town, I couldn’t help but feel a little like a gentrifier

One of Olive Town’s major strengths is the sometimes overwhelming abundance of choices it offers you. While your farm is situated just south of the town, much of your land has been reclaimed by nature and is largely unexplored. Your home is bordered by both a beach and a forest, the latter of which is dotted with cave entrances to mines. The land is rich with resources to gather to improve your home as well as wild flora, fruit, and spices to forage and eat or sell. 

Anything you find or grow can go into the big white shipping box near your house and expands the selection of the town general store and grocery store the next day. More than any entry in the franchise to come before, Olive Town puts an emphasis on crafting. There are twelve skills for the protagonist to foster in order to unlock more crafting capabilities, from mushroom cultivation and beekeeping to mining, animal care, and one of my personal favorites, draining: using a little bucket to scoop up any body of water from puddles to dirty lakes and dredge them for clay and treasures.

Another charming addition to your toolbag is the camera, which you can use to snap pictures of wild animals you encounter as you explore the peninsula. I found myself wishing I could play more of the game in the first-person camera view, which creates surprising intimacy with its shift in perspective. You have to sneak up on wild animals to avoid spooking them and to get a good shot; it’s an immersive and satisfying, yet serene activity that felt like quintessential Story of Seasons. 

When you encounter a broken bridge or an abandoned building on your property, you have the option to hire the town carpenter to help you out. But in true pioneering fashion, the game also enables you to save your money and fix everything yourself if you manage to forage enough of the required materials on your own. 

The downside to that abundance of choice is that it’s easy to get so wrapped up in production that the pleasures of small-town life start to slip away. In the town’s Olive Hall, the bulletin board is updated with requests from the mayor and townsfolk. You return to the bulletin board to complete these requests, which means you never need to interface with the townsfolk unless you’re trying to socialize. But between clearing your land to make it possible to farm, rebuilding your farm structures, and fulfilling requests, it feels like being social or being productive are mutually exclusive choices. Make connections, and the town suffers. Socialize, and the bulletin board requests pile up. Socializing itself also takes concentrated effort. There are 37 NPCs walking around waiting to meet you, and while the soft and inviting chibi-style art of Olive Town is beautiful to look at, I found myself wishing I could interact with more items in my neighbors’ homes. I wanted to pick up a picture, to open a drawer; to understand other people beyond dialogue, which was often relegated to reminding me about an upcoming town event or commenting on the latest influx of tourists.

The town also grows on its own as you meet requests. Go to bed after a successful day of running errands and you’ll wake up the next morning with Mayor Victor announcing that a new beauty salon opened up in the town overnight. While it’s satisfying to see the town grow, I felt distanced from taking part in making it happen, and I’d barely spent enough time in the town to feel genuinely excited about utilizing the new facilities. 

As you cut grass and clear underbrush from your land, you come across tiny, bouncy mouse-like creatures that eventually reveal themselves to be Earth Sprites, benevolent spirits who are excited to help you in exchange for…more favors. Their rewards include resources and materials, as well as access to secret Earth Sprite locales, from an island in the sky to the center of a volcano. But by that point, I didn’t want more stuff, and I was tired of errands. Meeting the Sprites felt like unlocking a brand-new bulletin board. I mostly just wanted to make a friend. 

Overall, I found myself falling into the same patterns that had beckoned me to the simple life in the first place. I didn’t want to be responsible for turning Olive Town into a tourist destination or fulfill the mayor’s wishes. I just wanted to build community with the people who were already there and to connect with the land and the lore of the spirits who inhabited it. The sheer number of tools and ease of access to each area allows you to be whatever type of homesteader your heart desires—and I only wish there was a little less pressure so I could fully embrace that freedom.

Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is a promising start of a new chapter in the long-running farm/life simulator’s history. All the pieces are in place for an unforgettable experience, with its peaceful and serene location, endlessly customizable landscape, and an unprecedented abundance of crafts and projects to pursue. While at times unwieldy, there’s something for everyone here, especially those who are interested in the organization and production management aspect of running a farm. 


Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town will be available for the Nintendo Switch on Friday, March 26th.

Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town
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    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is a promising start of a new chapter in the long-running farm/life simulator’s history. All the pieces are in place for an unforgettable experience, with its peaceful and serene location, endlessly customizable landscape, and an unprecedented abundance of crafts and projects to pursue. While at times unwieldy, there’s something for everyone here, especially those who are interested in the organization and production management aspect of running a farm.